Design a quality online classroom by following five guiding principles.
Once you have decided what online learning space you will use, you will need to set it up in a way that works for you, as well as your students and families.
Since you will not be physically present to answer questions, you will likely find that you must be more intentional and clear than you would be in a physical, face-to-face learning space.
Consider the five guiding principles below as you design your digital learning space.
1. Keep It Super Simple (KISS Method)
You will want students to use their cognitive energy on learning content and doing the work, not on trying to figure out what to do or where to go in your online learning space.
Here are four reminders for how to Keep It Super Simple (KISS):
- Be simple, clear, and consistent!
- Less is more!
- Reduce clicking and scrolling.
- Embed content whenever possible.
2. Organize Well
Your students will not be organized if your course is not well organized, so set it up well from the start. Make it easy to navigate and locate what is needed. Consider these key ideas:
Chunk Your Content
- Break content down into clearly labeled folders or pages.
- Organize by unit, topic, date, or type of material.
Be Clear and Consistent
- Organization: Choose a method and stick with it.
- Expectations and materials: Post in the same place, using the same system each day.
- Naming conventions: Be consistent in how you name folders and documents.
- Develop a color-coding scheme (e.g., green means learn, red means do).
- Add images or icons as visual cues (e.g., a check mark always indicates something that must be submitted).
- Don’t publish materials until you want students to see them.
Sample organizational methods for folders:
Sample showing clearly labeled content inside daily folders:
3. Post Directions Clearly and Consistently
Students must know how to find your directions and expectations. As much as possible, post this information with a consistent timeline (when), location (where), and format (how it looks).
- Develop a schedule for when you will post directions and expectations.
- Also, be clear about when you will be available to support students.
- For example:
- Post work by 9 a.m. each day.
- Post Monday morning for the whole week.
- “I will respond to email questions between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. M–F.”
- Post things in the same place each day. For example:
- On a class calendar
- In a new folder for each day with the date on it
- In a daily class message board post
- At the top of your main page
- As much as possible, use the same format for communicating expectations, content, and assignments each day. For example:
- The date on top, class work on the left, and homework due on the right
- A daily folder with five items: a video overview from the teacher, a list of daily expectations, content to learn, practice work, and an assignment
- Develop a system for students to track their progress, such as:
- An online gradebook
- A daily checklist (using a teacher-created template or one built into the LMS)
- Create a digital slideshow with daily expectations.
- Embed it, so it displays when the page is opened.
- Add new slides to the top of the slideshow, so they display first.
4. Apply Key Format and Design Principles
Not everyone has the artistic eye of a designer. However, by following a few key best practices, you can create an effective format and design for your learning spaces.
- Use strong color contrast (black text on a white background is often best).
- Make sure that hyperlinks are blue, bold, and underlined.
- Use plain fonts (they are easier to read than fancy, script-style fonts).
Images and Media
- Use images that are primarily informative, not decorative.
- Consider copyright when choosing images.
- Embed videos where possible to avoid extra clicks.
5. Make Content Accessible
Strive to make your learning space accessible to all students, including those with disabilities.
Student and Family Access
- Can everyone access your digital classroom?
- Do they know where to find it?
- Do they have accounts and logins?
- Do they have directions or training about how to use and navigate it?
- Can everyone access and open your digital materials?
- Are your “share” settings correct so that anyone can view?
- Posting documents as PDFs is a good choice, as PDF viewers can be downloaded free of charge.
- Posting links to online documents (like Google Docs or Google Slides) with “anyone can view” settings enabled works well.
- Do you need to provide alternate, offline materials for those without internet access?
- How will students get these?
- How can you best replicate the online experience?
American with Disabilities Act (ADA) Compliance
- Use font styles from the “styles menu” to format headers, body text, directions, etc.
- Add alternate text to images for those with vision loss.
- Add closed captioning to videos for those with hearing loss.