Skills for Teaching Online

Necessary Skills for Teaching Online

Teachers are an integral part of the online learning process. The skills needed for blended and online teaching often extend beyond those skills needed to be successful in the traditional classroom. The two major elements of learning to teach online are learning the technology and understanding online pedagogy.

The first, learning the technology and functionality of the Learning Management System (LMS), is fairly straightforward. Online course publishers utilize technology experts to deliver professional development and provide ongoing assistance with their product. The LMS vendor, district, school site, or other service provider will typically provide teachers with training or train one person to become the local expert. Teachers with basic to moderate computer skills (i.e., web browsing, emailing, word processing, using presentation applications, etc.) are usually able to learn the technical aspects of an LMS. High-quality professional development programs like Leading Edge Certification (LEC) provide online training through a blended or hybrid approach that combines face-to-face and online learning.

The second element of blended and online teaching, effective online pedagogy, is much more complex. At a simple level, consider the difference between knowing how to post messages on a discussion board versus understanding how to use a discussion board to create a lively educational class debate. The first is easy, but the second is far more difficult. This (LEC) program assists teachers in the development of effective online pedagogy, including: motivating learners, enhancing student interaction and understanding, tailoring instruction to learning styles, and individualizing lessons to meet the needs of all students. Researchers report several key skills for online teachers that should be addressed through professional development:

  • Teachers must hone communication skills, particularly in writing. In most programs, teachers and students communicate primarily through email and discussion board posts. Therefore, precision in language and tone is of critical importance.
  • Teachers must be able to recognize and adapt to different learning styles. To ensure that the course meets all students' needs, teachers need to gain an understanding of each student's skills and challenges early in the course.
  • Meeting the needs of students with disabilities requires adaptation of course content and instruction. Teaching visually impaired, hearing impaired, or learning disabled students online can be quite different than in a traditional classroom. Some programs employ special education teachers to assist the online and blended teacher. Module 5 in this course provides more information about meeting the needs of diverse students.
  • In asynchronous programs, time management skills are critical since teachers and students may be interacting with the content at different times. Experienced online and blended teachers have learned that clearly delineated deadlines and consistent monitoring are crucial for student success.
  • In synchronous programs, lessons require a multi-media component, which necessitates planning ahead. Real-time interaction between students and the teacher will require specialized tools and devices, such as; Skype, webcam, video conferencing, etc.
  • For students enrolled in a brick-and-mortar school, a face-to-face mentor is often provided by the local LEA. This mentor works as a partner with the online teacher to ensure a successful experience for the student. Connections Academy┬« uses what it calls the "learning coach" who is often a parent or close relative.

Information in this section is based on Southern Regional Education Board. (2003). Essential Principles of High-Quality Online Teaching: Guidelines for evaluating K-12 online teachers.