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Policies and Guidelines for Online Courses and Programs

All courses at UC San Diego are expected to meet standards for quality of learning and teaching effectiveness. Online and distance education courses must meet the same high standards for engagement and instructor-led learning experiences.

Digital Learning works with you to conceptualize, propose, design, launch, and evaluate your online course or program in order to meet these guidelines. A single course creation from concept to launch spans on average six months (two quarters). Find the guidelines, expectations, and policies for proposing a new online course or program at UC San Diego below the timeline.

course development timeline
Course Development Timeline
(click to view larger)

Policy on Distance Education Courses

Distance Education refers to a mode of instruction in which some or all students are separated from the instructor. A Distance Education course must support regular and substantive interaction between the students and the instructor, either synchronously (live but remote) or asynchronously (on demand and remote). Many technologies can be used to deliver Distance Education, including the internet, recorded videos, online audio/video conferencing, online discussion forums, and online Learning Management Systems.

All courses offered at UC San Diego should meet the same high standards in terms of the educational experience they offer to students, regardless of the mode of instruction. Hallmarks of these standards include:

  • Active engagement of a qualified instructor who has significant expertise in the subject of the course;
  • Frequent instructor guided activity to support student learning;
  • A means for students to periodically assess their progress towards achievement of course learning goals.

Courses that meet these standards and employ (primarily or exclusively) technologically-mediated formats may be offered at UC San Diego via Distance Education courses (sometimes also referred to as remote or online courses).


Proposal to Establish a New Online Course

"R" course proposals must include the following:

  • A copy of the e-course approval form (Submitted by the department)

  • Responses to the supplementary questions in the Policy of Distance Education.

  • A letter from the Teaching + Learning Commons, Director of Digital Learning Hub addressing: 

    • The current stage of course development; and

    • If the course design meets the Quality Matters Rubric standards and accessibility requirements (or the path forward to meet these standards).

  • A letter from the provost, department chair, or program director. The letter should address how the proposed R course fits into the curriculum and include plans for incorporating distance education into the unit’s degree program(s).

  • For undergraduate courses developed for UC’s Innovative Learning Technology Initiative (ILTI), a copy of the ILTI proposal.


See Digital Learning Hub's suggested steps for submitting a R Course proposal.

Proposals to Establish Online Master's Degree Programs

These guidelines are intended to serve as a resource for proposers preparing new online
Master’s degree program proposals and Senate reviewers tasked with reviewing these
proposals. Proposers of new online Master’s degree programs should address each of the items
listed under the Required Information section below within the proposal requesting the new
degree program.

The Graduate Council adopted these guidelines at their November 12, 2019 meeting. The
guidelines were developed by the Senate Online Degrees Ad Hoc Group (Appendix 2 of the September 20, 2019 report), with additional requirements added by the Graduate Council.

Online Course Development Agreement

The Online Course Development Agreement pertains to all University-sponsored and distributed online courses, existing or new, whether offered for credit or not, and whether or not the course is part of a program offered through the Strategic Academic Program Development (SAPD) initiative.

The Online Course Development Agreement replaces previous revenue-sharing agreements. Revenue-sharing agreements in place prior to July 1, 2018 are not subject to these guidelines.

Guidelines for Revenue Sharing

(as related to Online Course Development Agreements)

Course Creators are eligible for compensation as defined in the guidelines. A Course Creator must hold an active academic appointment (recalled emeriti faculty included; refer to APM 110-4 for the definition of Academic Appointee) with the San Diego campus of the University of California.

WASC Resources for New Program Accreditation

For new program proposals if 50% or more of the new program will be offered by distance modality (i.e. online or hybrid). For more information on campus accreditation, see UC San Diego Accreditation.

Resource Description
WASC New Degree Program Proposal (pdf)
Proposal guidelines and procedures for the WASC Secior College and University Commission Sustantive Change, New degree (Assoc, Bach, Masters)
Program Goals and Learning Outcomes (pdf) Definition and examples of Master's Degree Program goals and learning outcomes
WASC Sample Matrix for Assessment Plan (doc) Sample WASC matrix for assessment plans for assessing and evaluating educational effectiveness.