Online Teaching & Learning

This guide was created in partnership with The Centre for Teaching and Learning & Library and Learning Services.

Principle 4

Encourage Student Independence: Provide opportunities to develop and draw upon personal interests; offer choice in learning processes and modes of assessment; provide timely and developmental feedback on learning; encourage metacognition to promote self-assessment of learning.

How Students Develop Independence (and Achieve Success) in Online Environments

Your students may be coming to the online learning experience for the first time, or be fairly new to the process. You will play an important role in supporting them in developing independence and in gaining the skills that they need to experience success in an online learning environment. In a survey done of successful graduates (achieved a 3.50 GPA or better) who had earned their degrees by taking 80 percent or more of their courses exclusively online, the following themes emerged (Roper, 2007)

Students were asked what time-management strategies they found most helpful. One challenge facing an online student is the self-discipline required to devote adequate time to class in courses that might not have regularly scheduled times to meet synchronously online or in person. Most students found that establishing their own schedules or class time helped them ensure enough time for class participation. They shared the following strategies:

  • Setting and staying to specific study days
  • Designating specific times to read, complete written assignments, and post dialogue to other students
  • Create a schedule that gives you some flexibility and isn't overwhelming

Developing a schedule that designates specific times to log in to and participate in class and to carry out other course-related activities such as reading and doing research promotes a student's success as an online learner.

A key difference between in-person and online learning is the independence and ability to participate in the online class at a time convenient to the student. This also presents a potential problem, as procrastination could cause a student to fall behind in the online course. The graduates who participated in the study were asked how they avoided this problem. The suggested a few strategies:

  • Logging in to their course portal every day and checking for new postings or updates can help to prevent you from falling behind.
  • Weekly assignments from the instructor can help to keep you on a regular schedule in the course.
  • Discipline yourself in maintaining your schedule will make it less likely that other obligations will distract you from completely your course work.

Student interaction mostly occurs through an online discussion that allows students and instructors to interact in asynchronous time. This is a significant shift for students accustomed to in-class discussions. It may provide opportunities for richer discourse through written discussion that allows students to spend time crafting their responses. When asked how they made the most of their online interaction with other students, these students mentioned some interesting techniques:

  • Build relationships with other students in the class through posting responses, questions or comments to other students posts
  • Make sure you have something meaningful to say when you respond to a post, don't just say, 'good post'
  • Don't always interact with the same few classmates. Try to connect with various students in the class.

The instructor's role is important in encouraging class discussions online. A student explained, "Weekly discussions were best when the teacher encouraged it, especially by having pro versus con discussion, or asking 'why' or 'how' questions." Instructors who establish clear expectations as to how threaded discussions are used or who ask specific questions in response to student postings can expect to encourage richer online dialogue. Students who incorporate a plan for regular communication with their classmates into their overall course schedule will have greater success in their online course.

One challenge some students face when learning online is retention of the course content. There were a number of techniques that students applied to help them retain their learning:

  • Apply a 'use-or-lose' technique. As soon as you read or study it, put the knowledge to work through collaboration with students or at your place of employment.
  • Apply these concepts in active dialogue with the instructor and other students through the discussion board
  • Connecting the material to what you already know- a current or past experience is a great way to retain learning
  • Take notes during online lectures and course readings as if you are in a face-to-face course

Without direct physical contact and interaction with other learners or an instructor, online students can lose their interest or motivation mid-way through their course or program. The graduates who participated in this study were asked what motivation techniques they found most helpful in preventing burnout or loss of interest when studying online:

  • Keep your 'eye on the prize' (think about what you are working towards- i.e. A diploma or degree)
  • Working towards getting a good grade (or setting another personal goal)
  • The encouragement and feedback of fellow online students

Instructors in online courses employ a variety of techniques aimed at engaging and supporting the learner. Participants mentioned the kinds of instructional techniques that they connected with:

  • When instructors logged in often and asked a lot of questions- this can help to increase understanding of the subject and give people the opportunity for class participation
  • Posting the initial question for discussion, and then asking students individual questions based on their answers. The instructor was able to craft questions that matched the students' level of understanding of the material and provide online resources that supported their learning.
  • When instructors provided good feedback for me along the way, and I wasn't guessing if I was doing things the right way. I knew where I needed to improve and felt supported in the process.
  • When instructors provided activities with peer feedback. I liked the opportunity to have my work evaluated by a classmate before it was evaluated by my professor. I felt like I learned a lot about the assignment by having to evaluate someone else's assignment as well

The participants in this study had the opportunity to share successful techniques and practices that helped them in developing their online student skills through some open-ended questions. They had a number of strategies to share:

  • Connecting with another student in the class- to be a 'buddy' was a good support- it can provide accountability and support
  • Take the time to get to know your fellow students (sometimes you can learn as much from your fellow classmates as you can from your instructor!)
  • When instructors provided good feedback for me along the way, and I wasn't guessing if I was doing things the right way. I knew where I needed to improve and felt supported in the process.
  • Take the classroom discussion beyond the discussion board, and expand your learning experience (follow up with fellow students by email or other forms of communication)

No magical formula guarantees success in online learning. One important step for instructors teaching an online course is to recognize that a different set of student skills may be required for students to get good grades (indicating that they have achieved the desired understanding of the subject) and to get the most from an online course. The techniques identified by successful online students can promote a rich learning experience for other students and provide a foundation for them to develop these skills. Instructors can help them get there!

Adapted from Roper, A.R. (2007, January 1). How students develop online learning skills. Educause. Retrieved from

UDL Principles

Once again, who are your learners at Sheridan? Think about who your learners are...

  • What kind of diversity exists in your learning context?
  • What kinds of needs do you see?
  • What is visible and what is invisible

Consider: What are you already doing in your practice? What can you add to enhance the learning experience?

"How do I involve my students in the learning process?"

This first principle of UDL is about offering learners choice regarding the different ways they can both engage and participate in ways that are both personally meaningful and relevant. Students come to a learning experience with different motivations and interests, and the idea behind this principle is that, as educators, we aim to draw from their strengths and stimulate their interests in the multiple options that we provide them. Some important dimensions within choice include differentiated instruction (offering varying levels of challenge), cultivating a teaching and learning community (hyperlink), and encouraging both metacognitive skill development and learner agency. Online learning can be a very self-directed activity and naturally lends itself to the concept of designing learning experiences.

Link to UDL table found at ( For detailed information, visit their website.

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"How do I present essential course content to my students?"

Multiple means of representation is about providing learners various ways to access and engage with course materials and information. What does this actually mean? It best explained through a few different examples"

  • When you are introducing yourself, provide both a textual representation and a video introduction
  • When introducing key course concepts, you can do so verbally, in text, but also consider showing an example through a case study or a visual medium like a video
  • When you are explaining an assignment, create instructions that provide steps in a written form and then record a Kaltura video where you explain the assignment in detail verbally, using the written assignment as an instructional aid

The goal is to support students in using multiple representations and developing fluency in traversing across them. Offering flexibility in presenting information also acknowledges differences in how learners comprehend and perceive information. For example, students with visual impairment may find print materials inaccessible, and students with diverse language, cultural backgrounds, and perceptive abilities may encounter barriers to information when instructors assume common background.

The table below describes how this principle translates into Objectives & Benchmarks, Instructional Materials, Teaching Methods and Assessment Methods.

Link to UDL table found at ( For detailed information, visit their website.

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"How do I ask my students to show what they know?"

Learning is most effective when it is multimodal, which means that learners are provided with have multiple ways to access, interact with, and demonstrate their knowledge and understanding. Multiple means of expression in practice involves encouraging students to demonstrate their learning through various forms (e.g., exams, multimedia, concept maps, papers, projects).

This principle highlights executive functioning, where students apply what they learn strategically. It involves providing students with an opportunity to find, create, use and organize information. This process can include graduated levels of support, and using tools and technology.

What does this look like in practice?

  • Providing different ways of evaluating student learning (i.e. Not every evaluation should look the same)
  • Where possible, give students choice about the format of the assignments that they can complete
  • Incorporate formative feedback into your course so that students are getting feedback as they are learning concepts
  • Incorporate peer feedback and interaction

The table below describes how this principle translates into Objectives & Benchmarks, Instructional Materials, Teaching Methods and Assessment Methods.

Link to UDL table found at ( For detailed information, visit their website.

Image retrieved from:

UDL Principles Adapted from the "Universal for Learning in Higher Education" guide created by the University of Calgary:

How Can UDL Support the Growth of Student Independence?

Remember Universal Design for Learning or UDL?

CAST: UDL at a Glance

Universal design for learning (UDL) is a framework to improve and optimize teaching and learning for all people based on scientific insights into how humans learn.


Watch the following video titled "What is Universal Design for Learning (UDL)?" to learn how to meet the needs of a diverse range of students.

Video from AHEAD.