Teaching Commons > Teaching Guides > Course Design > Course Modalities

Course Modalities

​Course modality refers to how a course is offered by the instructor. For many years there was only one option available: On-campus instruction. As the field and practice of distance education and online learning has matured, the number of course modalities has increased as well.

DePaul has been offering training programs on developing quality online learning for over a decade. Until recently, the vast majority of online classes have been asynchronous; that is, all course content is housed in D2L, and any live video meetings or other “real-time” interactions have been an enhancement to the course experience but not a requirement for students to attend. As technology tools for remote synchronous meetings have improved and gained widespread use, instructors and students now have more options for how they connect.

Below, you’ll find an overview of different course modalities and key considerations for each. Beginning in Fall 2020, students will see these modalities listed when choosing classes. These modalities are clearly defined below so that you will be better equipped to design the best possible learning experience for your students. In addition, students will be able to register for courses with a clearer understanding of two key factors:

  • whether or not a course will require them to be physically present on campus at specific times
  • whether or not a course will require them to attend online meetings at specific times

Discuss Options with Your Unit/Department

Your academic unit may have specific modalities that are preferred, discouraged, or limited. Be sure to discuss your preferred course format(s) with your department chair or program administrator before investing time in a redesign of your course materials and teaching plans.

Comparison of Modalities

As you review the different modalities available, you may find it helpful to view the matrix at the end of this section. It provides an at-a-glance view of key features and requirements for each modality.

On-Campus Modalities in Traditional Classrooms

The following modalities all require students to come to an on-campus traditional classroom that does not include technology for videoconferencing or recording of class meetings.

On-Campus

This is the mode of instruction that you’re likely most familiar with. These class sessions meet in person on the specified day(s) and times, throughout the term.

  • Pros: It’s familiar, requires minimal mastery of new technology, and allows you considerable flexibility inside the classroom.
  • Cons: It is inflexible in that it requires you and all of your students to meet in a classroom at the same time, which can be difficult while maintaining social distance during a pandemic.

On-Campus Hybrid

These class sessions blend in-person sessions on the specified day(s) and times with online asynchronous learning opportunities (e.g., video-lectures, online activities, discussions). For example, instead of teaching a traditional, on-campus course that meets T-TH 9:30 - 11:00, all of your students would only come to campus on Tuesdays from 9:30 to 11:00. All other learning activities would be moved to an asynchronous online format.

  • Pros: Combines the best of face-to-face and online environments; research indicates hybrid instruction is more effective than purely face-to-face or online instruction.
  • Cons: Still requires students to physically come to campus (albeit less frequently)​, which can limit their options for schedule flexibility; requires careful calibration between face-to-face and online learning activities.

On-Campus Alternating (aka Hybrid: Alternating)

This modality allows for increased enrollment in on-campus classes under social distancing conditions, by alternating groups of students who attend any given scheduled time. The instructor repeats the same material twice for the separate groups of students, and students complete other learning activities asynchronously online to offset their reduced face-to-face classroom time.

  1. Example 1: You are teaching ABC 101 scheduled as a Hybrid Alternating course with an overall schedule of T-TH 9:30 am - 11:00 am. This means that one group of your students will be in class on Tuesday while a second group will be in class on Thursday. Both groups conduct the rest of the activities asynchronously online. Students self-select by registering for one of the two sections, with a clearly visible meeting pattern.
  2. Example 2: You are teaching ABC 101 scheduled as a Hybrid Alternating course with an overall schedule of We 5:45 pm - 9:00 pm. This means that one group of your students will be in class on Wednesdays of odd weeks, while a second group will be in class on Wednesdays of even weeks. Both groups conduct the rest of the activities asynchronously online. Students self-select by registering for one of the two sections, with a clearly visible meeting pattern.
  • Pros: Offers students maximum choice in participating in class in face-to-face and online environments, while maintaining social distance.
  • Cons: Adds complexity to course design process: Course must be fully built as asynchronous, complemented by alternating synchronous sessions.

Fully Online Modalities with No On-Campus Presence

The following modalities do not require a physical classroom. All course activities are conducted online asynchronously and/or via synchronous videoconferencing.

Online: Asynchronous

Asynchronous online classes have been the default modality for online learning at DePaul up until the COVID pandemic. There are no set meeting times, and course content is available to you and students 24/7 via D2L. If an instructor offers synchronous meeting opportunities in this modality, student attendance should be optional and students who cannot attend should not be penalized.

  • Pros: Most flexible format in terms of scheduling for both instructors and students.
  • Cons: Can be difficult keeping students engaged and motivated and building a sense of community; requires significant up-front investment in course design.

Online: Synchronous

This format is similar to the standard, on-campus modality in that class meetings occur at scheduled times throughout the quarter just as they would in a face-to-face course. However, instead of meeting in person, students and instructors meet online via a videoconferencing tool such as Zoom.

  • Pros: These online courses are most similar to in-classroom learning in that all instruction and student interaction can be conducted in “real time”.
  • Cons: Least flexible of all online learning formats. Students must have the time, bandwidth, and tools to participate in frequent, required video conferences at fixed times.

Online: Hybrid

Online hybrid blends asynchronous and synchronous online formats, with 30% or more of the learning activities designated as asynchronous online. Synchronous videoconference meetings are scheduled and occur using tools like Zoom. Dates and times for synchronous meetings must be visible to students when registering for the course.

  • Pros: Synchronous meetings may help increase a sense of community among students and the instructor; they enable real-time discussions and group work.
  • Cons: Requires reliable high-speed internet access and fixed schedules for synchronous sessions.

On-Campus Modalities with Zoom-Enabled Classrooms

The following modalities require an on-campus classroom that is equipped with Zoom hardware and software. For fall 2020, DePaul is equipping a set of rooms with technology to enable some class members to be physically present while others access the class online at the same time through Zoom. Two different set-ups are being implemented, each with its own unique advantages and disadvantages:

On-Campus Plus Zoom

This class consists of a section that meets on campus in a Zoom-enabled room at a specific time on a specific day, linked to a section that meets at the same time on Zoom. Students sign up for either the face-to-face section or the Zoom section and participate through the selected modality throughout the course. (The two sections are encoded in PeopleSoft, respectively, as an on-campus course with a specified room, and as Online: Sync - Classroom Link.)

  • Pros: Instructors can expand access to live class sessions without investing time in creating asynchronous learning activities.
  • Cons: Less flexibility for students. Engaging with students live and via remote audio/video participation can be challenging.

On-Campus Alternating Plus Zoom (aka Hybrid: Alternating Sync)

Like "On-Campus Plus Zoom,” this class consists of students who meet on campus in a Zoom enabled room at a specific time on a specific day, along with students who meet at the same time on Zoom. The difference is that most students will alternate between meeting on campus and meeting on Zoom, while some students will meet only on Zoom. This modality allows for increased enrollment in on-campus classes under social distancing conditions, while at the same time offering a fully online synchronous modality to students who may be unable or unwilling to come to campus.

All these classes will be scheduled in Zoom-enabled rooms. If you are teaching ABC 101 scheduled as a Hybrid:Alternating-Sync with an overall schedule of T-TH 9:30 - 11:00, you will have one group of your students in class on Tuesday and on Zoom on Thursday, a second group in class on Thursday and on Zoom on Tuesday, while a third group will always be on Zoom. Students self-select by registering for one of the three sections, with a clearly visible meeting pattern. (The three sections are encoded in PeopleSoft, respectively, as two on-campus hybrid with a specified room, and one Online: Sync - Classroom Link.)

  • Pros: Offers students maximum choice in participating in face-to-face and online class environments, while maintaining social distance. Allows for synchronous participation of students who cannot be on campus at any time.
  • Cons: Adds complexity to course design process.

On-Campus Plus Asynchronous with Zoom Option [aka Online: Async (Sync Option)]​

This class consists of a section that meets on campus in a Zoom-enabled room at a specific time on a specific day, linked to an online asynchronous section that may utilize recordings of the on-campus section. Students in the online asynchronous section have the option of connecting via Zoom, if and when they are available, with the live classroom and the instructor. This modality is most commonly used in CDM. The two sections are encoded in PeopleSoft, respectively, as an on-campus course with a specified room, and one Online: Asynch (Synch-Option).

  • Pros: Instructors can expand access to live class sessions.
  • Cons: Students who don’t attend class sessions in real time may feel left out when watching recordings after class has ended.

Modality Matrix


Assigned Room on Campus
Requires Synchronous Meetings
Uses D2L
On-Campus
Yes
Yes
Strongly Encouraged
Hybrid
Yes
Yes
Yes
Online Hybrid
No
Yes
Yes
Online Asynchronous
No
No
Yes
Online Synchronous
No
Yes
Strongly Encouraged
On-Campus Alternating
Yes
Yes
Yes
On-Campus Plus Zoom
Yes, Zoom-enabled
Yes
Strongly Encouraged
On-Campus Alternating plus Zoom

Yes, Zoom-enabled
Yes
Yes
On-Campus Plus Asynchronous with Zoom Option
Yes, Zoom-enabled
No
Yes

Consult with Your Instructional Designer

Questions? Talk to the instructional designer​ assigned for your college/school.