The Essentials of Online Learning

#ECI834, A Digital Literacy Course

“Can you hear me okay? Is my mic on?”
“I’m just gonna share my screen real quick.”
“Please mute your mic…. nope you’re still not muted.”
“Thanks for introducing me to all of your pets… again.”

Online Course GIF By OpenLearning

If you are a teacher, you have probably said or heard these words more than once since the pandemic started. Everyone has had to shift their teaching styles and dive into the online world in some way since COVID-19 began. Some teachers have moved completely to an online learning environment and others have added digital elements to their physical classroom. These changes are easy for some, but much more challenging for others.

My teaching experience has varied over the years, but I have always implemented Educational Technology in some way. I have always used the blended learning model to some extent in my classroom, which is the blend of both online learning and face to face instruction. I have improved and altered the way I use blended learning as I have become more comfortable with it. The part that makes blended learning stand out is that “it requires the physical presence of both teacher and student, with some elements of student control over time, place, path, or pace.”

When I first started teaching, I was ambitious and used online learning in any way that I could. If there was a new website or app, I was always willing to try it in my classroom. This mindset is what guided a lot of my instruction and teaching methods. Even if my school had a limited amount of devices, I would intentionally implement the blended learning model within small group rotations or inquiry. However, the part of blended learning that was lacking in my classroom was the “student control over time, place, path, or pace.” This reminds me more of the Modern Classrooms Project framework of learning, which starts with blended instruction, moves into self-paced structure, and then allows students to progress when they demonstrate mastery. Trevor reminds us “it’s largely about choice and giving many options for students to express their learning” with a blended learning model.

Kareem Farah says that “when we micromanage the learning environment, we do a disservice to our students. We strip them of the opportunity to become self-regulated and self aware young adults. It may be intimidating to release control, but it is profoundly important.”

The freedom for students to choose their place, path, and pace in learning also reminds me of my current experience with online teaching. With the current online school that I work at, students are able to work at an asynchronous pace, but still get the benefits of meeting their teachers and classmates in a synchronous environment. Just like a blended learning format, students need the opportunity to build community with their peers, but also have time for their own learning and discovery. The blend of asynchronous and synchronous learning is essential for a successful online learning environment.

After working in an online learning environment for the past 5 months, as well as integrating blended learning into my classroom for the past 6 years, I have come to recognize the benefits and challenges of both these models. Since I am currently working with an online learning model, I decided to make a list of what I believe is essential for a thriving online learning environment and the areas we need to consider.

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Online Learning Essentials

1. Student Centered Lessons: Just like any form of teaching, it needs to be student centered. Keep the students at the center of the conversations that surround their learning and make sure each activity and assignment is possible for them in their current online learning situation.

2. Asynchronous Learning: Use asynchronous learning for video instruction, assignments and projects. This allows students to work at their own pace and learn in an atmosphere that benefits them. It’s also important that the assigned lessons and activities are achievable. If they cannot be done independently, then there needs to be planned synchronous time to answer questions and support students.

3. Synchronous Learning: Synchronous opportunities are needed for building community and having conversations from various perspectives. Students still need these opportunities to recognize their own biases, learn from their peers, and feel heard. Students should leave these meetings feeling celebrated, known, and confident. 

4. Instructional Videos: Instructional videos are a great way to keep learners engaged. Keep them short and concise, use Closed Captioning, and save it to a platform or in a video format that each child can access.

5. Asynchronous Assessment: While informal/formative assessment can be done in a synchronous format, summative assessment should be administered in an asynchronous way. Students who are unable to attend meetings or don’t have the necessary technology should still be fairly included in the assessments. 

6. Professional Development: Training and Professional Development is crucial for educators who embark on the journey of online teaching. Teachers need to know how to use the technology and online platforms. It’s also important that teachers understand the importance of the 9 Elements of Digital Citizenship, which includes digital security and privacy.

7. Communication: Building relationships with families and caregivers is incredibly valuable with online learning. It makes all the difference when you make space and time for families to ask questions and share their input. Having synchronous information meetings or inviting families to send emails allows them to be a part of the learning process. Remember to use your e-portfolios or online learning platforms to share positive experiences and personal encouragement with families.

8: Accessibility and Equity: Online learning needs to be accessible and equitable. There are many obstacles that stand in the way of online learning, such as the Digital Divide. Students might not have access to the internet, they may not have a device, their software could be outdated, or there could be multiple siblings who need to share one device during a synchronous activity. These are challenges that many families face during online learning, so it’s important that your school has strategies in place to support and provide access for the students and families. 

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As you can see, there are many elements to consider if you are moving to an online or blended learning format. I am sure that as the year goes on, I will have many more points to add to this list. So I am wondering… if you have taught in an online or blended learning environment, what are some things you would add to this list? What are some of the challenges you have faced or experiences you have celebrated?

It’s important to remember that whether you are using a blended learning or online learning format, it needs to be intentional, authentic, and student centered. The best part about any kind of teaching is that we learn, adapt, grow, and improve- just as our students do. If you are starting to embark on this online or blended learning journey, remember to have fun, be flexible, and connect with others who are experiencing it as well.