INFO: Principles of Online Pedagogy

Our approach in OTC is framed by six Principles of Online Pedagogy (POP). These frameworks express core values which we consider to rest at the heart of effective liberal arts education in the online environment; they also articulate guidelines for practice.

Click through each tab below for a brief introduction to the six Principles, as well as links to further readings.



Much research indicates that students learn better, and retain more, when they are directly involved in their learning, not just reading texts or listening to a lecture. The blog post “Learning Online is not a Spectator Sport” gives some specific examples about how to change lessons from passive to active.

One of the most difficult challenges faculty and students face in online classes is feeling a sense of community. Studies show that building community is one of the essential “building blocks” to a successful online student experience.

Think of how you create a sense of community in your regular F2F classes (bringing food, arriving early or staying late to speak with students, playing music before class starts, etc.). How many of those techniques can you translate into an online course environment? Does the internet provide unique ways of creating a sense of community? 

As part of the EdTech Du Jour series, Drs. Heather Farmakis and Melissa Kaulbach address the importance of community-building in online spaces in terms of 3 goals: humanizing your course, building rapport, and fostering learning.

You don’t need us to tell you that it takes more than just “showing up” to make your face-to-face classes work. None of us simply walks into the room, lectures, and walks out again: we develop a complex physical presence, including personality and teaching style, personal and social connections. These elements work to create and sustain students’ engagement – ultimately supporting your curriculum. Without your presence, students would simply have a self-paced tutorial – clearly, you bring something valuable to the experience!

Larry Ragan of Penn State has developed useful schemata for planning and building instructor presence in an online environment, so that you’ll be present for your students in all the important ways you take for granted in a physical space – but need to plan carefully online!

  • Persona: The instructor’s personality, teaching style, and interests—all the characteristics that go into the students’ impression of the instructor.
  • Social presence: The connections instructors make with students, and those that students make with each other to build a learning community.
  • Instructional presence: The role the instructor plays in guiding students through the learning process.

Read more about developing your online presence: Purdue offers an introduction and bibliography here, and you can dive into some study results here (*.pdf) and here (*.pdf).

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is an educational framework based on research in the learning sciences, including cognitive neuroscience, that guides the development of flexible learning environments that can accommodate individual learning differences. Recognizing that the way individuals learn can be unique, the UDL framework, first defined by David H. Rose, Ed.D. of the Harvard Graduate School of Education and the Center for Applied Special Technology (CAST) in the 1990s, calls for creating curriculum from the outset that provides:

  • Multiple means of representation to give learners various ways of acquiring information and knowledge,
  • Multiple means of expression to provide learners alternatives for demonstrating what they know, and
  • Multiple means of engagement to tap into learners’ interests, challenge them appropriately, and motivate them to learn.

Curriculum, as defined in the UDL literature, has four parts: instructional goals, methods, materials, and assessments. UDL is intended to increase access to learning by reducing physical, cognitive, intellectual, and organizational barriers to learning, as well as other obstacles. UDL principles also lend themselves to implementing inclusionary practices in the classroom.

Universal Design for Learning. (2015, April 23). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 12:21, June 20, 2015, from

The online environment is rich, exciting, and attractive. It provides convenience, communication, and instant access to a wealth of materials. But it’s a pretty complex environment, and we aren’t always aware of considerations that have a serious impact on our professional responsibilities to build a class environment that’s safe; one that respects privacy rights; and one that promotes ethical behaviors. A well-built online course consistently addresses the following five concerns:

  • Intellectual Property
  • Copyright and Fair Use
  • Transparency
  • Smart Online User Practices

Robust feedback provides a double advantage – not only does it give your students the information they need, but it also sustains their engagement in the course community. These advantages correspond to two distinct types of feedback, both of which have an important place in your planning process:

  • Acknowledgement feedback confirms or assures the student that some event has taken place.
  • Information feedback is evaluative, given in response to a student question or submission.

In Canvas, you have many tools to manage and provide your feedback! A well-planned feedback strategy will help you keep communication flowing with your students, without letting it become onerous.


We use these Principles to inform our activities throughout OTC – as you design and build your course, we think you’ll find it helpful to make choices with these six concerns in mind.

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