Online Course Design Guidelines

The CTL Online Course Design Guidelines reflect best practices in the current literature, most notably, the Quality Matters Rubric [PDF]. This research-based rubric was originally developed in 2005 with US Dept of Education funding. The CTL guidelines also incorporate principles of Universal Design for Learning (See UDL on Campus, Center for Applied Special Technology).

  1. Course Learning Objectives
    1. The course learning objectives are student-centered, are appropriate for the level of the cohort, and describe measurable outcomes. e.g. “The student will be able to….” (see more about learning objectives)
    2. The module-level learning objectives are consistent with the course learning objectives and describe measurable outcomes.
    3. Learning objectives are used to guide the development of assignments and assessments.
  2. Orientation and Syllabus
    1. The course includes a “getting started,” page described on this page.
    2. The course includes a syllabus with the elements, described on this page.
  3. Instructional Content and Navigation
    1. Course content is aligned with the stated course (and module) learning objectives.
    2. The content is “chunked” in manageable, well organized segments and clearly labeled.
    3. Navigation throughout the course is logical, consistent, and efficient.
    4. The purpose of instructional content and how it is to be used is clearly explained.
    5. Instructional content presents a variety of perspectives.
    6. Instructional content is appropriately cited and complies with UVM Copyright Policy
    7. The content is represented in multiple formats, providing students with options for engagement and comprehension. See this guideline on
    8. Course tools and media foster student engagement with content through active learning.
  4. Social Presence and Interaction
    1. Instructor establishes a social presence at the beginning of the course with an introduction on the discussion board and asks students to do the same.
    2. Learning activities provide opportunities for interaction that supports active learning.
    3. The instructor clearly states the plan for instructor response time and feedback on assignments.
    4. The requirements for student interaction are clearly articulated.
    5. The instructor is present throughout the course, participating regularly.
  5. Universal Design for Learning and Accessibility See CTL page on UDL
    1. The course content and assignments are designed to be flexible so as to meet the varied needs of diverse learners.
    2. The course contains equivalent alternatives to auditory and visual content.
    3. The course design facilitates readability and minimizes distractions.
    4. The course syllabus provides guidance on how to obtain accommodations through the University’s Student Accessibility Services.
    5. The course reflects conformance with University policy as articulated in the Disability Certification and Support – Students policy statement.
  6. Assessment of Learning
    1. Assessments measure the stated learning objectives and are consistent with course activities and resources.
    2. Assessments are designed to provide students a variety of options for expressing knowledge and skills. See UDL Principle Multiple Means of Action and Expression.
    3. Assignment expectations and instructions are thorough and clear.
    4. Students are provided with clear directions on where and (technically) how to submit assignments and assessments.
    5. Specific and descriptive criteria are provided for both the evaluation of students’ work and participation, and are aligned with the grading policy.
    6. Formative assessment techniques are used, providing students with frequent feedback on their learning.