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Some think being an online educator is easier than face-to-face: “The students read and learn on their own. They do their work. They turn it in, and then the teacher grades it—EASY!” However, in reality, that is completely untrue! Much more planning and communication must happen in an online environment vs. face-to-face for quality learning to occur. 

My first and most important recommendation when teaching an online class is to remember the Three C’s: Communicate, Communicate, and Communicate. It must happen throughout, and it must be given more readily, more succinctly, and more clearly online due to the parts of communication that are lost in an online environment.

I was recently asked for some suggestions to give a teacher trying to integrate mastery into the following four instructional practice standards when instructing face-to-face, using a blended model, or using a fully online learning environment. Here are some recommendations from this seasoned online educator:

1. Maximizing Instructional Time

  • Face-to-Face
    • Classroom Management (specifically transitions) – Teachers must realize the amount of instructional time that is wasted by not being able to transition from one activity/subject to another. I’d say a full 30-45 minutes or more can be gained by having a plan that is well communicated to students for how to move from one block of time to another.
    • Communicated Expectations – Most humans are people pleasers at heart. If learners don’t know what is expected of them, there will be a lot of explaining, redirecting, disciplining, etc., that will have to be dealt with by the teacher. This can be mitigated by clearly communicating the expectations to the class.
  • Blended
    • Same as above when you are with the students, except more communication needs to happen for online activities because the teacher is not in-person to explain what is expected. It is my opinion that this is the best learning environment when done well because it harnesses all of the greatness that can come from both settings. A teacher can utilize the face-to-face time to maximize the direct and guided instructional times while using the online time to allow students to learn independently as well as maximize enrichment and remediation opportunities via recorded lessons and supplemental materials.
  • Online
    • Planning and Communication – The saying goes, “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.” This cannot be more true than in an online environment. An educator can usually do a little “tap dance” to save a poorly planned lesson when in a four-walled classroom. However, when online, everything must be planned and communicated effectively or students will disengage and learning will not happen. Students must know what they are to do, how it’s expected to be done, and when it must be done for every assignment. And I mean down to the very last period at the end of the three-page, typed, double-spaced, indented, MLA-formatted, paper.
    • Consistency – Students will learn one way of doing things and if that way is changed, it will cause havoc for the teacher. The teacher must communicate changing expectations, which goes back to planning. If there are consistent methods for submitting assignments, students will become accustomed to turning items in the same way and there will be no confusion.

2. Student Engagement

  • Face-to-Face
    • Learning Modality – As a teacher, you are competing with every game, video, and shiny object ever made. You must make the learning engaging, interesting, and worthy of the students’ time. That means learning your students’ preferred modalities of learning and adjusting your instruction accordingly multiple times per day.
      Not every lesson must hit each one, but the instructor must make sure that kinesthetic learners’ needs are met, as well as auditory learners’, at some point throughout the day. Some educators assume that if it’s said in a lecture, students are taking it in and learning the content. This is just not true for all students.
    • Social Environment – Learners used to learn via books and lectures before today’s technology became prevalent because that’s all that was available at the time. When choosing to learn today, a typical student will select digital and social avenues—particularly on their phones—when not in school. Great educators know this and allow for collaboration with accountability.
  • Blended
    • Best of Both Worlds – As above, this is the best scenario. A teacher can set up the lesson while face-to-face (instruction and guided practice), and the independent practice can come while online. However, the same still holds here in that the teacher is competing with lots of other distractions (FYI: YouTube is just a browser tab away).
      Therefore, the student must be compelled/encouraged to do school work instead of YouTube or Tik Tok. This involves interactive online activities, labs, and manipulations that allow the student to do more than just read text on a page and write about what they’ve read. Let the students discuss what they’ve read and learned. Let them do that in your face-to-face class and in a discussion thread using your LMS (Learning Management System).
  • Online
    • Much More of the Above – When a student doesn’t ever see a teacher in person, it dehumanizes the learning. We are social beings and we need to be in contact with other humans. That’s how we learn from birth and continue through adulthood. Therefore, the online instructor must engage the student in activities that will keep the student’s attention. It is a tremendous help if the student understands the why in their learning as well.
      However, sometimes the teacher should probably ask the same thing. Why is the student being asked to do this? This may help the teacher formulate an explanation for the student and get the student to be more engaged as a result. And if the teacher cannot answer the why, then maybe the question is… ‘Why is the student doing this in the first place?’

3. Develop Student Understanding & Mastery of Lesson Objectives 

  • Face-To-Face
    • Frequent Checks for Understanding – Many formative assessments that are not high stakes will allow the educator to know the level of knowledge acquisition. Summative assessments are certainly important, but frequent formative assessments allow for the teacher to adjust their instruction to maximize student learning as well as using instructional time in the best way possible.
  • Blended
    • Same as Above – It doesn’t matter the delivery method of instruction, the teacher still needs feedback in order to know what the student has learned from the lesson or activity. In the blended environment, a mixture of pencil/paper as well as digital assessments will be best to assess student knowledge.
  • Online
    • More of the Same – This is much more difficult in a fully online environment, but should happen frequently just the same. The teacher doesn’t have visual or auditory cues to adjust to when/if a student does not grasp a concept, therefore assessment is key.
      It does not need to be a computer screen locked to one webpage so there is no “cheating.” It can look like a discussion that is graded due to the content included within. The important part is small regular check-in’s with the student to determine if new concepts can be introduced or if reteaching is necessary.

4. Checks for Understanding

  • Face-To-Face
    • Frequency – This is important so that, like above, the teacher can adjust their instruction to match the needs of the learners. This can be in the form of exit tickets or periodic check-in’s throughout the lesson.
  • Blended
    • Again with Frequency – This can happen more readily in person, but can and should also happen online in a blended environment so that the students become comfortable with it. Students need to know what to expect when in the classroom (or online) and given periodic opportunities to show what they know. This could be done utilizing pencil and paper or Web2.0 tools that offer feedback from students or even a thumbs up sign using your video conferencing tool.
  • Online
    • A little bit more Frequency – This can happen through forms (such as Google Forms), activities, projects, rubrics, etc., but the educator has lost the personal and social aspect of learning by not sitting in front of the learner and seeing body language when the concept is or is not grasped. Therefore, care must be taken when creating assessments so that regurgitation of factual information (memorization) isn’t the only skill that is being assessed.
      It is quite easy for an online instructor to get into the rut of giving instruction and then asking the students to spit that same information back out at them. Internalization of the material and full understanding never really completely happens in this environment.

While online learning can be more convenient at times and is certainly reflective of what goes on in our daily lives and the multitude of activities we have going on around us, it can certainly be a hindrance to learning if not done in the right way. And the “right” way has everything to do with the needs of the student and not the teacher! However, if done correctly with the needs of the student in mind along with an attentive instructor who realizes the importance of communication, a blended learning environment can be quite rewarding and even more beneficial to learning than the four walled classroom of years past.

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