Online learning is not the same as learning in the classroom, but that’s okay

September 04, 2020 Jean Sharp, Chief Academic Officer By Jean Sharp, Chief Academic Officer
Student sitting at his desk

Online learning was never intended to replicate classroom learning.  But that doesn’t mean it can’t be just as effective. Classroom learning is fundamentally built on the ability to interact with one another – student-to-teacher or student-to-student – in a face-to-face environment.  And any effort to replicate the classroom experience online will likely overlook the benefits of using technology. Technology provides students with the ability to include asynchronous learning and the flexibility to choose their time, place, path, and pace for learning.

We know online learning looks different, and this school year will certainly be different than any year we’ve ever experienced. But there are still opportunities to connect with students through online curriculum to increase their engagement. In this blog, we share several specific ideas for how to accomplish that this school year.


Set clear student expectations and follow through.

Determine the goals for your communication with students. Setting clear expectations for students, and letting them know how you will support them, is one of the most important aspects of the teacher’s role, particularly this year. For example, saying “I will check in with you each day, or I will give you feedback on your work within a day after submission,” is clear and establishes a set cadence of communication.

We also recommend that teachers share how and when they will be available to their students. This should include the specifics about how to reach them, whether that’s via chat, messenger or scheduled Office Hours, etc. 

Research indicates that connections with their teachers and classmates is what keeps students engaged. And this year more than ever, students are going to need more connection with their teacher and their classmates. This could involve hosting virtual meetings with a full class, setting up breakout rooms for students to do an activity or discussion together, and providing opportunities to get to know your students.


Make virtual learning time count.

Setting realistic due dates and expectations for students can make the time they do spend learning more effective. Even if it’s in a virtual environment, students should be expected to turn in their assignments on time. However, if a student is struggling to meet a due date, it’s their responsibility to reach out to their teacher(s), to explain their situation, and to come to a mutually agreed upon date when the work will be completed.

Teachers are empathetic and realistic when the circumstances demand it, and our current situation calls for that. But too much flexibility does not send a message that “learning in my class matters.” Students need to manage their time effectively to become productive, contributing citizens of the world.


Available training and resources.

Providing training to students and families on how the virtual program can work, in an asynchronous manner preferably via video, can simplify the experience for everyone. Making resources available as a self-serve option, allows students to access what they need, when they need it, and alleviates the strain on teachers of providing technology support during scheduled instructional time.


Be available, but set boundaries.

Recognizing that parents are your partners with virtual learning, check in with them about what’s working and what support might be needed. Teachers are committed to supporting their students, and in a virtual learning environment and that support can extend beyond the typical school day.  However, be realistic about the policies you establish.

Your school may have policies about providing personal cell phone numbers. It’s important for teachers to remember that to be at your best for your students, you also need to set some parameters around your availability so you have time to take of yourself and your own family.

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