Suggestions from Yale Faculty and Students for Effective Online Learning

The following suggestions for remote and online instruction were informed by surveys of Yale students and instructors. Responses from five surveys, cited at the bottom of the page, were synthesized into a set of recommendations to help guide the development of courses with a substantial online component.

Building Your Course structure

Consider use of synchronous and asynchronous meetings2,3,4,5 The findings below may inform your decisions about what to assign outside of class and what to focus on during class. For example, some faculty use class time for discussion or Q&A while recorded lectures and readings are done asynchronously.4,5

  • Supporting Synchronous (live) Classes
    • Understand how your students’ time zones and access to digital resources may affect synchronous options4,5
    • Use of small groups, including breakout groups in Zoom, is commonly helpful4,5
    • Consider inviting guest speakers to attend class remotely, using the opportunity to expose students to experts without needing a travel budget3,4,5
  • Supporting Asynchronous Learning (structured activities that students do independently) Use recorded video lectures that students view prior to class.2,3,5 If doing so, keep in mind students prefer:
    • A concise focus, with lectures chunked into 15-25 minute videos
    • Integration of relevant external content (guest lectures, TED talks, etc.)
    • Captions to allow them to read along with videos, particularly if there are new terms, audio glitches, or for accessibility requirements
  • Students prefer lectures, readings, and synchronous sessions that reinforce each other without being redundant2 Students appreciate self-pacing and flexibility in asynchronous work2,3

Utilize remote office hours.1, 3, 4, 5 Students identified attending remote office hours and regular meetings with instructors as keys to success.3

Consider how to leverage your Teaching Fellows and Undergraduate Learning Assistants to enhance instruction. For example, assign a TF or ULA as an online moderator.4,5

Organizing and Using Canvas Effectively

Students expressed a preference for:

  • Canvas course sites designed as one-stop shop for all the course materials and links1
  • Canvas sites that are clear and easy to navigate1
    • Well labeled, organized files
    • Use Canvas options (e.g., Media Library, Pages) to organize materials instead of putting everything under “Files”
  • Syllabus information as text on the Canvas course home page is best, rather than having a separate document to download1
  • Responsive instruction through Canvas1,3
    • Prompt grading and feedback
    • Frequently updated materials
    • Use of announcements, responses to discussions

Establishing Communication

  • Establish shared etiquette for teaching tools you will use (Zoom, discussion boards)4,5
  • Clarify how you will communicate with your students, how they can communicate with you, and how they can communicate with each other during the course1
  • Request and respond to student feedback regarding activities in your course4

Promoting Equity in Pedagogical Design and Language

  • Be aware of inequities in students’ learning environment and demands on their time, especially during remote instruction4,5
  • Remote learning can be an opportunity to promote quieter voices of students who are more comfortable asking questions in discussion boards, Zoom chats, or email4,5
  • Prioritize students' health and wellness by promoting or making time for physical breaks and discussing computer fatigue4,5
  • Be familiar with appropriate accommodations for online learning4,5 [Student Accessibility ServicesFaculty Guidebook on Accommodations; Instructions on setting up accommodations in Canvas]
  • Where possible, design assessments that offer varied opportunities for students to demonstrate evidence of their learning3,4,5

Promoting Engagement and Community

  • Use Zoom chat or polling to interact with students in real time, assess student understanding, or receive feedback on activities in your course4,5
  • Understand what motivates your students where motivation may lag throughout the semester, especially when remote instruction may contribute to isolation4,5
  • Acknowledge the current learning environment with your class4,5


1 Canvas feedback student survey (8 semesters coded from 2017-2020); 2 Online summer session student feedback (2015-2019); 3 Revised student course evaluations (Spring 2020); 4 Immediate remote instruction survey (Yale College faculty; March 2020); 5 End of spring 2020 instructor survey (FAS and most professional schools)