If your virtual learning environment isn’t producing the desired results, here’s some help.
GUEST COLUMN | by Carol Ribeiro
When it comes to online education, the “one size fits all” model doesn’t work for all learners. What does work is an individualized approach that gives students a high degree of flexibility while also ensuring they stay motivated and on task.
Helping middle and high school students become self-motivated can be particularly challenging for students, teachers, and districts, but it’s critical to student success in college and careers.
Online learning helps schools provide equal access to quality education regardless of a student’s geographic location or economic circumstance.
Some students struggle with the rigorous nature of online courses, thinking that online courses will take less time or be easier – which is often not the case. These challenges aren’t insurmountable, but working through them does require some effort and intention.
Here are 10 key principles we recommend for helping school districts and their students achieve online learning success:
1. Determine what online learning program’s style best matches with your school’s values and approach and then find an online education organization whose mission coincides with yours – one that can help you achieve your school’s goals. Be sure that you choose a program that is held to high standards.
2. Make sure students understand what is expected of them in an online course; have them complete a student orientation prior to the start of class. Topics include course navigation and how to complete assignments and find grades, but also the commitment needed, the time management skills required, and the need to self-advocate with online course instructors.
3. Give students easy access to technical support and a supportive network of administrators that can provide technical help if needed. By resolving tech issues quickly, students are less likely to fall behind.
4. Assign each student a support liaison (preferably onsite) that helps them stay focused and on track, and that can assist with communication with teachers and administrators as needed.
5. Put a strong onsite coordinator in charge of managing the school’s online program. An effective coordinator:
- Works with the guidance department to include online courses in the school’s program of studies and student schedules
- Helps the guidance department, administrators, parents, and students better understand the online program and its benefits to the school/students
- Monitors all students taking online classes and helps them stay on track
- Meets with students frequently about their progress in online courses
- Reports grades to school administration.
6. Create a strong instructor presence. A good online instructor makes personal connections to students, provides timely meaningful feedback, deepens class discussions, and responds quickly to resolve inquiries and issues.
7. Help students feel like they are a part of a supportive online classroom environment, where they participate in robust student discussions with their peers and teacher. In online courses, every student has an equal voice.
8. Develop an online learning environment where students work in small cohorts and feel connected to their peers and teacher. In classes where students interact frequently in small groups to discuss challenging concepts and questions, they are likely to be highly engaged and as a result, perform better.
9. Provide one-on-one student support by giving students a way to privately communicate with their course instructor, should they need more guidance. This also enables the instructor to provide direct support to a student who is falling behind, in addition to providing grading and feedback on assignments.
10. Create a well-organized course structure that clearly gives students the direction needed to complete their work. Use weekly overviews, learning objectives, course prerequisites and syllabus, rubrics, due dates, and media requirements to help students stay on task and on track. We find that a weekly asynchronous schedule—where students have weekly due dates but flexibility within the week to complete assignments—helps students stay focused and progressing forward.
When using teacher-led online instruction, the quality of the instructors is key. Over 85 percent of teachers at our school have Masters’ degrees. All have completed a graduate-level training program in online teaching best practices.
We’ve found that by training and supporting certified, qualified teachers, students ultimately benefit. We put a high value on teachers who can provide timely, meaningful feedback to students.
Students that are engaged in their coursework through interesting class discussions and a supportive instructor are more likely to be successful.
Filling in the Gaps
For the many schools around the world that we work with, online learning helps them provide equal access to quality education regardless of a student’s geographic location or economic circumstance.
Pupils in remote rural areas, or high-needs urban districts, for example, may not have access to high-demand options such as Advanced Placement (AP) courses or computer science electives due to budget and staffing limitations.
Online learning helps schools level the playing field, providing a wide variety of courses to meet students’ needs and interests.
At our nonprofit organization, our vision is to prepare students for college, careers, and life. We partner with schools to help them maximize their resources and instantly expand their course offerings and scheduling flexibility.
Interesting and unique electives in STEM, business, and the arts, for example, can help students find their passion for a college major or career, and often these courses would not be available to students otherwise.
Carol Ribeiro is President and CEO of The Virtual High School.