Tips for Large Enrollment Courses

architecture arena auditorium bench

Teaching courses with large enrollments can be challenging. Much of the research explicitly addressing teaching large-enrollment courses focuses on face-to-face classes and does not address other modalities. Regardless of modality, creating interaction with and between students while still promoting engagement with the material can be daunting for nearly any instructor. Fortunately, many of the practices you may currently employ in a physical classroom will serve you well across modalities. Technology exists to make that possible and much easier than before.

Keep in mind that students may struggle to confront feelings of anonymity and isolation in such a large group. Maintaining a student-centric focus becomes even more crucial. Second, merely having a large enrollment in your course does not always mean that student learning is negatively affected. Research shows that while class size does impact student performance, many factors mediate this effect. These include everything from “method of instruction, course objectives and assignments, student involvement in the learning process, frequency of instructor feedback to and interaction with students, students’ cognitive level in the classroom, and learning strategies used by the students outside class.” (Ajlin, 2014, p. 1)

See the Summary of Class Size Effects on Student Performance compiled by the Center for Research on Learning & Teaching at the University of Michigan to get a sense of how varied the research findings have been. 

Dos and Don’ts

While some overlap with what you should always be doing in the online classroom, here are some additional considerations for effectively facilitating large-enrollment online courses. Utilizing these practices will go a long way toward avoiding the big ‘Don’ts’ too often seen in sizeable online courses:


  • Manage student expectations by letting them know any differences they may encounter due to the size of the course, e.g., will the timeframe for receiving grades and feedback differ from their other courses.
  • Create an FAQ page and community/Muddiest Point discussion forum to proactively answer questions in a place where all students can see them. This is generally found to be a big time-saver. One of the overlooked but beneficial aspects of an FAQ is to include the questions you think students should be asking, not just a list of the ones they have frequently had.
  • Use quizzes and other tools in the LMS that can reduce the amount of grading– features like providing feedback in the quiz are a great way to ensure adequate feedback without increasing the burden on yourself.
  • Leverage the ‘Message Students Who’ functionality in the Canvas gradebook.
  • Change the approach to online discussions and leave feedback within the discussion board for all students to see instead of individualized feedback.
  • Use groups for discussions, projects, and peer reviews to manage to grade and provide another avenue of feedback. For group projects, be sure to provide the necessary scaffolding to make the process go smoothly. Make each part of a project build upon the previous piece, and articulate how each aspect of the project meets course and program objectives. Also, it can be helpful to remind students that providing feedback to peers will be a valuable skill in their future workplace.
  • Use rubrics — they make the grading process go faster, provide transparency to students on expectations, and often reduce questions. 
  • Think of the implications of creating assessments that require timely feedback before a student or group can move on– if you feel that you must have this type of assessment, be sure to plan around it, so you have the time to provide feedback as needed.


  • Eliminate feedback to decrease the grading burden.
  • Wait for students to ask questions, and be proactive in addressing them using the practices outlined below.
  • Give incomplete instructions or information regarding projects, assignments, or any other aspect of the course.
  • Reduce the rigor of your course and the demands of your content to make working with a large group of students easier.