The Foundations of successful Online Learning

Supporting the learning needs of all your students – ONLINE!

Okay – that’s a big call, I know. But let me introduce you to an online learning model I have developed over the last 20 years of practice, that will help you do this well and successfully. And I say successfully, because I know from my practice and research with teachers and academics that it works. This model of online learning works to motivate, bring satisfaction, creates engagement and best of all supports learning. Beginning with a clear understanding of the 4 core elements that lay the foundations of online learning.

An exploration of the literature of quality online learning shows us that good e-learning and student learning satisfaction comes through the inclusion of several key elements beginning with the educators expertise and their support for students in the learning environment.

Also important is the structure and coherence of the learning material as presented in the online classroom, such as the use of advanced organizers, clear presentation of learning objectives, the intentional and explicit structure of the learning content, the use of images and corresponding text, and an unambiguous statement of the prior knowledge of subject matter to be covered, all with a focus on quality not quantity!

It is also important to provide opportunities for students to be challenged, arouse curiosity and have choice through meaningful self-regulated learning opportunities, to stimulate learning motivation. Whilst, a well-structured e-learning environment will also include collaborative learning opportunities, and ubiquitous communication channels with peers and responsive tutors. Finally, assessments should be clearly stated and constructively aligned with the learning outcomes.

The 4 core elements

These are the 4 core elements that can be used as a framework to create the foundations of your online classroom. Think of it in terms of responding to these 4 questions:

  • What is the type and nature of the content to be learned or received by the student and how will you structure this,
  • What are the instructional strategies used for delivering this content and how will your students engage with it,
  • What communication tools will be used between student and teacher and between student and student, and
  • How will you  assess the knowledge gained and learning outcomes met.

3 modes of online learning

This framework forms one side of the model – which defines the 3 modes of online learning, what I have termed foundational, interactive and transformative, to produce 4 intentional student outcomes, motivation to learn, engagement with learning, satisfaction with the learning experience, and learning!

3 modes of successful online learning

Foundational mode of online learning

Let’s look at the foundational mode. This mode forms the foundations of online learning, and is focused on what Ruben Puentedura called the substitution and augmentation of what was delivered face-to-face. That means, delivering a static digital version of your teaching and learning materials through what is called an Learning Management System (LMS for short). For this your school may be providing you something, either a proper system such as Canvas, Moodle, or Microsoft Teams – however if not, free alternatives include Google classroom or SeeSaw. (personally, I have fallen in love with Seesaw!)

Static delivery of Content, might include readings, or digital versions of worksheets (which students can then upload again after completing), recordings of teaching, either through audio or video, using PowerPoint presentations to highlight key content, and using hyperlinks to provide additional materials, which might include other videos, readings, or web-pages. But keep it simple! As you would in the classroom. Students won’t read/view etc more than they normally would – which at times could be not much at all! Being online, does NOT change that behaviour.

Instructional strategies should include self-study motivational activities that encourage engagement with the learning content. This is where it gets difficult. Do they just read/view content and then respond in a forum (basic), do we ask them to chat about it, what can we do? This question is not dissimilar to considering what you would do in the classroom – and here you might even replicate that. Discussion moves to online discussion, either through discussion boards, or even live chat programs. Worksheets are worksheets or may be online open book untimed quizzes – giving immediate opportunity for feedback to the student. It may require you to be a bit more innovative, consider what you would have done and then explore what that might look like online instead. Just focus on using the simplest workable tool. Remember you are learning new skills, and so are your students!

Next are the Communications channels – begin with asynchronous, emails and forums. The focus here is on setting up good communication channels, with clear expectations for when and how often you will communicate with your students. Then be there when you say you will. It is also important to include student to student communication here, but again providing guidelines for what is expected and how to communicate with respect for your students. 

Finally, Assessment.  The key features here are to keep it simple, give clear instructions – give them early, break it down in to smaller steps, make sure that students cannot just google the answers! Use Bloom’s taxonomy to set assessments and focus on comprehension, application,analysis and so on! Teach the skills you want them to use, one step at a time. Remember they are learning too!

And as part of this, give regular feedback. Which is why using those online assessment tools work so well – students can get immediate feedback on their learning. Students need to know how they are going. They cannot see your face to get feedback, they can’t just ‘check’ with you as they would in the classroom. So giving regular formative feedback, and planning for it, is vital for successful learning.

And that’s the basis for creating a good online learning environment. To help you remember I have created a infographic – which you can download below.

Download Infographic – The Foundations of Online Learning

Of course there are the other two modes. You can read more about them here. The model is a morphological model, meaning that elearning works best when all 3 modes are present at some stage in a course or year, or between a group of teachers. Students should have the opportunity of experiencing all 3 modes to create truly motivating, satisfying, engaging online learning!