Using Checklists to Improve Online Learning Effectiveness and Efficiency

Concurrent Session 6

Brief Abstract

The survey result of 291 students in 12 online courses over three years indicates that checklists included in course assignments can help students understand requirements, focus on key elements, and stay organized in completing assignments.  It is a useful aid for students to improve their online learning effectiveness and efficiency.


Katherine Stone is an Associate Professor of Business and Professional Programs of the Undergraduate School at University of Maryland University College (UMUC) where she teaches Employee Training and Development, Global Human Resource Management, Marketing, Organizational Communication, and Organizational Culture. She earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Communication, a Master of Fine Arts degree in Film and Television, and a Doctor of Management degree. Her research areas include cross-cultural communication, media choice, and multinational organizations in global business. Prior to joining UMUC in 2006, she worked for over twenty years in the entertainment industry in the areas of film, television, and music.

Extended Abstract

One of the challenges for college instructors is how to help students understand and follow the instructions for doing course assignments.  Some students might feel overwhelmed by the amount of information in an assignment, some might miss certain concepts that they should present, some might waste time and effort heading down an unnecessarily difficult path to complete an assignment, and some might use a wrong format to submit assignments.  Meanwhile, some faculty members have to give instructions multiple times but only to see the same mistakes get repeated by some students.  These mistakes can negatively impact students’ grades and make both students and instructors frustrated.    

One of the techniques to address this issue is to include a checklist in an assignment’s instruction for students to use as a quick guide, a simple roadmap, and a self-evaluation tool.  Students can check off items on the list before submitting their assignments to increase the chance of achieving higher quality.  The goal is to help students improve their learning effectiveness and efficiency.  Checklists can assist students to take a methodical approach to present their comprehension of the course content instead of mimic a sample paper, which could limit their critical and creative thinking. 

Checklists have been successfully used over the years in many industries and fields as an aid to establish a higher standard, avoid failures, and ensure success, especially in highly complicated environments such as hospitals, airlines, and military operations.  Constructing a college project or writing a paper is certainly not at the same level of complexity; however, students can still benefit from a checklist as a helping hand with its simplicity, clarity, and the easiness to use in their learning process.  It is no surprise that most active duty and veteran students appreciate this tool because checklists are frequently implemented in the military.

Through surveys of 291 students in 12 online courses over three years of using various checklists, the result indicates that the majority of the students have positive views of having checklists included in the assignment instructions.  The checklists helped students break down requirements, understand expectations, focus on key elements, use the proper format, stay organized, and keep on track in completing assignments.  Students also expressed their desire of wanting to see similar checklists be included in more courses in their future studies. 

The design and style of a checklist can contribute to its success or failure, and various methods can be used to promote and encourage its usage in classrooms.  When properly implemented, a checklist can be a useful tool for students to improve their learning effectiveness and efficiency.  At the same time, it can help faculty members to engage students, give clearer instructions, demand more precise results, save time by not repeating the same explanations, establish a higher standard of baseline, and maintain more consistent performances in classrooms.  In addition, the positive experience of using checklists can potentially benefit students doing work assignments in their professions outside of classrooms.