Although most of the tips below apply to any class, whether in person, blended, or online, I think they are especially important for online classes where it is harder to pick up non-verbal cues that allow us to readily adapt to student needs.
Use Competency-Based Education
“With a competency-based approach, you do not begin preparing a course syllabus by identifying content and readings. Instead, you begin by identifying competencies and then select the content, readings, and assignments to support student attainment of those competencies. …students advance when they have demonstrated mastery of a competency, which is defined as “a combination of skills, abilities and knowledge needed to perform a task in a specific context.” Louis Soares
Develop a knowledge/skills map for each unit
A knowledge/skills map consists of a number of objectives, skills and activities. For example:
Objective: Restructure messy data into data ready for analysis
Skills: Identify variables, observational units, and values
Activity: Given a messy data set describe the variables, observational units and values
Break course content into small segments that take approximately 1-5 minutes followed by a student activity with immediate feedback.
The structure should follow the knowledge skills map. Depending on how you deliver the content, there are many ways to achieve this. Many of today’s leading online classes use videos with embedded questions, such as this one that I did using EdPuzzle: Color Basics
You can also interleave text and other media with interactive assessments, as in the Open Learning Initiative courses.
Use evidence-based strategies for improving learning (see Make It Stick):
Use frequent, low-stakes assessments, including asking questions before you teach the content
Constantly reassess older content and skills along with new
Provide activities that encourage retrieval, generation, and elaboration
Space, interleave, and vary topics and problems
Allow students to take weekly quizzes as many times as possible during the week and take their highest score as the grade. For each attempt, provide automated feedback on incorrect answers, but don’t tell them the right answer. This encourages students to continue practicing and thinking about the material instead of just moving on to the next quiz after a single attempt.
Make the bulk of the quiz about the new material, but randomly include questions from past quizzes. I typically make each quiz 15 questions, with 10 randomly pulled from a bank of questions for the current week and 5 randomly pulled from previous weeks.