Best Instructional Practices for Online, Face-to-Face and Blended Courses

A guide to help you choose and implement the right instructional practice.

On this page:

The following are different instructional practices organized alphabetically with tips for different learning modalities — online, face-to-face and blended — as well as guidance on implementation and links to helpful resources.

Present and assess

Opportunities to introduce new information to students and use assessment to improve acquisition, confirm that knowledge has been acquired and understood, and determine where additional clarification is needed.

Online

Instructor records and posts a video lecture or slideshow that provides the knowledge base the student should acquire for the lesson. The faculty’s content can then be followed with a quiz or flashcards confirming student’s memory and understanding of the material by recalling fundamental facts, terms and basic concepts.

Face-to-Face

The faculty offers a lecture with a slideshow that provides the knowledge base the student should acquire for the lesson. The faculty’s presentation can be followed by an in-class audience quiz using clickers. Questions should confirm memory and understanding of the material by checking student’s recall of fundamental facts, terms and basic concepts. Topics that have fewer correct responses in the quiz can be discussed as a class or in small groups with the faculty circulating among the groups.

Blended

Instructor records and posts a video lecture or slideshow that provides the knowledge base the student should acquire for the lesson. In class the faculty follows-up with an audience quiz using clickers. Questions should confirm memory and understanding of the material by checking student’s recall of fundamental facts, terms and basic concepts. Topics that have fewer correct responses in the quiz can be discussed as a class or in small groups, in-class or online.

Cooperative learning

Providing opportunities for students to learn from each other is an integral part of constructive collaboration and helps construct new knowledge together (Vygotsky, 1978).

Online: Create a topical wiki

A wiki is a collaborative online forum that encourages creative, collective participation. It does not require leadership or organization and can be contributed to in an informal pop-corn style.

The faculty selects a wiki platform (UBlearns is one option) and creates an assignment that gives students the opportunity to demonstrate their understanding of relevant facts and ideas. The wiki can be an opportunity for students to organize, compare, translate, interpret, give descriptors or state main ideas. For example, a geography class can invite students to post facts, images, and video clips about a selected region.

Face-to-Face: Think, Pair, Share

Students receive content during or prior to class and then review course content or a problem independently, perhaps writing up a short response to a question. Then they pair off into small groups where they share and discuss their responses and offer each other feedback. Coming back to the larger class, each team reports their resolution or findings and engages in a discussion with the instructor and the rest of the class.

Blended

Each student is tasked with one aspect of a relevant body of knowledge. Online students individually or in small teams research one section of the material and create a short presentation which they post online. Students are required to view their classmate’s presentations. In class, depending on the number of students, they organize as a class or in small groups to review the presentations and ask and answer questions that gives students the opportunity to demonstrate their understanding of relevant facts and ideas. Like a jigsaw puzzle, all students’ contributions, when put together, make a whole.

Experiential learning with role-play

Experiential learning is one of the most engaging methods of teaching. Students encounter real-world scenarios, with the goal of building on their existing knowledge and skills to analyze specific problems and find solutions. According to Kolb (1984), experiential learning relies on four elements: experience, critical reflection, abstract conceptualization and active experimentation in a new situation.

Online

The faculty selects a current or historic debate topic and assigns students (individuals or teams) to specific roles that represent the different components of the debate as well as audience members. Students must research their roles and positions. The debate can take place asynchronously or synchronously. Peer evaluation can be employed to give students additional feedback.

Face-to-Face

The faculty selects a current or historic debate topic and assigns students (individuals or teams) to specific roles that represent the different components of the debate as well as audience members. Students must research their roles and positions and are encouraged to get into character. Peer evaluation can be employed to give students additional feedback.

Blended

In class, the faculty selects a current or historic debate topic. Students are assigned to or choose (as individuals or teams) specific roles that represent the different components of the debate as well as audience members. Online students research their roles and positions and are encouraged to get into character. Peer evaluation can be employed to give students additional feedback.

Discussions

A well-structured discussion has many benefits for learning, including increasing student engagement and sense of agency. Variables such as class size, average participation level of students and modality should be factored in when designing a discussion.

Online

Asynchronous online discussions can be lively and engaging, and build a sense of community in the online environment. Good design is essential to a successful discussion. Discussions typically have two to three stages, each with their own instructions and due dates.

For more information on designing asynchronous online discussion environments, see Gao, Zhang & Franklin (2013).

Face-to-Face

In class discussions are less controlled and can derail quickly – preparation is required for a productive discussion that gives students the opportunity to engage with each other as they demonstrate their understanding of relevant facts and ideas.

Blended

Blended classes present the opportunity to have discussions either in class or online. Faculty should consider the learning outcomes of the discussion and course in deciding the location of discussions. In person discussions can be fast-paced, spontaneous and more closely monitored by the faculty and are excellent for brainstorming or visual discussion topics. Students and instructors can also benefit from the nonverbal cues to gauge interest and understanding. Online discussions encourage full participation by all students. They allow students to take time to research, process and compose before participating and are best suited for questions that require reflection and research.

Peer assessment

Peer assessment is a collaborative learning tool that gives students additional feedback as well as an opportunity to learn through the careful review of other students’ work. In all modalities, rubrics and guidelines will improve the quality of the feedback and the impact of the process.

Online

Peer review in an online classroom is a powerful tool for improving evaluation skills while contributing to social presence. Detailed guidance is essential for facilitating students’ ability to thoroughly evaluate other students’ work and use the experience to reflect on their own.

Face-to-Face

Peer review in class can be as simple as having students swap their work on an assignment and do an evaluation using a rubric guidelines provided by the faculty. Students can then come back into the larger class or small discussion groups and share their findings and ask questions. You can also incorporate role-play in the process by having a mock boardroom presentation with non-presenting students assigned to evaluate specific aspects of the presentation. A scribe can make note of the feedback for the presenting team.

Blended

Students can create a written or visual work and make it available online. Small and large group feedback and discussion can take place in the classroom. Or presentations can be shared in the classroom and feedback given in-class or online. In either case assigning a personal reflection activity online will help students process the feedback they got and the observations they made of their peer’s work.

Using the technology of the discipline

Relevance is central to learning. Giving students real-world scenarios and building skills that have practical value beyond the classroom and in their professions increases relevance (Knowles, 1984).

Online

Select a technology or skill set that is relevant to your discipline and give students an assignment. Students can do this individually or in teams – another practical skill to build. For example, students can create a blog or vlog on a relevant topic by doing the research and building the skills to create these products. Select a technology or skill set that is relevant to your discipline and give students an assignment. Students can do this individually or in teams – another practical skill to build. For example, students can create a blog or vlog on a relevant topic by doing the research and building the skills to create these products.

Face-to-Face

If you’re teaching in a lab the possibilities for hands-on activities are extensive. If that is not the case, it may be impossible to offer hands on experience with certain discipline-specific technologies in a face to face classroom. In this case you may engage students in the prep-side of the assignment. For example, create a story board and script for a video and have students produce the video as homework and then view the videos in class

Blended

Tackle a real-world challenge currently facing your field. In class, students hear a lecture or view a short video about the problem and then engage in an in-class discussion. Online students are challenged to develop a response or solution to the challenge, conduct research and then, using appropriate digital media, post a presentation on their findings.

Additional resources

Literature

  • Ferguson, C. (2002). Using the Revised Taxonomy to Plan and Deliver Team-Taught, Integrated, Thematic Units. Theory Into Practice, 41(4), 238-243. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org.gate.lib.buffalo.edu/stable/1477409
  • Gao, F., Zhang, T., & Franklin, T. (2013). Designing asynchronous online discussion environments: Recent progress and possible future directions. British Journal of Educational Technology44(3), 469-483.
  • Knowles, M. (1984). The Adult Learner: A Neglected Species (3rd Ed.). Houston: Gulf Publishing.
  • Kolb, D. A., (1984), Experiential Learning: Experience as a Source of Learning and Development, Englewood Cliffs, Prentice-Hall.
  • Krathwohl, D. R. (2002). A revision of Bloom's taxonomy: An overview. Theory into practice41(4), 212-218.
  • Nilson, L. B. (2016). Teaching at its best: a research-based resource for college instructors (4th ed.) San Francisco: Jossey-Bass
  • Vygotsky, L. (1978). Interaction between learning and development. Readings on the development of children23(3), 34-41.