Top 10 principles of online pedagogy

In response to the Coronavirus pandemic the University has had to adapt its mode of teaching delivery. 

The University has taken the decision that all teaching sessions named ‘lectures’ will be delivered asynchronously through the use of DMU Replay.  Blackboard Collaborate Ultra and MS Teams can be used to develop asynchronous learning materials but will require additional process steps to ensure that they are accessible to all students.  All recordings need to be made available in the appropriate DMU Replay module folder and accessed by the learning materials content area of the Blackboard module shell

Other teaching content, such as practicals, laboratories, seminars, workshops and tutorials may have to be supported through an online environment. In some instances, it may be possible to deliver teaching on campus providing a blended approach. This will be dependent on government advice with regard to social distancing and campus Estate capacity.

Our approach focuses on how best to support our students through these unprecedented times.

Our focus is on ensuring that students have a mix of asynchronous and synchronous activities.

It is important to remember that the completion of study tasks can be more complicated in a remote setting because students may face competing pressures, such as access to resources, unexpected caring responsibilities, self-isolation or illness. Setting a realistic and achievable study schedule with clear instructions is critical.

The following ten overarching principles offer the framework which module and programme teams need to take into consideration when designing their teaching delivery.

The University has a wide range of support services to assist staff and students:

Useful resources external to DMU include:


  • Please refer to the online learning glossary for consistency for descriptions of individual teaching sessions that reflect online teaching.

  1. 1. There is no such thing as a typical student

    It is important to consider the blend of activity in terms of learning activities as well as student support.

    The diversity of DMU’s students make it imperative to consider how this diversity impacts on students’ needs. This is as true in the development and delivery of blended/online learning as it would be in campus based provision.  It is important to consider the blend of activity in terms of learning activities as well as student support.  In recognition of our diversity of students, and of our duties under the Equality Act 2010, we expect that all DMU programmes adhere to the following principles:

    • We do not create singular approaches.  Rather, we utilise multiple approaches, to maximise engagement from different groups of people, and accordingly, maximise their outcomes.

    • We adhere to the three key principles of Universal Design for Learning (UDL) to provide an equal learning experience (including participation and progression) to all students at DMU: flexible ways of learning, flexible study resources, and flexible ways of testing learning.

    • That your curriculum will be diverse, and will use a diverse range of materials of social, cultural and global relevance to a diverse student base.

    • That you will consider using a wide range of materials, such as videos, audio material, quizzes, online activities and how they are put together. 

    • We expect you will check in with your students about how they are engaging with the various materials and teaching methods.  If you find that particular groups of students aren’t engaging as well as others, you will seek to adapt or find alternatives to the approach, and keep this under review.

    • We expect that all materials produced are accessible, in accessible formats (for example, accessible .pdfs, videos with audio and the ability to pause, captions where students need has been established, and the ability to pause) and adhere to Web Content Accessibility Guidelines/accessibility regulations.

    • It is important to consider what learning activities students can do offline and at their own pace and in their own setting.  This is known as asynchronous learning. Such an approach is likely to focus on resources that are provided on Blackboard that students can access, consult and work through at their own pace.

    • It is also important to consider what activities students can do online that involve immediate feedback and interaction with students and staff.  This is known as synchronous learning. Such an approach assists with fostering a sense of community and can include the likes of Blackboard Collaborate Ultra teaching sessions as well as online discussion forums.

    • It is important to be aware that not all students are able to attend synchronous teaching sessions (for example, students in different time zones and those with caring or other personal responsibilities).  You should make provision for them to engage in equivalent ways, for example, recording these teaching sessions and offering further opportunities to interact on the content.  You should seek to offer synchronous teaching sessions at different times of the day, and on different days of the week to maximise participation from various groups of students.

    • We expect that any face to face provision will also be made available in alternative remote formats with an equivalent learning experience, for those students who are unable to travel due to shielding or are self-isolating.

    • We expect that, on an ongoing basis, you will consider safeguarding (for example, students with difficult home environments), students in receipt of DSA (who may require anticipatory adjustments to learning materials), and promoting good mental health where you are able, to ensure the wellbeing of our students.  For example, you could hold more informal teaching sessions just for students on certain programmes, to foster a sense of inclusion between students, which could improve retention and ultimately, outcomes.
  2. 2. Chunking

    It is important to consider the way in which material can be delivered.

    • Moving whole large teaching sessions and lengthy content from seminars into an online environment is not desirable. Attention spans in an online environment are reduced. 

    • Therefore, try to provide shorter content which assists with attention spans and encourages engagement, as well as reducing the demand on time that students might face for listening to material. Content should be developed in keeping with UDL principles. Remember that students might have a limited resource in terms of access to IT equipment and bandwidth.

    • Make it clear what the key objectives of study tasks or assessments are. Identifying lesson objectives helps to keep students focused.

    • Good practice is to top and tail online content so that students get a sense of what the aims of the teaching sessions are and what has been covered. As a rule of thumb, recorded online learning content should take no longer than 20 minutes for a student to complete. This enables short and focused learning. For example, a 50 minute teaching session could be broken down into three shorter learning teaching sessions.
  3. 3. Structure the student learning journey

    In an online environment it is harder to get a sense of what students are understanding and not understanding.

    • Content delivery in an online/blended environment requires time for students to revisit, practice, extend and reinforce the content and skills that they are required to master. This means that it is not just a case of lifting and shifting material from a traditional classroom environment into an online environment.

    • Some material will need to be thinned out, while other teaching sessions that aim to recap on learning points will need to be built in. All of this requires consideration about the learning journey that we want students to undertake at the module and programme level.

    • Think about how long it will take a student to watch a video, research a task, and undertake an activity.  This sort of information will help to provide a sense of direction to students. This should ideally be linked to the creation of a study calendar which identifies key milestones and progress: what students need to do and when they need to do it.

    • Take care to curate study resources on your Blackboard module shells so that students can easily access them. This will help to boost learning retention.

    • It is important to clearly specify study and assignment requirements and the length of time to complete them.
  4. 4. Support each other

    There can be a temptation to rush off and make changes at an individual level.

    • It is useful to take a step back and discuss with colleagues about how modules and programmes sit together. Remember that students often see their studies from a programme level and not at a module level.

    • In developing and reworking materials, it could be useful to establish a buddy system for the sharing of practice and resources.

    • Remember that in an online environment the tone and voice used in our teaching materials are important as they also provide a sense of support and guidance.
  5. 5. Engagement

    There is no guarantee that students will engage with the materials in the way that you intend. 

    • We want students to watch, read and listen actively rather than passively. 

    • Consider what activities can be used to get students to engage with materials, e.g. posing questions before a teaching session or a video and then getting students to watch out for those ideas so that they are ready to engage and watch.  These sorts of prompts are helpful to students in promoting engagement. 

    • Provide tips to students to get the most out of studying online. Peer mentoring can be a valuable way of fostering engagement.
  6. 6. Structure interaction

    Remember that students will for a considerable amount of time be at a distance from staff and also from each other.

    • Students might miss out on some of the everyday support that they get from walking out of a ‘lecture’, lab or seminar together and the sense of support that they get from this.

    • Interacting online can be awkward. It is important to structure the online environment so that students can engage with each other. 

    • Consider the use of chat functions in the likes of Blackboard and MS Teams as well as forums in Blackboard.  But this also requires codes of behaviour to be established.  Some of this will be generic across the University, while other behavioural codes will be dependent on the nature of the teaching of your programme. Wherever possible common approaches should be agreed across modules within programmes.

    • Being online during office hours and making clear when you are there to moderate the likes of a Discussion Forum provides clarity to students in terms of being able to respond to questions. Programme or module teams might want to establish a rota.
  7. 7. Consistency

    Online environments can be unfamiliar, overloaded and overwhelming for students.

    • This is particularly the case if a lot of content is included. Make it clear to students that each week or section of learning is part of the module as a whole. Asynchronous content should be available ahead of synchronous teaching that relies on it. 
    • Please refer to the online learning glossary for consistency for descriptions of individual learning sessions that reflect online teaching.

    • It is important to remember that assignments and tasks can take longer to complete remotely because of competing pressures.

    • A Blackboard learning shell should have information that is easily accessible and navigable and meets established DMU thresholds.  There needs to be consistency in terms of expectations in terms of the learning journey and consistency within programmes in terms of standards.

    • Consistency does not mean uniformity.  Consistency is about ensuring that students can access learning materials at a consistent level across their programme in line with Biggs work on constructive alignment.

    • Consistency can be achieved by boiling down key points in your module such as through the creation of a quick start guide and makes it clear to students what is required from them. 
  8. 8. Tone and voice

    In an online environment it is important to remember that students and staff miss the sort of social cues that we take for granted.

    • In a face-to-face teaching session, we can see all the students and just as staff can get a sense of the classroom presence, so can students.  In an online environment it is important to think about the language that we use.

    • It is important to avoid colloquialisms and write and speak in plain English. Provide clarifications at the start of each teaching session about how it will run so that students are aware of how and where to interact.

    • Keep instructions as simple and consistent as possible and check students’ understanding of what is being delivered and asked of them.
  9. 9. Maintain a presence

    Online learning can be a lonely experience.

    • Maintaining a presence is a particularly important consideration for new students.  They will not have had the benefit of contact with the University. Some basic principles are helpful to create a sense of presence. This could be to include a photo of yourself in terms of the icon on Blackboard Collaborate Ultra, MS Teams and your email account.

    • Consideration should be given to how you can use drop-in sessions to assist with weekly engagement.  Social media at a University level can assist with this in terms of creating a sense of student engagement. 

    • For example, this could be a Friday discussion of the day where students can respond to a general discussion point that has no prior level of knowledge.
  10. 10. Plan spontaneity

    In an online/blended environment it can be hard to create the sort of reactions that happen in a face-to-face setting.

    • Consider ways in which you can create interactions and discussions in an online class.  This type of learning is important as students gain from the touch points of asking questions and seeking clarifications.

    • It is important to consider how informal as well as formal learning opportunities can be established in an online environment. 

    • These can be planned for in terms of the likes of drop-in sessions and assignment clinics where it is important to consider assessment for learning rather than of learning.