Course Design Tips and Tricks

Designing an online course presents unique challenges, but it also opens a world of possibilities for engaging students. We are often tasked with organizing course content, resources, and activities but we may not have instructions for the best way to do this. With a little bit of planning and the right tools, you can design a well-structured course that will allow students to be engaged with your materials. Below are some CLE course design tips and resources to provide some ideas on how you can organize your course.

Course Format

Common parts of an eLearning course: 1. Welcome screen 2. Instructions 3. Objectives 4. Course content 5. Assessment 6. Summary 7. Next steps 8. Exit instructionsCreate structure in your course by selecting a layout that makes sense for the materials you will present. There are six different types of course formats that you can choose from in the CLE, and you can organize your course by Weeks or by Topics. Use Collapsed topics to hide or expand sections or the Flexible sections format to create hierarchy and structure with information-dense courses.

Create a clear starting point for your course
Accessing a new course can be overwhelming for students. You can help by creating a heading at the top of your course menu and place key course start-up information in that section. This can include a welcome message, key dates, instructions on reviewing the syllabus, and books to order.

Provide clear instructions for Activities and Resources
When materials are posted as files without much explanation, students can find it hard to follow what they are being asked to do. For example, when setting up the description of an assignment, it can be helpful to reiterate guidelines and due dates, even if this information is provided in the syllabus.

Design a course for all students
Use a consistent color scheme, avoiding red/green/purple combinations that are difficult for color-blind individuals to navigate. The goal should be that learning online is attainable for everyone. For more information visit the UCSF Digital Accessibility website, which provides information about accessibility practices and policies at UCSF.


One of the most important techniques for effectively communicating content is the use of typographic hierarchy. There are a few basic methods for establishing typographic hierarchy in your course:

  • Size – Increasing text size is the easiest and most common method for establishing hierarchy.
  • Weight – Simply using a bolder weight of a font can help isolate content.
  • Color – Using color can also add emphasis and increased weight to type. Generally speaking; warm colors (reds, orange, browns) will have more pop while cool colors (blues, purples, grays) will recede.
  • Position – How the test rests in a layout next in relation to other text can establish hierarchy.

A cluttered page with three or more colors of font, sizes of font and images placed sporadically throughout that are of different type and size creates a chaotic-looking course. It’s far easier to study and focus on learning in a course that is organized with minimal distractions. Keep it simple, use a consistent style throughout, organized and consistent pages creates a Zen-like classroom where students can focus on course content and application of concepts.

Copy/Pasting Text

When copying and pasting text into CLE we recommend using a plain text editor such as Notepad (Windows) or TextEdit (Mac). Often when text is copied and pasted, it's appearance and spacing can be different from existing text due to the formatting also being copied over. If you copy and paste text from a website, first paste the text into a text editor (such as Notepad or TextEdit) to strip the text of any additional formatting or HTML code before copy / pasting it into the CLE. 

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