Setting Up Effective Online Learning Experiences

Essential Steps for Effective Online Learning

There are many essential steps for setting up effective online learning experiences for adult learners however, the ones I feel are most essential are, creating social presence, providing students with a course syllabus, and prepare discussion posts that will invite learners to reflect on their experiences.

Boettcher and Conrad (2010) stated, “One of the best ways to start an online course on the right foot is to focus on social presence activities for both learners and faculty…(so everyone will) know each other as three-dimensional people” (p. 51). Students need to know that his or her instructor and classmates, are ‘real’ people. One way to develop social presence is by sending a welcome email to learners before the course starts. Another way is by communicating with students weekly by sending an email. The email doesn’t have to be long, you can state something about the current week’s lesson, or just to say you are checking in or just to give class updates. Another way to develop social presence is through an icebreaker activity. Conrad and Donaldson (2011) stated, “An icebreaker should not require anything more than the ability to express knowledge of self” (p. 46).

Providing a course syllabus is extremely important. The online syllabus sets out the overall course plan with performance goals, learning outcomes, and requirements (Boettcher & Conrad, 2010, p. 64). Students need to know the class and campus policies, your expectations of them as online learners, and any other “boilerplate information on library access, technical support, and contact information for noncourse-specific questions (p. 64). The welcoming email is a perfect opportunity to give students a glimpse of the syllabus before the start of the course.

Clear Expectations are Important!

In an online class, it is important for the instructor to communicate clear expectations to learners. Boettcher and Conrad (2010) stated, “Clear…guidelines about what is expected of learners and what they should expect from an instructor make a significant contribution to ensuring understanding and satisfaction in an online course” (p. 55). Students want to succeed and as instructors, we want our students to succeed. One way to help our students reach their goals is to clearly and thoroughly explain what we expect of our students in their online class. Clarifying how the course will work and sometimes might not work can help create a smooth and trusting learning environment (p. 55).



Conrad, R., & Donaldson, J. (2011). Online icebreakers. Engaging the online learner: Activites and resources for creative instruction (pp. 46-59). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Boettcher, J., & Conrad, R. (2010). Phase one: What’s happening, themes, and tools: Starting off on the right foot in course beginnings. The online teaching survival guide (pp. 49-61). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Boettcher, J., & Conrad, R. (2010). Phase one: Tips for course beginnings. The online teaching survival guide (pp. 49-61). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.


3 Comments Add yours

  1. Hi Natasha,
    Providing students with a syllabus is a great essential as the syllabus helps to plan and clarify the course, introduce you to the students, state the expectations such as evaluation and assignment and overall give the students a roadmap.
    Reflection is also a great tool. Even as educators we reflect on what we have done and how best we can improve or what we could have done different.
    I truly enjoyed reading your post and wish I had thought of some of these essentials.


  2. happyheart321 says:

    Hey Natasha,
    Great blog post this week! I believe you have touched on the most important strategies in setting up an effective online learning experience. Social presence is directly related to the level of connectedness among instructors and students which can determine how motivated students are in taking an active role in their own learning process (Whiteside, Dikkers, & Lewis, 2014). I believe that a social presence is much more important in a virtual environment and must be established first thing. Clear expectations and reflection post are also great strategies to ensure that the online learners are staying engaged. Thanks for sharing,
    Whiteside, A., Dikkers, A., & Lewis, S. (2014). The Power of Social Presence for Learning.
    Retrieved from


  3. Angela Freeny says:

    Hi Natasha, enjoyed your post. You made several good points about the importance of social presence. The connections learners make with each other and with their instructor are critical to a successful learning experience. In addition, the importance of clear expectations is also essential in ensuring an increased understanding and satisfaction for an online course.



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