March 20, 2020

To impede the spread of COVID-19 (coronavirus), schools nationwide are using virtual learning to serve students. Is your school offering online courses? Is it sharing lessons electronically and asking students to post responses?

Online learning is relatively new for many schools. And, students participating in online courses tend to have low completion rates. We’ve researched online learning and collaborated with schools nationwide and want to share this checklist for virtual learning with you, as well as seven tips:

  • Create a schedule. Provide a schedule to students and their families or ask students to develop and share one with their teachers. A schedule can help address challenges with time management and self-regulation, which can impede students’ success in online courses.
  • Schedule time to interact with students. Build in some type of synchronous interaction, such as a video chat or phone call. This interaction is key during the first week of a course to familiarize students with how to contact the teacher. However, continuing the interaction helps keep students engaged and reduces feelings of isolation.
  • Provide timely feedback. Respond to students promptly via email, phone, or video. Students feel more engaged with the course when they receive timely feedback.
  • Check that students are engaged. Be clear about how much time students should spend on the course. Then, regularly check students’ progress to identify students who need support. Keep in touch with parents to help students stay on pace.
  • Consider ALL learners. As in the face-to-face classroom, be sure to consider the diversity of learners, including accommodations, modifications, and differentiation.
  • Develop a system of supports. Students need support and interaction from online teachers, mentors, parents, and peers to succeed.In our 2020 study, we found that an online asynchronous orientation had no impact on student course outcomes. One reason for that might be that students need more onboarding supports than just one orientation. Consider making counselors, social workers, and administrators available to support students throughout the time they are out of school.
  • Address issues of access and equity. In 2018, the National Center for Education Statistics reported that “94 percent of children ages 3 to 18 had a computer at home,” but only “61 percent had Internet access at home.” Districts and states need plans and support to provide equitable access to the technology, Internet, and supports to make virtual learning a reality.

Do you have questions about online learning? Please share them, and we’ll reply!

 Erin Stafford, project director, facilitates partnerships between researchers and practitioners to address questions of policy and practice.
 Jacqueline Zweig, senior research scientist, conducts quantitative research in partnership with education agencies to provide new insights into online learning.
Capacity Building for Individuals, Organizations, and Systems

7 Replies


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Replying to:
Kristofer Van Wagner
It is interesting how this post pointed out that an excellent teacher, who teaches online classes, will address issues concerning access and equity. My daughter is planning to participate in an online course on how to play chess. I will remind her to consider the teacher, especially what they look into after each session ends before choosing a course.

Replying to:
Very informative and well thought out information. Thank you.

Replying to:
I wonder how we engage participants during asynchronous presentations, I feel it will be a bit difficult, especially once working with adults.. How we can improve interaction and engagement during synchronous and asynchronous sessions?

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