Faculty Resources

Setting Learner Expectations in an Online Course

Setting expectations in your online course is critical for a learner’s success. From the beginning it is important for an instructor to establish clear expectations and to reinforce those expectations during the teaching of the course.

Practical Steps

Below are some practical steps an instructor can take to establish clear expectations for an online course.

Provide a Syllabus

As a guide for the course, the Syllabus is a key document in communicating expectations to the learner. Download CSU Online’s Syllabus Template

Explain Your Communication Preferences

Provide your contact information, preferred method of communication, and response time to inquiries

Publish Your Virtual Office Hours

Provide details on if you are holding virtual office hours include the day, time, and virtual meeting technology. If you are not hosting virtual office hours, let learners know how they can get in contact with you.

Explain Your Grading Policy

Clearly state the grading policy at the beginning of the course. Include information on how grades are calculated and the relationship between final letter grades and overall points, percentages, and weights (if applicable). Before the course begins update the grading scheme in Canvas to match the grading scheme listed in the Syllabus.

Explain Your Method of Evaluation

In addition to a clearly explained grading policy, provide learners with specific and descriptive criteria for how work is evaluated prior to the assignment or assessment. This criterion is most often in the form of a detailed rubric. Providing this information allows learners the opportunity to identify how a grade on an assignment is calculated and the criteria needed to earn they grade they want. Instructors can add interactive rubrics to assignments and discussions in Canvas. After added an interactive rubric in Canvas, these rubrics can be used to quickly grade assignments.

Provide Your Late Assignment Policy

Indicate to learners if late assignment submissions are permissible. If allowed, provide explanation for any point reduction if submitted late.

Provide Feedback

Frequent and timely feedback from instructors increases learner engagement and success. Provide learners details on when to expect feedback on assignments and discussions. An example statement included in a Syllabus:

“As a student enrolled in this course, one of your responsibilities is to submit course work by the due dates listed in Canvas. With that said, I take my role as your instructor very seriously, and, in fact, I care about how well you do in this course and that you have a satisfying, rewarding experience.

To that end, it is my commitment to you to respond individually to the work you submit in this class and to return your work in a timely manner. Smaller, weekly assignments and quizzes will be returned within _X_ (week) days and major assignments, exams, and essays will be returned within _X_ (week) days. (If, however, due to unforeseeable circumstances, the grading of your work takes longer than the times I have listed here, I will keep you informed of my progress and make every effort to return your work with feedback as soon as I can.)”

Set Due Dates

Setting due dates in Canvas for assessments and activities allows learners to manage workload and deadlines.


Include clear instructions and expectations for the student including any specific requirements such as font size, length of the paper, APA guidelines, cover page, number of required resources (if applicable), and other pertinent information to assist the student.


In the assessment instructions provide instructions and criteria including course content being assessed, number of attempts, open exam or proctored information, time allocated for the exam, open and closed dates, and due date.


To promote active involvement in the course and allow learners to manager their participation, provide clearly stated requirements for learner interaction. This includes expectations related to frequency, length, timeliness requirements such as initial posting date, number of posts required, number of responses to peers, response posting date, and netiquette expectations.

Provide Institutional Policies

Common CSU policies included in the Syllabus are: Student Code of Conduct, Academic Integrity, CSU Honor Pledge, Universal Design for Learning/Accommodation of Needs, Copyrighted Course Materials, Undocumented Student Support, Title IX/Interpersonal Violence, Religious Observances, CSU Principles of Community, and Diversity and Inclusion.

Additional Resources:

Quality Matters Higher Education Rubric

Kumar, P., & Skrocki, M. (2017, May 16). Ensuring Student Success in Online Courses. Faculty Focus. (link to https://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/online-education/ensuring-student-success-online-courses/)

Dimeo, J. (2017, November 15). Take My Advice. Inside Higher Ed. (link to https://www.insidehighered.com/digital-learning/article/2017/11/15/peer-advice-instructors-teaching-online-first-time )

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