Where to begin when it comes to teaching a course online

Consider live settings as a learning opportunity where you can also encourage discussion

The starting point for instructors looking to move their programmes online should be to seek professional help.

Most universities will have a Department for Online and Distance Learning and they will have the expertise required to help instructors understand what exactly online delivery will entail.

Not every course will lend itself well solely to online delivery while others may enjoy improved outcomes when delivered through a well-designed bespoke online framework.

Training is key. Delivering a course originally designed for in-class delivery to an online setting will require an understanding of the new format, the tools available as well as an insight into student expectations and planned course outcomes. The more prepared the teacher or instructor is, the better.


Expectations are important too. Be aware of what students expect to get from the course and clearly set out how the course will function throughout the year and how students will be assessed.

Prepare a course handbook and make that permanently available to students through the learning platform.

[“SET ]expectations from the start, outlining how students will be required to engage …and.. how the instructor-student interaction will take place,” advises Nuala McGuinn, Director of NUI Galway’s Centre for Adult Learning and Professional Development.

“Set expectations as to the level of engagement required and have a clear statement of how the course will be assessed along with an assessment of engagement required,” she adds.

Technology should be a concern! There should be an awareness that internet access and availability of digital resources will be an issue for some students. Therefore, certain flexibilities will have to be accounted for in the design of the course to accommodate them and their needs.

The nature of the subject area is also important. Think creatively about how you will teach the course. Consider the tools available to you through the virtual learning environment. There are ways you could increase engagement through the use of online quizzes and other dedicated tools.

One of the key strengths of online or distance learning is that students can prepare material in advance of a classroom session. Make that material available to them. It can be packaged into course reading packs or short recorded lectures, podcasts or video recordings for them to view in their own time.

“The use of smaller, bite-sized chunks of information for all alternative formats used makes it easier for learners to engage with the content in a flexible format and increases the assimilation of information,” says McGuinn.

Building prompts or check-ins for students asking them to carry out an exercise or directing them to research the concept further is a way to keep them interested and engaged in the course.

Decide how you wish to use your live sessions with students - it is not advised to simply regurgitate the course notes. Instead, consider live settings as a dedicated learning opportunity where you can also encourage student discussion.

Make sure to build in opportunities for pastoral support for students and check in to see how they are coping with online learning.

Éanna Ó Caollaí

Éanna Ó Caollaí

Iriseoir agus Eagarthóir Gaeilge An Irish Times. Éanna Ó Caollaí is The Irish Times' Irish Language Editor, editor of The Irish Times Student Hub, and Education Supplements editor.