How To Prepare Students for Successful Online Learning
On the spectrum of educational settings, there are still (primarily) traditional classrooms with desks in rows and a "sage on the stage" up front and center. Increasingly, there are also potentially more innovative environments, including hybrid (or blended) and fully online courses that incorporate flexibility and student choice.
Focus on that word: potentially. Fully online and blended learning environments require increased degrees of student motivation and commitment, along with appropriate teacher modeling and support, for students to be successful, especially in a K-12 classroom. When these conditions are met, the benefits of successful online learning, such as asynchronous flexibility in schedules and the faster completion of coursework, may be realized.
Teach Students How to Prepare to Take an Online Course
During a typical school scheduling process, students might attend a large-group assembly, review a program of studies, and make their course selections, often with little to no input from teachers, counselors, or their parents. If offering a hybrid (part online, part in-person) or fully online course, you will need to engage students and their families beyond traditional scheduling to help them make the best decision possible.
Hold meetings, webinars, and dedicate space on your website for your online classes. Provide syllabi, course requirements, and relevant rubrics in advance, along with detailed explanations.
Help students and families understand that hybrid learning, while convenient and retaining an in-person component that will help support them, will still require them to dedicate free time to completing course requirements and to strategize for success. For a fully online class, discussing and modeling a typical weekly schedule at an informational meeting would be helpful. You must over-communicate up front so that there are fewer surprises (and more student success!) down the road.
Orient Students to the Learning Management System
Students taking their first blended or fully online course may have never interacted with a learning management system (LMS) before. Set up a tutorial or orientation course that focuses on teaching how to use the LMS. Such a course should include step-by-step text instructions, screencasts, and short, manageable assignments that teach students how to complete discussion posts, longer assignments, and projects, communicate with the teacher and each other, and more. This is also the time to ensure that all technical requirements for access are met and to help students and families satisfy those requirements if need be.
Support Student Study Habits and Executive Functioning
Many of the same study skills you try to inculcate in students in the traditional classroom are equally important, or more so, in an online format. Tips for success at the collegiate level cross-apply to K-12 settings. For example, reaching out early and often to connect with the teacher. Many students will need to be explicitly told to do this, and shown how. Online, students must be even more active in terms of their communication habits, or they may feel disconnected and lost.
So-called executive functioning skills are also critical in online education, particularly organizational and self-monitoring skills. Students should be explicitly taught the following:
- First, how to establish a quiet, consistent, distraction-free location to access and complete course requirements.
- Second, students must learn how to create a long-term plan for completing online work from the course syllabus and how to stay organized and execute that long-term plan.
For example, I have been taking online doctoral classes for the last two and a half years. On the first day that each course opens—about two days prior to the actual beginning of the course—I take a printout of the syllabus and my paper planner and write down all pertinent due dates ahead of time, as well as the days I will work on those assignments. I was nowhere near that organized in high school. You will have to walk your students through those skills to help them find a system that works for them.
Personalize the Course Setup and Curriculum
There are many different strategies you can use when planning how to set up your online course. Which one works best for you? Better yet, which one will work best for your student population?
A course setup that is easy to navigate, builds in interesting topics, warm-up questions, discussions, and student voice/choice in curriculum and assessment is always better than the alternative. The more time and effort you spend on the front end of an online course, the more organized and beneficial the course usually is for student learning.
Getting It Right
When online education fails to deliver, it usually isn't a function of the learning management system. "Nearly three-quarters of students enrolled in virtual [charter schools] are attending a high school where fewer than half graduated in four years," but that is not an indictment of online education or your school's LMS! It's how online education is being carried out that matters most.
Unmotivated students left unsupported will obviously lead to failure in most cases. Ensuring student commitment to successful online learning, orienting them to the LMS, and explicitly teaching them the skills they will need to be successful in an online environment will help them realize the benefits of online learning and mitigate the potential drawbacks.
Do you have any tips to help prepare students for successful online learning? Tell us on Twitter @Schoology