One of the things that I find most critical about online
learning design is preparing the students for and guiding them through the
course. The course should be designed so that students feel comfortable with
the technology, know what to expect, and trust the process. Of course, this
applies to traditional, face-to-face teaching but it is even more critical for
online learning as much of the time students will be left to their own devices
and if the scaffolding or support is not in place, student can easily disengage
or start to feel that they’re floundering and not being supported.

It is a good idea to spend a significant amount of time upfront
(one whole module!) just orientating the student.

Here are some suggestions to get students ready and comfortable:

  • Explain which parts of the course are
    face-to-face and which are online, and why the course is structured as such.
    Ensure it is clear to the students roughly how much time they are expected to spend
    on the course each week.
  • Inform students about dates and times for all
    synchronous activities so that they can diarise these and plan their lives
  • Establish netiquette guidelines at the start.
  • Explain how the learning management system (LMS)
    works and ensure students are comfortable with the technology being used in the
    course. Don’t assume that students have used the system before or that they
    will instinctively know how it works. An instructional video or lesson taking
    them through the use of the LMS is very useful.
  • Provide an orientation activity that allows
    students to get comfortable with the LMS, e.g. set up your online profile on
    the LMS.
  • Get students to introduce themselves (e.g. on
    the discussion forum, through a first blog post). It’s useful to provide a few
    guiding questions here to build rapport and encourage a sharing culture, e.g. What
    do you hope to achieve from this course? 
    What are your hobbies and interests? Tell the group one interesting fact
    about yourself.
  • Provide information on what sort of online
    support is available to the students. How often/when is the lecturer/tutor
    available online?  What other forms of
    online support are there for the students? 
    Reassure students that they will have support throughout.

An insightful article on “Creating Trust in Online Education”,
lists the following four strategies as key in building trust:

  • “Establish early communication
  • Develop a positive social atmosphere
  • Reinforce predictable patterns of communication
    and action
  • Involve team members in tasks”

(Kelly, 2008)


Kelly, Rob. (2008). Creating
Trust in Online Education [Online].
Available at:
[Accessed 25 April 2019]

Reflecting on topic 4 – supporting and guiding students in online courses