Effective Online Learning

Effective online learning at the University of Minnesota is a learner-centered experience characterized by the thoughtful design and facilitation of student-to-student, student-to-content, student-to-instructor, and student-to-technology interaction [1]. It is achieved through effective practices in learning design, learning environment design, and online teaching and the facilitation of online learning [2] [3].

Effective online learning at the University of Minnesota is a learner-centered experience where goals, assessments, and activities are aligned to support the course objectives. Instructors and instructional designers promote successful achievement of the learning objectives by providing multiple opportunities for students to interact with each other, with the course materials, and with the instructor. Learners encounter frequent opportunities for reflection, self-assessment, and peer learning.

Effective online learning at the University of Minnesota occurs in learning environments that facilitate active learning experiences. Appropriate resources and technologies are used to communicate in a clear and timely manner with students. Multiple instructional methods and strategies guide students to construct knowledge, demonstrate knowledge, and interact within the course. Course websites and learning materials are current, timely, accessible, easy to navigate and provide a clear path for learners to engage with the materials toward their own success.

Effective online learning at the University of Minnesota is facilitated by instructors who are able to effectively implement online pedagogies and ways to cultivate an engaged community of learners who are invested in their own and each other’s success [4].

Effective online instructors are able to design an online learning environment that facilitates higher-order learning through a process involving critical discourse and reflection in an online community of peers. Three elements facilitate this online community [5].

  1. Social: In addition to facilitating polite and friendly interaction, participants will feel a sense of belonging and social connection, open communication, and strong group cohesion.
  2. Cognitive: Learning materials and content are most effective when used in support of a relevant problem, and used to guide students through investigation and resolution of the problems. This  “practical inquiry” process includes ample opportunity for discussion, collaborative problem-solving, and reflection.
  3. Teacher: The active presence of the online teacher is critical to the success of the first two elements. Online, it becomes even more imperative for the teacher to act as a learning guide. This includes providing concise instructions, setting clear expectations, creating a consistent online course site, and modeling effective online behaviors and participation [6].

The role of an online teacher incorporates all three of the above elements [7] [8].


  1. Moore, Michael. (1989). Three Types of Interaction. American Journal of Distance Education. 3. 1-7. 10.1080/08923648909526659.
  2. Bickle, M.C., Rucker, R. D., & Burnsed, K. A. (2019). Online learning: examination of attributes that promote student satisfaction. Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration, 22(1).
  3. Mayer, R. E. (2019). Thirty years of research on online learning. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 33(2), 152-159. doi:10.1002/acp.3482
  4. Kumar, S., Martin, F., Budhrani, K., & Ritzhaupt, A. (2019). Award-winning faculty online teaching practices: Elements of award-winning courses. Online Learning, 23(4), 160-180. doi:10.24059/olj.v23i4.2077
  5. Garrison, D. R., Anderson, T., & Archer, W. (2000). Critical inquiry in a text-based environment: Computer conferencing in higher education model. The Internet and Higher Education, 2(2-3), 87-105.
  6. Kyei-Blankson, L., Ntuli, E., & Donnelly, H. (2016). Establishing the Importance of Interaction and Presence to Student Learning in Online Environments. World Journal of Educational Research, 3(1), 48. doi: 10.22158/wjer.v3n1p48
  7. Dunlap, J. C., & Lowenthal, P. R. (2018). Online Educators' Recommendations for Teaching Online: Crowdsourcing in Action. Open Praxis, 10(1), 79-89.
  8. Cung, B., Xu, D., & Eichhorn, S. (2018). Increasing interpersonal interactions in an online course: Does increased instructor email activity and voluntary meeting time in a physical classroom facilitate student learning? Online Learning, 22(3), 193-215. doi:10.24059/olj.v22i3.1322

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Guidelines for Online Teaching and Design by TeachingSupport@UMN.edu and Faculty Development for Online Teaching task group is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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