Promoting Student Learning in Online Courses

A meta-analysis of online learning research sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education (2010) offers the following conclusion:

“Students in online conditions performed modestly better, on average, than those learning the same material through traditional face-to-face instruction.”

The study highlights “the amount of time that learners spent on task” as a key feature to student learning.  Time on task is one of the seven principles for good practice in higher education outlined by Chickering and Gamson (1987).  “The Seven Principles framework offers solid, research-based guidance for the design and delivery of Intranet-based courses” (Bangert, 2004).  Several articles have adapted the seven principles for good practice to online situations including Graham, Cagitay, Lim Craner & Duffy (2001), and Koeckeritz, Malkiewicz & Henderson (2002).  The following table outlines some of the insights from these articles.

Seven Principles for Good Practice in Undergraduate Education

(Chickering & Gamson, 1987)

Online Teaching Applications
  1. Encourages contacts between students and faculty.
  • electronic office hours

  • Instructor and student profile pages to get to know one another

  • Inform students when you will routinely check email (I check my email on Monday, Wednesday and Friday afternoons, etc.)

  • Use announcements, emails, and discussion forums

  1. Develops reciprocity and cooperation among students.
  • Discussion forums

  • Use Google Docs for collaborative work

  • Wikis

  • Group projects

  1. Uses active Learning techniques.
  • Organize online courses around projects

  • Assign projects that end in a product that students present to the class

  • Involve students with case studies, vignettes and problem- based learning

  1. Gives prompt feedback.
  • Inform your students how long it will take to return work (I will grade these assignments within one week of receiving them.)

  • Use rubrics

  • Use Blackboard’s Gradebook features

  1. Emphasizes time on task.
  • Set definite deadlines

  • Send reminders or announcements about deadlines

  1. Communicates high expectations.
  • Use Rubrics to show expectations for participation and assignments

  • Regularly  praise quality postings and participation

  • Give students examples of exemplary work

  1. Respects diverse talents and ways of learning.
  • Use a verity of mediums including videos, audio clips, PowerPoint, texts, etc.

  • Allow students to choose project topics that relate to their interest or work


  • Bangert, A. (2004). The Seven Principles of Good Practice: A Framework for Evaluating Online Teaching. Internet and Higher Education 7, 217-232.
  • Chickering, A., & Gamson, Z. (1987). Seven principles of good practice in undergraduate education. AAHE Bulletin, 39, 3-7.
  • Graham, C., Cagiltay, K., Lim, B., Craner, J. & Duffy, T. (2001). Seven Principles of Effective Teaching: A Practical Lens for Evaluating Online Courses. Technology Source 30. 
  • Koeckeritz, J., Malkiewicz, J., & Henderson, A. (2002). The Seven Principles of Good Practice: Applications for Online Education in Nursing. Nurse Educator 27 (6), 283-287.
  • U.S. Department of Education, Office of Planning, Evaluation, and Policy Development. (2010). Evaluation of Evidence-Based Practices in Online Learning: A Meta-Analysis and Review of Online Learning Studies, Washington, D.C. Available online at