Online Learning Approaches

Online learning is a comprehensive term that includes a number of instructional environments and approaches. Click the tabs below to learn more about the different types of online courses. 


What is a Web-enhanced course?

When referring to a Web-enhanced course, it is simply a traditional face-to-face course that has an online component. They are technology-enhanced traditional courses. For example, here at UCSF, instructors use a Learning Management System called the Collaborative Learning Environment (CLE) to web-enhance their face-to-face courses.

The online component of courses typically includes a syllabus, PowerPoint presentations from class, lecture capture, resource links, class materials, and student grades.










What is a flipped classroom?
In a flipped classroom the traditional method of lecturing in class and assigning homework for students to complete at home is reversed. Students gain first-exposure learning prior to class by listening and watching lectures via video on their own time outside of class, and use the time in class to focus on the processing part of learning (synthesizing, analyzing, problem-solving, etc.) in class by completing homework, work through problems, collaborate with others and the instructor, discuss advanced concepts, and other more engaging or interactive activities.

Benefits of flipping a classroom
The flipped classroom maximizes the face-to-face time for discussion, where students are able to ask questions and interact in real-time with their instructors and fellow classmates. In other words, rather than being alone at home when working through complex topics or homework questions while studying, students benefit from the instructor's presence, coaching, and guidance. Shifting the lecture outside of the classroom allows time for increased active learning and engagement through the professor's expertise, facilitation, and guidance.

There are numerous ways to flip your class. You can flip your class at any level—an activity, one class meeting, several class meetings, or the entire class. The main goal of flipping a class is to cultivate deeper, richer learning experiences for students when the instructor is present to coach and guide them. Emphasis is on higher-order thinking skills and application to complex problems. Below are resources on how to get started and strategies and examples to help you determine what kind of flip is best for your courses. 

  • Find or create materials for your students to review before class, some examples include:
    • Short videos that explore the topic
      • Lab demonstrations
      • Record your own lectures
    • Assign pre-class reading 
    • Scenarios
    • Pre-recorded screencasts
  • Set clear expectations for students about how the flipped class will work and what they’ll need to do to succeed.
    • Let students know what you are doing—flipping the classroom—and why—making better use of their time. 
    • If students do not review the materials in advance, the activities will be less effective. You can ask students to complete online, low-stakes quizzes in advance or use some other strategy to encourage students to come to class prepared.
    • It is important to engage the students as if they had prepared, or they may get used to you filling in gaps for them.
  • Ideas for In-Class Activities:
    • Team-based Problem-solving
    • Case Studies
    • Simulations
    • Small-group Discussion
    • Project-based Learning
    • Active Learning Strategies
      • Think pair share
      • Group discussions
      • Quick write
      • Polling
      • Turn and talk
      • Individual and group quizzes
      • Poster & gallery walk



What is a Hybrid or Blended Course?
"Hybrid" or "Blended" are names commonly used to describe courses in which online learning activities have replaced some traditional face-to-face seat time. A hybrid course is designed to integrate face-to-face and online activities so that they reinforce, complement, and elaborate one another instead of treating the online component as an add-on or duplicate of what is taught in the classroom.

Benefits of hybrid classes

  • Flexibility for the students and Instructors flexibility affords students more freedom with schedules and assignments and an “anywhere/anytime” learning experience.
  • The opportunity for face-to-face time 
    Hybrid courses provide instructors with the opportunity to speak with and teach students in person, which they wouldn’t have in a fully online course. Instructors are able to make better connections with students, answer their questions, and students also have the opportunity to form relationships with each other and develop a better connection to the course.
  • Students receive the best of both worlds
    Hybrid courses combine the benefits of traditional in-person courses with the efficiency of online courses. Students can participate in online activities such as tests, assignments, and discussions), but also can clarify concepts in person in real-time and have real relationships and partnerships with their classmates and the instructor as real people, not just their names on a screen.
  • Opportunities to present and learn course materials in a variety of engaging and valuable ways
    Within the hybrid course, instructors can deliver and expand the experience inside and outside of the class, using technology to share materials so that students can learn materials individually and physical meetings to review and discuss complex concepts. It promotes “greater use of seat time for active learning experiences.


  • Leverage Virtual Class Meetings with Collaborative Work
  • Use online time for:
    • Sustaining group cohesion, collaboration, and support
    • Reflective, on-task discourse
    • Broader participation in discussions
    • Critical analysis Self-paced learning and practice
    • Self-assessment quizzes with feedback
    • Automatic grading of multiple-choice, T/F, fill-in-the-blank tests
    • Create a content outline, chunking content into modules
  • Use Face-to Face time for:
    • Establishing social presence and support
    • Nonverbal communication
    • Defining assignments
    • Negotiating expectations and responsibilities
    • Diagnosing students’ conceptual problems and providing immediate feedback
    • Brainstorming
    • Roleplay
    • Student demonstration of psycho-motor skills
Fully Online
What is a fully online course?
Online teaching typically refers to courses that are delivered completely online, meaning there are no physical or on-campus class sessions. Online courses can be designed for a handful of enrolled students or made open and accessible to a wide variety of participants.

Asynchronous Online Courses
These types of course offerings do not take place in real time. Students are provided with content and assignments and are given a time frame to complete coursework and exams. Interaction usually takes place through discussion boards, blogs, and wikis. As a result, there is no class meeting time. Asynchronous online learning environments are effective for students with time constraints or busy schedules.

Synchronous Online Courses
These types of course offerings require the instructor and all enrolled students to interact online simultaneously. Similar in some ways to a webinar, participants interact through text, video, or audio chat. Synchronous learning environments enable students to participate in a course from a distance in real time.

Benefits of Online Courses
Online courses allow instructors to teach beyond the physical classroom. Students benefit from the online environment by having unlimited access to resources and the ability to collaborate and connect with each other at any time of day from anywhere they connect to the internet, an obvious advantage of flexibility in scheduling. Non-native English speakers often find online classes easier to navigate because they can review and repeat lectures and class material as many times as necessary to understand complex concepts.


  • Communicate: Online courses require that you create a schedule for meaningful and active involvement with your students, some examples of doing this are posting announcements, scheduling online office hours, or hosting online discussions.
  • Evaluate your course: Ask someone to review it. Are instructions, course materials, organization, and expectations clear? Design for clarity so students don’t have to guess what you want them to do. 
  • Strive for a course organization that is clear, methodical, and intuitive.
  • Notice the visual impact of the home page, then click around to observe its logical, student-friendly organization.
  • Look for ways to break down complex tasks so that students make timely progress and receive feedback on their work while there is still time to adjust their approach if needed.
  • When you show students what you’re looking for, they’re likely to be more confident in their ability to succeed on a task, which in turn increases their motivation to engage.

Establish a reasonable timeline for designing and developing an online course. Designing a fully online course is not just a matter of placing content on a learning management system, so you'll need to:

  • Develop content and activities to engage online students
  • Determine how you will use technology in your class
  • Create an instructor communication plan to determine how you will communicate and interact with students
  • Use faculty support services, consult with your LMS experts to make the best use of the tools available, and work with Instructional Designers to help you design and develop your course.


Berkeley Center for Learning and Teaching
Stanford Teaching Commons
Cornell Center for Teaching 
Santa Clara University Digital Resources for Teaching

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