9 strategies for effective online teaching

Man working at kitchen table on laptop with his dog

Many of us are having to move teaching quickly online (tips here if you are still setting up your course). Once you have your technology in place, take a deep breath. Teaching online requires different types of interactions with students. We’ve simplified what works into nine strategies based on research that will help set you and your students up for success in your newly online course.

1. Know the technology

  • This is new to everyone, so be prepared to troubleshoot and let your students know you are working on it. Take an hour to familiarize yourself with the technology. Most companies are offering additional training right now.
  • Be very clear to students about where they should go for technical support (good digital technologies will have support services). Make the contact information readily available, and be prepared to direct students there if they come to you.

2. Expect the unexpected and remain flexible

  • At some point technology will fail, whether it is a video chat not connecting or assignment and/or resource links not working properly.
  • Have a backup plan for all assignments and assessments that rely on technology.
  • Be transparent in your communication to students about technology failure. For example, put a policy in place that outlines the actions students should take if they are unable to submit assignments due to technical issues.
  • Don’t be afraid to solve technical challenges in real time, such as during synchronous discussions or collaborative real-time activities, to save time.

3. Create and maintain a strong presence

  • Send a message to all students, by video if possible, to welcome them to online learning and reassure them.
  • Use video chat rather than basic instant message when interacting with students.
  • Get the students talking by beginning discussions in the discussion board, and then contributing rapid, regular, and open responses to questions.
  • Use non-verbal communication such as emojis.
  • Complete your profile with professional and personal traits.

4. Set clear expectations for the course

  • Online learning is new to the students as well. Make it clear to students how their grade in the course will be determined now (participation often makes up a much larger portion of the grade than in face to face classes).
  • Set expectations for response time. For example, make it clear that you will respond to emails within one business day, otherwise students may expect you to answer an email within a few hours, and disengage if you don’t.
  • Share resources for students on how to be an online learner. We have one from college students and from professors.

5. Establish a sense of comfort and develop a community of learners

  • Students are looking to you to set the tone. Demonstrate enthusiasm and excitement about teaching the course to alleviate fear, anxiety, and isolation.
  • Humanize yourself by posting a welcome video, a biography, photos that tell stories about what you are doing to keep busy during social isolation, links to news articles or video clips.
  • Encourage each student to personalize their homepage and spend time going around the class asking students to share information about what they have posted.
  • Incorporate instant messaging, web cameras, blogs and vlogs.
  • Ask questions that empower participants to question each other, and elicit rich discussion.
  • Respond to the community as a whole rather than directing all responses to individual participants outside of the community.

6. Promote reflection and communication through quality asynchronous discussion

  • Return to posted topics that have not been fully discussed and promote contribution and reflection.
  • Monitor participation and contact students individually if they are either not participating, or are taking over conversations and not permitting contributions from other individuals.

7. Have a good balance of active leader and active observer

You will begin the course as the manager of the learning community. As the course progresses, slowly transfer the responsibility to the community of learners. The online community building steps in point 4 will help with this. You should also gradually retract further out of communal discussions.

8. Request regular feedback and be mindful of misinterpretation

  • Check in with your students to see how things are going. You can do formal or informal surveys to assess attitudes, workload and challenges. Make course correction as necessary — we’re all learning.
  • Use ad hoc quizzes to assess learner comprehension of material.

9. Regularly check content resources and applications

  • Regularly check all links, resources, modules, and activities. Online content can move or change, which can lead to disengagement.
  • Assist students who are having difficulty navigating course links or managing the material spanning across various web pages.
  • Model the process of navigating to websites that are not embedded in the course, and demonstrate how to appropriately manage keeping track of navigation when jumping from site to site.

Summarised from:
Smith, K. (2016). Toward an Understanding of Training to Teach Online: A Review of the Literature. Pearson Efficacy & Research.


Father helping his children learn virtuallyWorking and learning online during a pandemic
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