Creating Your Course

Reaching all modalities for student learning can be tricky in an online environment, where student engagement is difficult to measure and extrinsic motivation harder to instill. Choosing appropriate course tools goes a long way toward providing enough varied activities to match multiple learning styles, and maximize the chance that your students have mastered the material.

Beginning with the end in mind is a good strategy when developing online courses. Course goals and learning objectives will guide your decisions as you develop instructional events to help students successfully achieve the desired course outcomes. The Center for GOLD encourages faculty to follow a Backward Design model for any online course development or redesign project. Here we outline some best practices for developing each element of an online course.

Learning Objectives

Learning Objectives are statements that describe the specific knowledge, skills, or abilities students will be able to demonstrate in the real world because they completed your course. Learning objectives should not be assignment-specific; however, an assignment should allow students to demonstrate they have achieved the lesson objective(s).

Steps towards writing effective learning objectives:

  • Make sure there is one measurable verb in each objective.
  • Each objective needs one verb. Either a student can master the objective, or they fail to master it. If an objective has two verbs (say, define and apply), what happens if a student can define, but not apply? Are they demonstrating mastery?
  • Ensure that the verbs in the course level objective are at least at the highest Bloom’s Taxonomy as the highest lesson level objectives that support it. (Because we can’t verify if students can evaluate if our lessons only taught them to define.)
  • Strive to keep all your learning objectives measurable, clear and concise.

When you are ready to write, it can be helpful to list the level of Bloom’s next to the verb you choose in parentheses. In the Sample Objectives table below, we have identified a sample course level objective and two corresponding module-level objectives. Writing objectives using these strategies can help you quickly see what level verbs you have. It will also let you check that the course level objective is at least as high of a Bloom’s level as any of the lesson level objectives.

Example writing strategies for effective learning objectives
Course level objectiveModule-level objectives
1. Demonstrate (apply) how transportation is a critical link in the supply chain.

1.1. Discuss (understand) the changing global landscape for businesses and other organizations that are driving change in the global environment.

1.2. Demonstrate (apply) the special nature of transportation demand and the influence of transportation on companies and their supply chains operating in a global economy.


We confirm a hypothesis by testing it, so, too, we confirm the achievement of the course learning objectives by assessing them. This is why assessment is the second stage of backward design - if you know where you want students to go (learning objectives), you next need to decide how you will know if they have gotten there (assessment). Assessment is that evidence.

Although the types of assessments that often first come to mind are a test, paper, or lab exercise, many other activities can be used for assessment, including portfolios, discussion forums, concept maps, diagrams, and presentations. Any tangible output from a learning activity can be assessed. Your choice of output—and the activity designed to generate that output—should be determined by your learning outcomes; this is just as true in the online environment as it is in the traditional classroom.

Learning Activities

Learning activities include any type of activity that students undertake to work with the concepts and skills that lead to reaching the desired learning outcomes. The concept of active learning encompasses a wide variety of learning activities in which students engage with the course content. The focus of active learning is to foster that engagement. When students sit and passively watch or listen to lectures, whether in person or on video, they are not actively engaging with the content. If you think about the difference between your level of engagement when you are simply listening to someone report out on the topic at a committee meeting versus when you are actively debating the topic with colleagues, you can see the difference. If students are actively involved in working with the content, they will learn more, be more satisfied, and be more successful in your course.

Consider leveraging the tools built into Canvas such as Discussions (including recording video/audio directly into a discussion post), Group Spaces, Collaborations, or Webex. Sometimes, the best student learning experiences are designed within a very simple online environment.

Core Content

As you design your course based on your desired learning outcomes, it is important to think through what parts of your content are critical to support student achievement and what parts are less critical. By continuing the process of backward design, the foundational content should directly support students as they complete activities and assessments. 

Content that doesn't directly support activities and assessments (which were developed to provide practice and show mastery of learning outcomes) is supplemental content and would be prioritized behind foundational content. Supplemental content can include additional in-depth materials for advanced students, related inter-disciplinary content, or review of basic knowledge and skills for students without the prerequisite abilities for the course.