Help Fully Online Learners Complete Non-Graded Course Work

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  • What are non-graded activities?
  • How can I support students to complete non-graded work?
  • What reminders can help students to complete their work?

This teaching tip provides suggestions for encouraging and reminding students to complete supported non-graded asynchronous course work.

a man sitting at a desk with a laptop and a water bottle
Photo by Trust “Tru” Katsande on Unsplash

Non-graded asynchronous activities can be supported course work. Supported course work is instructor-led and actively engages learners. If you are teaching hybrid or fully asynchronous online, supported course work will be included in the number of scheduled course hours each week (see your timetable). Supported course work is distinct from homework, weekly readings, assignment preparation, or any other independent work that students do on their own time.

Non-graded activities provide information and feedback on students’ progress. They can include guided readings, dynamic page tools, video viewings, checklists, self-assessments, practice tests, polls, surveys, peer review, discussion forum posts, and other activities that help students to apply their knowledge and even receive formative feedback prior to assignments.

By providing messages of encouragement, tips for success, frequent reminders, and personalized outreach, You can create habits of supported course work completion by providing frequent reminders, tip for success, and feedback.

Supported Non-Graded Asynchronous Course Work

Explain your expectations early about the shared responsibility for learning in the course. Here is an example.

Dear class: I recognize that you have many personal and professional responsibilities that put demands on your time. But, when you dedicate at least 3 hours each week, you will be able to complete all of the supported learning, and space out your practice, in this course. Non-graded activities in this course can help you to practice with what you’ve learned and receive feedback on your learning before assignments are due. I will be available during drop-in hours each week to answer your questions as you proceed through the lesson. 

Emphasize time management. Repeat to students that they should be booking the requisite course hours in their schedules. Share asynchronous learning about how to be successful while learning online tips from the Student Success online video series. Encourage students to use a day planner, such as Student Portal calendar, to aid time management.

Encourage working ahead – Ask students to review their personal calendars, noting dates or times of the week are particularly busy for them. Encourage students to plan to work ahead in the asynchronous content to anticipate these busy times.  

Explain the consequences – Low stakes learning activities are usually the first activities to be skipped. If you explain the consequences of skipping the activities, you can remind students the import of learning with no-stakes practice.

Make the course shell a place students want to be. Encourage students to log into eConestoga often by regularly providing interesting professional stories, sharing professional resources, and discussing current events, as well as giving timely, personalized comments on their submitted work.  

Go first. In collaborative activities, such as the discussion forum, model what a contribution can look like. Exemplars can give students a sense of what you expect and help them to work through their shyness and contribute as well.

Make contributing simple. Give clear instructions and provide links directly to the activity. Asynchronous activities that are easy to to complete and/or anonymous may receive more responses.

Praise responses, contributions, and completions. Show that you are actively monitoring the activity by praising those who have contributed or completed the activity. Send a private message and/or send a group message to share your appreciation and summarize how their contributions furthered learning.

Reach out to those not participating. Remind students of the benefits of readings and practice activities for success in the course. Suggest a meeting to discuss ungraded course work, and consider referring students to a Success Advisor if they do not reply. 

Ask for feedback. Invite students to share their experiences with with the ungraded course activities. Act on their suggestions where possible, and students know that you are listening to and appreciate their ideas. 

Non-Graded Activities in Fully Asynchronous Courses

If you are teaching an asynchronous course, you will not have scheduled meetings to start activities or reinforce expectations. Here are some ways to encourage and support students to complete supported asynchronous learning without class meetings.

Reminders in an Asynchronous Course 

Review of Week 2 Asynchronous Activities [2 hours]
Get introduced to the course [15 min]
Complete the Introduction Mentimeter Poll
Get Ready for Class [60 min]
Review key ideas from last week
Read/View this week's required readings
Review meeting slide deck
Complete activities and assessments [45 min]
Post your meme in the discussion post/respond to others
Complete the post-assessment question
Submit your meme to the Assignments dropbox
Fig 2. Weekly checklist for asynchronous work

Encourage students to enable email notifications. If you notice that students are responding to your emails but not to announcements, show students how to adjust their “notification” settings so that eConestoga announcements will go to email. See this video Setting Up Notifications in D2L [3:18] 

Provide asynchronous work award badges. Using release conditions, create and share badges for learner accomplishments, such as those who complete ungraded activities. See this page on How to Create Badges in D2L.  

Send Intelligent Agent (or manual) emails when students complete an entire section of their work, recognizing their effort. See an example below.

Dear Janine: My records indicate that you have been visiting our XXX course shell regularly and keeping up with the content each week. You have also completed X practice quizzes. This message is simply to recognize the consistent effort that you are putting into the course. Keep up the good work! 

Send regular Announcements and emails. If you send regular announcements and emails (at the beginning, middle, and end of the week), you help give reminders to keep students on track.

Participate actively. Be an active part of the discussion or activity. Provide a de-brief on the activity. Thank those who participated.

Hybrid Course Encouragements and Reminders

Students in hybrid courses meet with you for real-time classroom learning a certain number of hours of the weekly schedule. You can use these strategies during class time to encourage students to complete the remainder of the supported learning hours each week or for each unit of learning. 

Reminders in a Hybrid Course

Start a “take-home” activity in class. Help students get started with an ungraded asynchronous reading, forum discussion, or practice test by starting it together in class as a large group or in pairs. Then, once they have seen the resource, and you have explained its value for their learning, invite students to finish on their own during asynchronous class time.  

Slide: Week 4 Agenda
Today In-Class (2 hours)
Review the quiz
Lesson on topic
Group work breakouts
Next assignment review
After Class/For Next Class (1 hour)
Take the next practice quiz
Review the Assignment video overview with FAQ
Homework (your own time)
Read chapter 5
Organize your next team meeting
Fig. 1: Example of hybrid learning agenda.

Provide a slides that describes the flow. An agenda for a week or unit can help describe to students what is being done during what mode of activity.

Create a preparation for class checklist or a knowledge check poll or survey before the next class. Use this strategy to encourage activity completion before class. Note that you will take up responses in class.

Use reminder tools. The Calendar, Announcements, and Intelligent Agents can all be used to provide reminders to students about work to complete.

Creating Asynchronous Non-Graded Activities

If you are designing or revising your own asynchronous or hybrid course, you are likely looking to find ways to interest and engage students, help them to manage their time, and feel a sense of progress as they complete ungraded asynchronous activities. 

Designing Non-Graded Activities  

Be selective about non-graded activities. Students are expected to complete a set number of hours of supported asynchronous course work. Review how much ungraded course work you expect students to complete–would they be able to complete all activities in the scheduled time frame? Where possible, distinguish supported asynchronous course work from optional/additional readings and activities.  

Keep activities short and visual. When activities are short and visually engaging, students will be more likely to complete them.

Chunk content by page. Rather than put all asynchronous lesson content on one page, chunk the lesson with multiple pages by topics or activity. When content is chunked meaningfully, your course design makes it easier to absorb and retain information (Clark & Mayer, 2016). 

Describe the value. Students will be more likely to engage in your activity if you describe the value of the activity for students. Relate the practice back to graded assignments or go personal/professional goals.

Ask students to share back. Create a conversation with students about ungraded asynchronous content by asking students to share their ideas and opinions. There are several student share back tools, including the discussion forum, surveys, embedded polls, and private emails. 

Use progress indicators. Indicate how far students have progressed through the ungraded asynchronous content. This can be done with self-checks at key points to confirm learning, or a simple message of congratulations when students have reached a certain point in the lesson. See these eLearning progress bars as some visual examples. 

A Final Thought

It is not surprising that students will choose to spend their time focusing on graded assignments. Practice assignments and other non-graded activities may not appear as important to students, especially if students do not recognize how they can support learning and course success. Students may have competing demands of their time for high-stakes assignments and other responsibilities. Students may also still be “learning to learn” online.

Try to avoid feeling discouraged if your students do not all fully take up ungraded asynchronous learning opportunities. Instead, focus on positively and enthusiastically communicating the value of non-graded asynchronous work for your students, and on celebrating those who do make the effort.


Clark, R. C., & Mayer, R. E. (2016). E-learning and the science of instruction (Ruth Colvin Clark & R. E. Mayer, Eds.; 4th ed.). John Wiley & Sons.  

Guo, P. J., Kim, J., & Rubin, R. (2014). How Video Production Affects Student Engagement: An Empirical Study of MOOC Videos. In Proceedings of the First ACM Conference on Learning@ Scale Conference (pp. 41-50). New York, NY: Association for Computing Machinery. 

W3. (n.d.). Making Audio and Video Media Accessible. 

Elan Paulson

Elan Paulson, PhD, has been an educator in Ontario's higher education system since 2004. Before joining Conestoga as a Teaching and Learning Consultant, Elan was on the executive team at eCampusOntario. She previously served as Program Director and as an instructor in professional education programs at Western University's Faculty of Education. With a Master's in Educational Technology, Elan specializes in technology-enabled and collaborative learning to support diverse learners. She has also conducted research on faculty participation in communities of practice for professional learning and self-care.