Eight Principles of Effective Online Teaching

A Decade-Long Lessons Learned in Project Management Education


By John Cable
University of Maryland
Maryland, USA


Clara Cheung
University of Manchester
Manchester, UK



How can we develop high-quality online courses? How can we know whether our online teaching is effective? How can we improve our online teaching skills? To ask those questions, this paper presents a practical framework that helps practitioners systematically evaluate online teaching. In addition, based on the framework, we discuss our lessons learned for a decade of teaching a graduate-level project management course online. The discussion could help practitioners develop new ideas to enhance their online teaching practices, and thus empowers them to design and deliver more effective online courses in the future.

Keywords: higher education, online learning, online teaching, seven principles for good practice in undergraduate education, learning assessment

  1. Introduction

With the rapid growth in the number of online courses offered by universities and massive open online programs (MOOCs), there is a considerable interest in the quality of online instruction (e.g., Chapman & Henderson, 2010; Means et al., 2009; Yang & Cornelious, 2005). Although the literature has shown online instruction is as effective as face-to-face instruction, the finding was based on high quality online courses that were well-planned and well-implemented (Campbell et al., 2008; Means et al., 2009; Sitzmann et al., 2006). So, how can we know whether our online teaching is effective? How can we improve our teaching practices if we are not yet there?

Drawing on the “Seven Principles for Good Practice in Undergraduate Education” (Chickering & Gamson, 1987), and our experiences of teaching a graduate-level project management course online in the past decade, this paper presents a practical framework to evaluate online teaching, and lessons learned for online instruction that correspond to the framework. The Seven Principles have been widely used as a framework to evaluate teaching quality in higher education since 1987 (McCabe & Meuter, 2011). Although the framework was originally designed for evaluating face-to-face instruction, it has emerged as an accepted rubric for evaluating effective online instruction in recent years (Graham et al., 2001; Tirrell & Quick, 2012). While to a great extent good teaching is good teaching, teaching online is different from teaching in a classroom in the sense that online instruction requires more effective integration of technologies and learning. To include this unique aspect of online teaching, we extended the seven principles framework by adding a principle about learning technology applications, and named the extended framework Eight Principles of Effective Online Teaching.

Specifically, in this paper, we will first explain the eight principles used in the framework, followed by illustrating how we used it to evaluate our online teaching, and discussing what related best practices were identified based on our decade-long online teaching experience.

2. Literature Review: Eight Principles of Effective Online Teaching Framework

The first seven principles in the framework are from Chickering and Gamson’s Seven Principles for Good Practice in Undergraduate Education (1987). We added the eighth principle, technology application, in the framework as we considered it is a unique aspect of online education. The following part outlines each of the principles. Figure 1 summarizes the eight principles framework..


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About the Authors

John Cable

Director, Project Management Center for Excellence
University of Maryland, College Park, MD, USA


John Cable
is Director of the Project Management Center for Excellence in the A.J. Clark School of Engineering at the University of Maryland, where he is also a professor and teacher of several graduate courses in project management. His program at the University of Maryland offers masters and PhD level programs focused on project management. With more than 1,300 seats filled annually with students from many countries, including more than 40 PhD students, the program is the largest graduate program in project management at a major university in the United States.

John Cable served in the newly formed U.S. Department of Energy in 1980, where he developed energy standards for buildings, methods for measuring energy consumption, and managing primary research in energy conservation. As an architect and builder, Mr. Cable founded and led John Cable Associates in 1984, a design build firm. In 1999 he was recruited by the University of Maryland’s Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering to create and manage a graduate program in project management. In his role as founder and director of the Project Management Center for Excellence at Maryland, the program has grown to offer an undergraduate minor, master’s degrees, and a doctoral program. Information about the Project Management Center for Project Management at the University of Maryland can be found at http://www.pm.umd.edu/.

In 2002, PMI formed the Global Accreditation Center for Project Management Educational Programs (GAC). Mr. Cable served as Vice Chair and Chair from 2002 through 2012, leading the accreditation of 86 PM educational programs at 40 institutions in 15 countries. John was awarded PMI’s 2012 Distinguished Contribution Award for his leadership at the GAC. He can be contacted at jcable@umd.edu


Clara Cheung

Manchester, UK

Clara Cheung
is a Lecturer (Assistant Professor) in Project Management in the School of Mechanical, Aerospace and Civil Engineering at the University of Manchester in the United Kingdom. Prior to that, she worked at the University of Maryland (UMD) in the United States as a Teaching Assistance for six years, developing and teaching a wide variety of project management courses for both undergraduate and postgraduate students, and both on campus and online. Through the experience, she taught and tutored over 600 students from 22 countries, many of whom are experienced engineers. Clara received two Distinguished Teacher Awards from the UMD for her service. Her research interests are in human aspects of project management and the use of technology to improve student learning outcomes. She also obtained a Postgraduate Certificate from the UMD’s University Teaching and Learning Program, and a Specialization Certificate from the University of California’s Virtual Teacher Program. She can be contacted at clara.cheung@manchester.ac.uk