Transitioning to the Online Environment

Transitioning to Online

Transitioning to online teaching and learning is becoming increasingly common in higher education. While at first it might seem straightforward, this transition involves a number of key considerations and recommended guidelines to create a quality online course for students seeking flexibility in where and how they complete their education. “What kind of transitions are needed?” and “What training should complement these transitions?” are just a couple questions to ask during this process.


Why Is It Important?

Compared to the face-to-face learning environment, the online environment requires different strategies for teaching and learning. Some of these new elements might seem intuitive, but others might not be as obvious. For example, a fully online course lacks a physical teaching space and thus requires digital communication and transmission of materials and assessments; however, it also requires the knowledge and practice of online etiquette, or “netiquette,” as well as the up-front establishment of performance and behavior expectations within the online environment. Prospective online instructors need to be aware of these key differences and be deliberate as they transition their course to the online environment.


Information to Consider

Community of Inquiry Graph - Creating an Educational Experience involves interaction, engagement, communication and educational context

Source (used with permission)
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The Community of Inquiry (CoI) theoretical framework (Garrison, Anderson & Archer, 2001) is perhaps the best-known and most researched approach to designing learning experiences for the online environment. It represents a process of creating a deep and meaningful (collaborative-constructivist) learning experience through the development of three interdependent elements: social, cognitive, and teaching presence (depicted in the figure to the right). Transitioning to teaching online requires planning how these three presences can be accomplished online.


Garrison, D. R., Anderson, T. & Archer, W. (2001). Critical thinking, cognitive presence, and computer conferencing in distance education. American Journal of Distance Education, 15(1), 7–23.


Where to Find Resources?



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The “Transitioning to the Online Environment” deep dive topic explores what it means to transition to the online environment and some key considerations in teaching and designing a fully online course.

Topics covered include:

  • Differences When Teaching Online
  • Online Course Considerations
  • Benefits and Challenges of Online Teaching
  • How Students Learn
  • Community of Inquiry

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Note: This course is available for FREE to all UW-Madison faculty and staff. When you click the link you will be prompted to sign in with your UW-Madison NetID and password. Then you will be taken to the topic homepage where you can learn more and complete activities.