Getting Students Started in Your Online Course

Getting Students Started in Your Online Course

Important: This blog post has been updated and converted into a resource page.

Written by Iwona Gniadek, Instructional Designer for the Manitoba Flexible Learning HUB

Are you new to teaching online for the Winter 2021 term? Or you are looking for ways to heighten how students become oriented and start successfully with your course? If so, consider applying the following five strategies to help your students navigate the course environment, get to know you, and forge connections with peers.

1. Send a pre-course welcome e-mail

Around 2-3 days before the course starts, send all your students an e-mail with a welcome message to notify them that the course is about to start. It grabs students’ attention, provides instructions on how to get started on Day 1, and prompts students to verify their login credentials if they are new to online learning. Sending it will increase students’ chances for a smooth start to their learning experience with no delay.

This e-mail is also a suitable place to notify students of any upcoming synchronous orientation sessions in Week 1. Live orientation sessions should be optional to attend for students, but highly encouraged, as they provide an opportunity for students to meet you, their Instructor, and ask questions about the expectations for the course. If you choose to offer a live session, consider recording it for the benefit of those who could not attend. Here is a sample of how you can set up your welcome message:

Email: Welcome to [insert the course code here]

Hi everyone and welcome to [insert the course code here],

We begin the course on [insert the date here], but before we begin, I want to give you an early welcome and highlight some useful things to know.

  1. Log in to your [insert the name of your learning management system here] and browse the environment. Watch some tutorials to help you with any navigational questions. You may want to do that BEFORE the ‘first day of class.’ If you experience any difficulties, contact [insert the name of your IT services here] for help.
  2. Log in to the course site as soon as the course opens on [insert the date here]. Take some time to browse the site and familiarise yourself with the information.
  3. Prepare to attend a live orientation session during the first week of class. Attendance is optional, but I want to make sure that everyone has a chance to get comfortable with the course, so the orientation session will be recorded for later review.

That’s all for now. I look forward to seeing you next week!

[Add your signature here]

Source: Teaching Supports for Remote Learning Courses, Manitoba Flexible Learning HUB

2. Post a welcome announcement on your course site

The next step is to add a welcome announcement that will greet students as soon as they enter the course site in your institutional LMS. The announcement welcomes students and provides information on what to do first.

According to the Quality Matters Higher Education Rubric Specific Review Standard 1.1 for designing high quality online courses, it is critical to have clear instructions on how to get started on the course landing page. This will prevent students from getting lost in the course site and spending time looking for the most important first tasks to start the course successfully. You could title the announcement ‘Start here,’ indicate what to do first, and provide some navigational instructions for the course.

Here is a brief example:

Announcement: Start Here

Hello everyone,

I am delighted to welcome you to the first unit of [insert your course code here].

In Unit 1, we will get to know each other and discuss everyone’s goals for this 12-week learning journey. We will talk about [add discussion items here]. By the end of Unit 1, everyone should know their way around the course.

This week, make sure you:

  • Review the course syllabus, course schedule and assignment descriptions. Note any questions you have and share them on [insert the title of the relevant discussion forum here] so that everyone has a chance to get engaged in the conversation.
  • Post a brief introduction of yourself.
  • Add a few other important pointers relevant to your course.

I am looking forward to learning with you in this course!

[Add your signature here]

Source: Teaching Supports for Remote Learning Courses, Manitoba Flexible Learning HUB

3. Publish your course outline in the LMS

Institutions often require that instructors provide an updated course outline or syllabus for students. The syllabus should communicate the purpose and structure of the course. It should also contain various institutional policies and learners’ supports available to students at your institution. ​

It is a widespread practice to create a Word document or a pdf of the syllabus and upload it to the institutional learning management system (LMS). However, such documents uploaded to the LMS may not be fully accessible to all students, be easily viewable on various devices, or be able to be read with screen reader technology. Therefore, we highly recommend building your syllabus inside your LMS using the tools available there.

The HUB’s team has created a syllabus template that is available to all instructors at the partner institutions. The template is divided using the segmenting principle, e.g., course schedule, learner supports, grading scheme, which students can easily navigate and print, if necessary. Speak to an Instructional Designer (ID) at your institution or alternatively, book a consultation with an ID at the MB Hub.

4. Create a welcome video

Personal introductions at the beginning of the course constitute one of the best ways to start building a relationship with students and satisfy the Specific Review Standard 1.7 of the Quality Matters Rubric.

Your introduction can be presented in the form of an introductory message or a video. A video introduction allows you to project your personality online and add a face to a name. When creating a video, consider telling students about your interests, and your personal and professional background. Feel free to also include your preferred form of address and some fun facts, and do not redo your video if you pet decides to make its presence known – that just adds character to your welcome.

Here are some helpful examples:

  • Evan Ortlieb’s introduction is a good example in terms of content, position, lightning, professionalism, and length.
Instructor Welcome Video
  • Another example, created by Extended Education, University of Manitoba, can be found in the Teaching Supports for Remote Learning Courses course available through the HUB’s partner institutions.  Ask an ID at your institution, or contact the HUB’s team.

5. Invite students to introduce themselves

Finally, your students should be given an opportunity to introduce themselves to the class. Their personal introductions will contribute to building a sense of community and a welcoming learning environment.

Depending on the size of the class, you can invite students to respond to a specific prompt on the discussion forum, create a video, or share a photo or another visual representation of who they are and what they bring to the course. Students should also be encouraged to read peers’ introductions and start making connections.

An essential element in fostering the friendly atmosphere is your participation. It is an opportunity to establish teacher presence in your online course and stimulate engagement. Consider replying to all first posts, or several if your class is large. You may want to return and respond to those who responded to you to demonstrate good practice in maintaining dialogic exchanges.

Here are some examples of prompts:

  • Describe a place that has a special meaning to you. (Restoule, 2018)
  • Be creative with your introduction: include a video, an image, or a poem you’ve written – the aim is to tell us something about you and the place where you live. Please share only what you feel comfortable sharing. Read other students’ introductions and reply to some to start building connections. (Teaching Supports for Remote Learning Courses, MB HUB)
  • Send a digital postcard to your classmates. Take a photo of the view /street you see from your room and tell us about it. (OEG 2020 Remixer Postcard)
  • More ice-breakers for introductory discussion ideas

To sum up…

In this post, we described five strategies that instructors can implement to help students get started in their course successfully. The strategies included:

  1. Sending a pre-course e-mail to excite students about the upcoming course and demonstrate care and teacher presence online,
  2. Posting a welcome announcement on the course landing page to direct students to the most important first tasks in the course,
  3. Publishing a detailed and accessible course syllabus in the LMS,
  4. Creating a welcome video to help students connect with the instructor, and
  5. Inviting students to introduce themselves to the class community.

When implemented, the five strategies will help students learn to navigate the course environment and get to know the instructors and peers participating in the course.

If you have any questions about any of the strategies or would like to discuss more options, feel free to book a consultation with the Hub team.


Restoule, J-P. (2018) ‘Where Indigenous Knowledge Lives: Bringing Indigenous Perspectives to Online Learning Environments’, in McKinley E., Smith L. (eds) Handbook of Indigenous Education. Singapore: Springer. Available at: ​