Texas Tech University

For Faculty

Instruction in an Online Course

by Tom Dolan, Associate Director, Worldwide eLearning

A primary difference between an online and face to face course is how instructions are made. Instruction is when and where the instructor tells or demonstrates to students what to do with or how to think about the subject matter content. Instruction in a face to face class is usually verbal and can be improvised to compensate for items such as the mood of the audience. Because of the lack of immediate feedback, there is little room for improvisation in an online course. Therefore, it is necessary to carefully plan out each detail of instruction in an online environment before the course begins.

The TTU Worldwide eLearning Instructional Design Team (ID Team) has found it useful to think first in terms of what the instructor wants the students to do – these become the module elements. And then in terms of what the instructor does to support the student to successfully master and complete each element – these become the instructions.

The ID Team created a set of questions to help develop thorough and complete instructions in an online course:

  • What are the methods you will use to teach the common content elements? (A fact, a rule, a procedure, an interpersonal skill, or an attitude.)
  • What will the instructor do to prompt the learner to acquire the stated knowledge and skills?
  • Are students instructed on how to start, sequence, navigate, and complete each element?
  • What modes will be used to relay instruction? (Text, audio, video, etc.)
  • Do the instructions motivate students? (Have you answered the "why" question?)
  • Are students instructed how to submit assignments and assessments for grades?
  • Have any concurrent projects, such as a term paper or project, been adequately addressed? (The ID Team recommends a separate module for large projects.)

As you can see, it is necessary to plan instructions for every element you want the student to do in the online course—and to craft the instructions in such a way to support the student to successfully complete each element. We recommend that before the course starts, instructors make sure that explicit and clear instructions exist for the overall course, and for each module, module element, assignment and assessment.


The Worldwide eLearning Instructional Design (ID) Team consults in collaboration with faculty and course developers to create quality online courses. The ID Team is well-versed in the best practices of instructional design, universal design for learning, educational technology, and issues such as compliance with the American Disability Act and copyright regulations. ID Team members are available for consultation by appointment: contact us via email or phone, (806) 742-7277, if you need further assistance.