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How to Help Students Learn Online

February 5, 2021

As more K-12 students are choosing online instruction, educators can boost their chances of success by keeping students engaged even without the benefit of classroom interaction. Teachers have a variety of options to accomplish that task, including keeping lessons streamlined, using all communication tools available, and creating online spaces for interaction.

The need to know best practices in teaching students online rapidly became a critical issue as the COVID-19 outbreak led school districts across the nation to close campuses in the spring of 2020. This forced students, parents, and teachers to quickly adjust to online learning. While the future remains unclear, online learning looks likely to remain a part of K-12 education for the foreseeable future.

When done effectively, student outcomes from online learning can match or exceed those in traditional classrooms. Those seeking a Master’s Degree in Curriculum and Instruction may find themselves blending online learning with traditional classroom instruction.

Institutions such as Merrimack College have years of experience providing online degree programs and expertise in knowing what steps lead to student success. It requires a collaborative effort by teachers and students, as well as a strong support system from the academic institution and from home.

How Teachers Can Help Students Learn Online

K-12: With online learning, teachers must find ways to keep students engaged. That was one of the principal issues as K-12 students migrated to online learning during the COVID-19 pandemic. Teachers can engage students by:

  • Keeping lessons simple and straightforward
  • Using communication tools available to connect with students
  • Creating online spaces for interaction

Engaging students in this way can help them feel more involved in classwork and connected to the school experience. As Merrimack’s M.Ed. Program Director, Stacey Klasnick noted, “Children are used to an ‘in-person’ school experience. The challenge during this transition due to the pandemic is to find ways to have that interaction in a different way to make certain the students remain engaged.”

Many online learning sites have started to make content available for free as well as tutorials for students and training for teachers. These sites include Khan Academy and Scholastic Learning at Home.

College: Some schools have developed preparatory courses that help students adapt to online learning, such as those created for college students in California. These self-paced courses teach students the basics of online learning. They also instruct students on the importance of time management and having a strong support network in place.

Online college degree programs provide a good example in this area. Many online college students are adult learners who hold down a full-time job, have families and may have caretaker responsibilities. College instructors have found ways to stay connected with them through email, direct messages, videos, and video chat.

How Parent Can Help

One of the key components of online success is a strong support system. For most students, this begins with their parents. Parents especially play an important, supportive role for students moving to an online format in middle school and high school. Helping students prepare for online learning can improve a student’s chance of success in this learning environment. 

Prepare a space. The chances of success in an online learning environment improve if parents and students work together to create a special area dedicated to schoolwork. A designated school space in a quiet, low-traffic part of the home helps kids focus on school tasks.

Make a schedule. Making and keeping a schedule is a powerful way to achieve goals. Choose a time of day when the student is most attentive and ready to learn. Consider when students need the most help, such as getting started each day. Once a schedule is in place, stick with it

Eliminate distractions. Clear the schoolwork area of video games, television, phones, and other electronic distractions. Remind others in the house not to interrupt students during their scheduled class time.

Make time for exercise. On campus, students move around throughout the day. Recess, lunch, PE class and even moving from one class to another are all opportunities to stretch their legs. At home, students should take time each day to walk around, stretch their legs, and look away from the computer.

Parents can also put practices in place that will help them juggle the duties of overseeing their kids’ school activities and working their own job. This includes drawing a clear line between the two and marking out time for both, then sticking to that schedule.

Parents can also lower anxiety levels in the home by turning off the news and setting aside family time to play games, watch movies or whatever the family enjoys.

Online school provides an opportunity for education to continue during an unprecedented time in the United States. With commitment and effort from teachers, students, and parents, online learning can be a success for everyone.