Teaching - and learning - is changing every day and for both students and educators to be successful, preparation is key. As more technology develops to meet the needs for modern learning, new uncertainties will change what the classroom looks like and how it operates. 

Online learning is becoming more of a necessity - whether it be for a covid exposure or a good old snow day - and while students and teachers are still adjusting, it’s an effective practice.

Why online learning?

The realities of the pandemic brought us technology primed for an online learning environment. Digital education provides flexibility and access to the classroom in the event that students can’t attend in person. As we navigate the new digital landscape, we’re discovering more alternative approaches that mix on and offline learning experiences.

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Styles of online learning

Hybrid learning has developed as a solution for when it’s possible for most students to come to school but others need virtual access. The blend of remote and in-person students means teachers must teach in a classroom setting and video conference at the same time.

As hybrid learning becomes the norm in classrooms across the world, the benefits are clear. A hybrid classroom, equipped with the right hybrid tech, gives students the flexibility to choose which environment suits their needs, providing opportunities for diverse approaches to learning.

Sometimes though, a more remote-forward approach is necessary. Blended learning is a model that assumes some learning will occur in-person with a curriculum structured around online learning. This could look like a class that comes to the classroom on Monday but spends the rest of the week in online lessons. Regardless of circumstances, blended classrooms plan around the digital classroom rather than reframing in-person lessons into a virtual space.

When teaching plans need to adjust at the drop of a hat, it’s important to have the flexibility to continue your lesson plans uninterrupted. That’s where blended learning comes into play; assuming your classroom will be online helps you structure your lesson plans and prepare for any possibility. Even a lesson you have planned for the classroom should have an online back-up plan or an alternate lesson.

One progressive approach to blended learning is the “flipped classroom." In this setting, students learn on their own time and then attend the hybrid classroom to refine their learning with the teacher. This allows students to learn independently and come up with their own conclusions. Then, they work together and with the teacher to fill in knowledge gaps. Independent work can include watching educational YouTube videos, participating in at-home experiments, or using a research database. These activities can then guide a discussion when the virtual classroom gets together.

This is especially helpful for hands-on learners who don’t digest information well in a lecture setting; staring at a screen for an hour may not be the best approach to learning for those individuals. Being able to learn on their own and then clarify information with a professor or classmates will help them process the information as they would if they were discussing it with classmates in person.

Planning your hybrid classroom

To be sure you're ready for the unexpected (as 2020 has shown us), make sure you’re adequately prepared for hybrid instruction with the right equipment and review best practices you’ve learned along the way. It can be a challenge to keep your students engaged and provide effective instruction, so plan ahead.

Some schools are adapting by building out a “quarantine kit” for a seamless transition to online learning when being in-person isn’t a possibility. When emergency remote learning is on your radar, having the right toolkit will help prevent barriers in education.

What should be in your quarantine kit? Build a checklist of all your classroom needs. This will help you identify your goals and plan lessons no matter where you or your students are.

Class recordings

Having access to class recordings helps your students learn at their own pace and revisit information they may have missed. It also gives you the opportunity to scale your classroom, building out your own repository of prerecorded lessons you can offer future students.

Be sure to supplement your recordings with visual aids. Have PowerPoint slides and videos ready so your students can absorb the information both visually and verbally. Offer captions whenever possible or provide a transcript or summary for students to read along.

Shared note taking

Encourage your students to learn from each other. Set up a shared doc where students can take notes, contribute their thoughts, and discuss with each other in a live setting during the lesson. At the end of each lesson, review the notes together and answer any questions that are lingering in the document. This can help students guide each other and deepen their understanding of the material by writing down lessons in context. As the lessons continue, these documents can function as a class “wiki” students can refer to at any point.

Active discussion

Just because you’re not in the classroom doesn’t mean you can’t connect with your students. Keep the conversation going outside of regular lesson time. Take a cue from the technology they use to communicate, like Discord—active discussion is a great way to engage students where they are. Have students share their reflections or questions on a message board and let other students respond. This active engagement allows students to connect with each other while developing their understanding of the lesson material.

And don't’ forget the importance of 1:1 connection with your students. Set up office hours where your students can drop in and ask questions or simply talk with you. Connecting while remote learning is just as much of a challenge for students as it is for educators. Speaking with your students outside of the lesson gives you the opportunity to teach on a more organic level. You’ll also be able to build a relationship with a student who could use your support.

Plan, plan, plan

Blending your classroom with an online focus is no easy feat. You're balancing different abilities, access to technology, individual learning styles, and academic standards. And online learning needs to be flexible for anything that life throws our way. Teachers: you’re superhero shapeshifters!

As you develop your lesson plans with digital pivot changes in mind, remember that your plan B might need its own plan B. That’s why you need options and alternatives in your curriculum. The more you plan ahead, the smoother the sailing will be.