By Azra Samji, Schulich Student Online Course Design Consultant.

Azra Samji is an MBA student at the Schulich School of Business. She holds a Bachelor of Science and a Bachelor of Education from the University of Alberta. Azra currently serves as the President of the Graduate Business Council at the Schulich School of Business.


In a virtual context, it becomes more necessary for students and instructors to be aligned in their understanding of the expectations and requirements of a course. When meeting face-to-face in a classroom, there are less distractions and it is easier for instructors to informally keep students on track regarding what content they should be prioritizing. In a virtual context, students face increased constraints and will look to instructors to make communication as clear as possible, often more explicitly than they would in person. Clear and effective communication with students helps to ensure that course expectations are understood and that students know how they can be successful in the class.

Virtual Learning Constrains and Meeting Learner Needs

Key Takeaway: In a virtual classroom, students face increased constraints such as Zoom fatigue and accessibility requirements. Instructors can help accommodate different learner needs when crafting course materials and assessments by appropriately splitting class content into synchronous and asynchronous materials, as well as offering course content in a variety of formats.

In a world that is increasingly focused online, students may find themselves using their computer for upwards of 8 hours a day. Resulting from this over-exposure, students may experience symptoms of “Zoom fatigue” which may make it challenging to stay engaged for lectures over 90 minutes in length. Instructors can help alleviate these challenges by appropriately splitting course content into synchronous and asynchronous material, allowing students to engage with course content in stages and at times that work best for them.

When planning asynchronous lesson material, considerations regarding accessibility are also important. While at first glance recorded videos may seem like the best way to capture lecture content, also consider the various other learning preferences and needs of students in the classroom. If you do share videos be sure to take advantage of automatically generated transcriptions using Echo360 and Zoom cloud recordings.

Understanding Time Constraints

Key Takeaway: In a virtual world, students may face challenges navigating and understanding how to be successful in their courses. Including specifics around grading criteria and time guidelines can help students to be better equipped in meeting both instructor and course expectations.

As students attempt learning in a virtual world, it is often unclear how to navigate within a particular course or how to achieve a high grade. Instructors can support students by sharing rubrics that clearly indicate the expectations and mark allocations for each assignment. When creating rubrics, instructors should aim to be as clear as possible, using specific language and descriptors of the various grade levels to demonstrate indicators of success and to avoid any miscommunication. Rubrics uploaded on Canvas can also help simplify the marking process for instructors through speed grader.

Instructors can also support students navigating through the course by providing time guidelines in the titles of assigned course content, such as readings and videos. This helps students identify which areas require more focus and to prioritize items that might require more of their time to avoid spending too long on any particular piece of content. In addition, adding suggested timings can help instructors stay mindful of expected student workloads each week. Keep in mind that some activities, such as participating in a class discussion board, may take longer to complete in the online world as expectations are different. For example, students may share their thoughts on a particular topic with reasonable preparation in class. However, when writing a post for an online discussion forum they may feel the need to include references and additional information, making what may seem to be an “easy” exercise something quite time consuming. Instructors can help alleviate some of these challenges by sharing guidelines and expectations for assigned work, such as including whether or not discussion posts should be backed by references.

With so many demands on student time, students may struggle to complete the class preparation for each section of each course. To prepare for any given week, students may be assigned videos and course readings, textbook questions, contributions to discussion forums, and more. While all these components may be valuable, an instructor can help focus students by clearly articulating which materials are required or optional in the Canvas modules. Instructors can also choose to publish a page or video explaining the expectations for the course that students can refer to at a later date. Instructors can support student learning by ensuring that the preparation for each week’s lecture is manageable and considerate of the many demands being placed on student time.


While navigating the virtual world can be challenging, there is much that can be done to ensure that both students and instructors are clear on the expectations of the course. Consider the diversity of learner needs in the classroom and utilize a variety of tools to support student success. By ensuring that course expectations are clearly communicated, students can better navigate and succeed within the online context.