Online learning best practices ALL teachers can use

Teacher working with middle school student on computer

The year is 2001. A ragtag team of educators, techies, and entrepreneurs is planning the launch of a new virtual public school program. “What do we know about how to make online learning work for students in grades K-12?” someone asks. “Almost nothing,” we answer, “except that the teacher is the key.”

Fast forward to today. That virtual school program is now serving more than 70,000 students around the world in a variety of formats, and that ragtag team (mostly intact albeit quite a bit grayer) is thinking about the next frontier. “What do we know now about making online learning work for students in grades K-12?” someone asks. “A multitude of things,” we answer, “including that the teacher is still the key.”

The virtual school program with this teacher through-line is Connections Education, the company I helped found back at the turn of this century (if that doesn’t make us all feel old!). Today there are nearly 30 fully virtual public schools that use the Connections model, along with seven blended learning high schools and hundreds of district and partner programs all over the country. There’s even an international virtual school serving students from dozens of nations.

What we’ve learned about teacher practice across all of these years is that good online and blended teaching is really just good teaching – but supercharged. In fact, I would argue that the following teaching strategies and attributes, which are essential to success in an online/blended setting, are equally important in any classroom today.

  • Communication counts: Because teachers in online/blended settings are interacting with students via technology, their email clarity and webinar warmth are absolutely crucial to getting concepts across.
  • Data is your friend: Digital content and engagement create rich data trails that smart teachers use to track their students’ progress and provide just the right intervention at the right time.
  • Learning styles matter: Excellent online/blended teachers know that even in a technology-mediated environment, some students are more auditory than visual, and some need a push while others need a virtual hug.
  • Parents can help…or hurt: Online/blended schools often create a more direct role for parents in the learning process, and savvy teachers quickly learn how to leverage the most impact from their parent partners.
  • Light bulbs stay lit: As in any other form of teacher-student engagement, online/blended learning is all about working toward those “Aha!” moments. Expert teachers appreciate that the digital environment allows each student to get there at his or her own pace – including many who might not get there at all in a traditional classroom.

So what do you think? As conventional classrooms become more digital, and online/blended learning moves ever more mainstream, are these the kinds of strategies that EVERY teacher should have in his or her toolkit?


About Mickey Revenaugh
Mickey Revenaugh

Mickey Revenaugh

Mickey Revenaugh is co-founder and executive vice president of Connections Education. She likes to think of herself as an evangelist for the power of high-quality online and blended learning – and a non-stop advocate for learning opportunities for students around the globe.

She serves as chair of the board of directors of iNACOL, the International Association for K-12 Online Learning. For fun she helps her husband run his art school for kids on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, and digs in the dirt in her backyard garden in Brooklyn, NY. She graduated Summa Cum Laude with a Bachelor of Arts in American Studies from Yale University, earned an MBA from New York University, and is currently pursuing an MFA in Creative Writing at Bennington College.