Building an Online Course Quickly

Here are the basic steps to building a quick and not-too-fancy online course in LEARN.

Building an online course usually takes about a year, with a CEL team supporting the course designer. You are doing this in a relatively short period largely on your own, so it's unlikely your course will resemble a polished CEL course. You might therefore assess how technologically ambitious you'd like to be. An online course can be very basic and still accomplish its pedagogical objectives.

If you have questions about online development and want to talk to somebody in English, you can post your inquiry in our department's Online Course Development Forum. Further online course development resources are listed at the bottom of this page.

Before You Start

Before you start building your online course, it's a good idea to have a weekly activity schedule prepared, even tentatively, as well as an idea of what kind of course materials you'd like to use.

Lecture materials can be uploaded as text files, or you can record yourself with tools on a digital device (computer or phone) either with audio only or audio and video. If you want to get fancier, PowerPoint offers the option for voice recording with presentations. If you're not very comfortable with technology, though, it might be best to keep things as simple as possible. All of the files you save from these processes can be uploaded into LEARN for your students to access.

In an online environment, asynchronous activities (that is, activities that don't require students to be present at a set time), are generally preferable. Synchronous activites like live-streamed lectures assume students have resources such as stable, high-speed wifi, a powerful enough computer, and a private setting, and they also raise issues aroud time and scheduling. Synchronous activies also rely heavily on technology working for everybody at a particular time. Asynchronous activities allow both instructors and students more flexibility.

Also consider getting students to do more of the work by leaning on discussion forums more and lecture materials less. Discussions are the main form of active online learning and they help to build community in your class, so think about how you can incorporate them into your course. See Other Resources below for ways to do that.

The instructions below focus on building a basic course using the resources in LEARN, but if you'd like to explore the full range of technological tools you might use to build your course, see the Keep Learning site's Tools and Technology inventory.

Building Your Course

Here are the steps to building a basic course. The links go to the LEARN help pages that will help you accomplish each task.

You can carry out steps 2-8 directly in your course, or you can use LEARN's Course Builder tool to accomplish each step. You can access the Course Builder by clicking Course Admin in the top LEARN menu and then choosing Course Builder.

  1. Request your course shell. Email with your course and section number or go to LEARN tools and go to courses > request a course. Note: If you want to base your course on an existing online course that you have access to, you can copy over components from the other course. Otherwise, follow the steps below.
  2. Create your modules. You'll likely want to include a syllabus and assignments module and one module for each week.
  3. Upload your course files to the appropriate modules. Course files may include a syllabus, assignment descriptions, readings, web links, and lecture files. Note that you can delete or re-order content once you've uploaded it.
  4. Create your marking scheme. You can also just use a spreadsheet for final mark calculations if you’re more comfortable with that. Students will still see the marks for individual assignments even if you don't create a marking scheme.
  5. Create dropboxes for assignments.
  6. Create discussion forums for your students. In the discussion forums, you can have students comment on course texts, and you can also have them comment on each other's comments. 
  7. Create your quizzes, tests, and exams.
  8. Post a Welcome announcement. It can also be helpful to post announcements at the end of each week outlining what students will be doing the following week.

You're ready to go!


UWaterloo Resources

Three other UWaterloo resources that might be helpful:

  • The UWaterloo Keep Learning site provides links to online teaching strategies and resources. It also lists online tools in addition to LEARN that are available at the university. 
  • In My Approach to Teaching Online James Skidmore describes how he structures his online courses around discussions and offers ways in which you might reframe your on-campus course for online delivery.
  • Online Content Options describes three different types of online content (static, dynamic, and interactive) and outlines their pluses and minuses.  

Other Resources


If you have questions about building your online course, you can contact the following people: