Keys to Success for Teachers in an Online Learning Environment
In recent years, K-12 education has undergone a significant shift towards flexible learning environments. This shift is driven by the need to cater to the diverse learning needs of students, the demand for flexible schedules that allow students to balance their education with other responsibilities, and the interests of parents, caregivers, and families.
Flexible learning environments can take various forms, including:
- Online learning in which teachers and students are remote from one another,
- Hybrid learning, which combines online learning and onsite learning, and
- Blended learning, in which online tools and resources comprise a significant portion of instructional time.
This blog post explores the key elements to help teachers be successful in flexible learning environments, including the use of synchronous and asynchronous learning tools, digital content, formative assessments, and professional development.
Synchronous and Asynchronous Learning Tools
Synchronous and asynchronous learning tools are essential components of flexible learning environments. Synchronous learning tools include video conferencing, live chat, and webinars. These tools allow teachers to deliver real-time instruction and facilitate interaction and collaboration among students. Asynchronous learning tools include discussion forums, email, and pre-recorded videos. These tools allow students to learn at their own pace and provide flexibility in scheduling.
Almost all teachers in flexible learning environments use both synchronous and asynchronous learning tools to create a balanced and effective learning experience. By combining the two approaches, teachers can provide flexibility in scheduling while still delivering real-time instruction and facilitating interaction and collaboration.
Digital content provides students with access to a wide range of resources that can be accessed at any time, from any location with a device and Internet access.
High quality digital content is interactive and engaging, providing students with a dynamic learning experience. Interactive content such as simulations, animations, and videos can help students understand complex concepts and engage with the material in a way that is not possible with traditional textbooks.
Digital content can also be tailored to meet the specific learning needs of individual students. Learning platforms assess a student's knowledge and understanding of a particular topic and then provide personalized learning materials that are tailored to their needs. They can also provide multiple ways for students to progress through content, including mastery- and competency-based learning. Opt-in scaffolds can personalize the experience, as students choose which scaffolds to use and when they need them.
For all students, formative assessment provides ongoing feedback to both teachers and students, which is essential for tracking student progress and identifying areas where they may need additional support.
In flexible learning environments, many students may have fallen behind in a class or in overall credit accumulation, or may be seeking to move ahead at their own pace. In these situations, the teacher and perhaps school leaders need to determine the student’s knowledge and learning gaps quickly and consistently. This is especially true in situations in which students are recovering credits, as they will not expect to work through sections of a course they have previously mastered.
Professional Development and Ongoing Support for Teachers
Teachers need to be adequately prepared to work in online and blended learning environments. This preparation includes training on the use of technology, pedagogical strategies, and time management. The training should be ongoing, as teachers need to adapt to new tools and strategies regularly.
Many online, hybrid, and blended schools adopt a flexible learning environment for teachers similar to the flexibility that they provide students. For example:
- Online schools can schedule time for teachers to meet synchronously throughout the day and week.
- Hybrid schools often have a day in which few or no students are onsite, but teachers are in the building. These are frequently used for teacher professional development.
- Similar to how many innovative schools use professional adults in new roles with students, these schools also identify learning coaches, instructional strategists, and others who work regularly with teachers.
Learning to teach in innovative environments can be challenging, but the rewards of reaching students in new and successful ways is worth the effort. The use of new tools, content, and formative assessment—all incorporated into professional development and ongoing support—allows teachers to reach students in novel and exciting ways.