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Sharing Best Practices in Professional Development for Successful Online Teachers

by Rob Sabo on May 15, 2014


Teachers Need  Appropriate Professional Development as They Embrace the use of Online and Hybrid Learning.

Just as in traditional classes, good online courses require good teachers, but they need to be specifically trained to be the best possible online teachers that they can be.

Teaching online shares many similarities and skills with traditional classroom instruction methods, but there also are numerous unique requirements. These can include creating engaging online content, taking specific steps to build a sense of community, and considering if and when (and how) to incorporate some synchronous elements to their courses. Similarly, moving to hybrid and blended learning approaches can benefit significantly from appropriate training.

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Educators Share Insights, Practices

Our thanks to a number of educators living in the world of online learning who took some time out to share these thoughts on practices and challenges associated with creating and conducting compelling online courses and course content.

With online classes, the role of the teacher shifts from being a lesson planner, lecturer and test grader to being a one-on-one academic coach and guide, says Michelle Rutherford, director of implementation design at Apex Learning. Instead of providing sage instruction at the head of the class, teachers typically spend more time interacting with individual students, monitoring their performance in real time, intervening with students who might need of additional instruction, and ensuring the class stays on track for successful course completion, Rutherford says (in other words, acting as the “guide on the side”).

“Because students engage with course material directly, teachers have time to facilitate and individualize instruction, utilize reporting tools to identify students’ areas of weakness and develop instructional interventions, including small-group and individual direct instruction,” Rutherford says. This is quite different from teaching in the face-to-face classroom.

There are many different paths teachers and institutions can follow as they train teachers to create and develop online classwork. Professional development plays as crucial a role for online teachers as it does for traditional educators, the National Education Association says.

Professional development for online teachers should include a mix of learning how to craft an authoritative online voice, methods to facilitate discussions on team and multimedia projects and adapting online tools that support effective instruction. Lastly, the NEA, notes, teachers should learn and be familiar with the technical language of online education — terms such as “content management system” should be as familiar as chalk to their lexicon.

Transferring Engagement to the Online Realm

In the classroom, teachers can fully bring to bear their passion for a subject. Marc Bertonasco, former Professor of English Emeritus at California State University, Sacramento, was a master in this area. Bertonasco taught Shakespeare as if he were auditioning for lead roles in front of the bard himself, his delivery often leaving him red-faced and panting — and his students rapt with undivided attention.

When creating online courses, teachers need to take extra efforts to create a collaborative online environment in order to connect students with the content they are learning, according to Devorah Merling, 21st century educator in residence at BCA Architects of San Jose. Merling formerly worked as a teacher and as education and training specialist at audio/visual solutions firm CompView and as consultant at Pearson.

“Think of the learners first and how they will react to the content,” she says. “If the content is delivered in a traditional face-to-face manner, online students could have a hard time engaging — online courses need to be engaging in their presentation of materials.”

Digital media affords online teachers a chance to incorporate a wide array of teaching aides, including videos, animations and games for a rich online delivery that far exceeds simple recreation of static textbook pages, says Lynelle Morgenthaler, vice president of content development for Compass Learning, a software provider for K-12 teachers who teach online.

Digital learning, Morgenthaler adds, gives educators a great opportunity to go well beyond simple information delivery and delve into engaging exploration of critical thinking about content areas, project-based learning and small-group follow-up to digital introduction of concepts. But these tools need to be learned, and this requires professional development.

Online learning isn’t about simply replicating the classroom experience, says Dr. Kimberly Greene, associate professor who teaches online at Brandman University in Visalia, Calif. Good online coursework is more about changing the nature of the whole learning process so that it is more personal, meaningful, and transferable. That’s a tall order.

Teaching online and in a blended format requires a many new skills — but those skills aren’t just about learning how to use various digital technologies, Greene notes. They require a deeper understanding of the experience for the learner and a refashioning of one’s paradigm of learning.

In order for any educator to become a good online educator, they need to make a point of seeking out professional development to help prepare them for supporting students who are also embarking on a very different journey when they make the move online.

Learning More

Here are a few resources for taking a deeper dive into becoming the very best online teacher you can!


Thanks much to Ron Sabo for the great article! I’m delighted to currently be taking The College of Westchester‘s Online Faculty Training program, inspired by the outstanding work of Quality Matters. How about you? Do you have any professional development resources for online educators to share? I hope you’ll drop a comment and share so we can all learn and keep improving! Thanks – KW

Related Posts (if the above topic is of interest, you might want to check these out):
20 Warning Signs That you are Falling Behind the Times with Technology as a Teacher

Flipped Classroom Professional Development and Training

How Digitally Enabled Educators are Using Technology and What They Want to Learn More About


Rob Sabo writes about education and technology for several websites, including .

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