Principles of Effective Online Instruction

  • What does good online instruction look like?

In the traditional classroom, one expects to find the teacher leading the class by presenting the information, asking the questions and guiding the students’ practice.  Everything flows from the teacher.  They are like dad, who plans the family vacation, does all the driving and decides when to go home.  In the online classroom, the teacher provides the destination, but it is the students who decide what roads to take and what sites to see when they get there.  In an online course, the students have goals and objectives set by the teacher, but they reach those goals and objectives by their own means.

This does not mean that the student is left to his/her own accords to learn.  Online instruction involves collaboration, mainly among the students.  By collaborating together, the students build a learning community allows them to not just learn information for the purpose of testing, but fully understand it for the purpose of utilizing it later in their education and their life.  Other collaborations include teacher-student (in the form of feedback), teacher-parent (conferences) and, hopefully, parents will interact more with the student about what the are learning.

  • Does it look the same for all grade levels and content areas?

Obviously, a first-grade class and a twelfth-grade class will look different, as will an English course and a Mathematics course.  The types of projects, the online learning tools used and the amount and content of material presented will all be different.  However, behind all of this, the foundations of the classes involving the aforementioned student self-directness, goals, objectives, collaborations and feedback will be present in all forms of online instruction.

  • Will effective face-to-face teachers be effective online teachers?

When I thought about this question, I remember Rice’s (2012) phrase, “Good teaching is good teaching.”  I went back and reviewed this section.  She talks about how a face-to-face instructor can sometimes just “wing it”, but in the online environment, careful preparation is required.  I remember thinking the first time I read this section, “Great.  Winging it is my lesson plan.”   My winging it comes from knowing the material and thus forming the concept of instruction beforehand; a premeditated winging.  I need to harness the creativity I use when presenting my lessons live and apply it to the development of those lessons for the online environment.

Below are seven principles of effective online education that I have gathered:

  1. Online instruction is learner-centered.

The traditional classroom is teacher-centered (all information flows from the teacher).  In the online classroom, Lecture-based learning is impractical (NEA).  Instead, the course must be learner-centered.  In a learner-centered classroom, student takes an active role in learning (iNACOL, 2011) and instruction is about learning based upon goals important to the student (Roce, 2012).

  1. Online instruction begins with setting course goals and objectives.

Goals and objectives are the foundation upon which the course is built.  They clearly state what the student will know or be capable of doing (iNACOL, 2011).  Essentially, these goals are a contract between teacher and student on what is taught and learned (Ragan, 1999).  They are reached via the use of the proper instructional strategies (Rice, 2012).  Every aspect of the course should be developed in order to facilitate the students achieving these goals.

  1. Online instruction evaluation is based upon measurement and assessment of learning goals.

Determining whether students have successfully met the goals and objectives can not be accomplished from just the standard testing practice of the traditional classroom.  Assessments should be both formative (informing) and summative (demonstrate mastery) (iNACOL, 2011).  In the online classroom, these assessments are important because of the lack of face-to-face interaction between teacher and student (Ragan 1999).  The assessments should consider different learning styles (NEA).  Rice (2012) says that the online environment demands performance-based assessments upon task completion in order to demonstrate and apply understanding.  These assessments become a valuable tool in providing feedback to the students.

  1. Online instructional tools should be selected to support the learning goals.

The nature of online instruction lends itself to the availability of many tools to enhance the learning of the students.  Teachers should be able to use a variety of instructional tools (NEA), however, at any given time, one or two carefully chosen tools will be better than a haphazard arrangement of many tools (Rice, 2012).  The selected tools need to be accessible to the students (Ragan, 1999).  There are tools for all elements of the online course.  They are used for instruction, assessment and feedback (iNACOL).  They also provide unintended assistance.  Proper technology usage can also promote the behaviors you want (Rice, 2012).

  1. Online instruction involves collaboration among students.

Another difference between the traditional and the online classroom is in how much learning is acquired through groups collaborating.  Online instruction lends itself immensely to collaboration through the building of communities.  The instructional tools support the collaborative activities (Ragan, 1999), but it is the online teacher who must foster collaboration (NEA).  In order to provide incentive, students should be graded on participation and interaction (Rice, 2012).

  1. Online instruction is time flexible with deadlines.

The very nature of online instruction creates an environment where student can (and sometimes must) have access 24/7.  However, there must be structure to the course and students must be capable of completing assignments in a timely manner.  When lessons are provided ahead of schedule with benchmark due dates, students can pace themselves (Rice, 2012).

  1. Online instruction incorporates higher-order thinking skills.

For learning to be authentic, it must go beyond knowledge and comprehension.  The act of learning is as important as the information that is learned.  It is a skill that will serve the students throughout their life.  To accomplish this, learning must travel gambit of Bloom’s Taxonomy.  Rice (2012) states that students should engage in synthesis, analysis and evaluation and not just factual recall.  Therefore, assignments, activities and assessments should all require higher-order thinking skills (iNACOL).

International Association for K-12 Online Learning. (2011). National standards for quality online teaching. Retrieved from

National Education Association. (n/a). Guide to teaching online courses. Retrieved from

Ragan, Lawrence C.  (1999).  Good Teaching Is Good Teaching:  An Emerging Set of Guiding Principles and Practices for the Design and Development of Distance Education. CAUSE/EFFECT Journal, 22(1).  Retrieved from

Rice, Kerry.  (2012).  Making the Move to K-12 Online Teaching.  Upper Saddle Ridge, New Jersey:  Pearson Education, Inc.

Wiki Reflection

For EdTech 523, I am asked to write reflections.  The first one involved reading  the following article:

Meishar-Tal, H., & Gorsky, P. (2010). Wikis: What students do and do not do when writing collaboratively. Open Learning: The Journal of Open and Distance Learning, 25(1), 25-33. DOI: 10.1080/02680510903482074.

The assignment is to reflect on the differences in the types of collaboration experiences I encountered in a “project” wiki vs. the “writing” wiki reported on in the article and how I might facilitate wiki collaboration in my own classroom.

I want to present my findings from the article.  Students tend to add and modify when writing in collaboration.  The most common editorial action is adding sentences.  Students rarely delete another student’s work.  Students take ownership in what they contribute and are reluctant to be critical of other students’ writings.  The wikis take on a threaded discussion format.  While all students contribute, most editorial actions are performed by a small group of students.  Just as few students do most of the editing, few items get most of the editing.

My experience with the wiki project was similar.  Everyone participated (as required), but some students took a more active role.  With the (planned) lack of direction, they lead the way in posting their icebreakers and provided the model for others to follow.  They also organized the wiki.  One student created a survey to gather the thoughts of the other members of the group.  This gave us a guideline of what the groups thoughts were without having a long, drawn out discussion.

If I could utilize wikis in my class, one of the biggest lessons I learned (as designed by the instructor), was to be specific in tasks.  We are a group of highly educated individuals, yet we felt uncertain of how to proceed with minimal instructions.  Imagine how our students would feel.  You want to develop independent, critical thinking skills, but people are naturally tepid when placed in a strange environment.  Therefore, I would introduced the wiki in small, guided steps and slowly evolve in to larger, more independent projects.

Here is the link to my icebreaker, “Student Crest“.