How it works


The purpose of this practice is to help you begin to realize how to teach online.


What is the best and most effective way for YOU to teach online?

According to the Online Report Card – Tracking Online Education in the United States, in 2014, there were 5.8 million students in the United States who took at least one college distance course.  The study reveals only 29.1% of academic leaders say their faculty accept the “value and legitimacy of online education.” Growth continues, despite lack of support from faculty.

As a dedicated teaching professional, you see an opportunity in closing the “value and legitimacy” gap to meet the needs of your online students. The essential question  to you is; what is the best and most effective way for you to teach online? 

This practice is designed to introduce you to own online teaching. There is no requirement of  prior knowledge or experience  teaching online to participate. You are the expert  who knows your content and teaching strengths. This challenge is designed to provide a flexible, reflective and personal learning experience – enabling you to tailor your learning based upon your own goals, requirements and level of commitment.

Teaching Online is NOT about covering content

Teaching Online is about devoting yourself to helping develop the power of your learners minds. It’s about your passion for helping learners flourish as critically thinking, curious, creative, and compassionate individuals.

When you devote yourself to helping develop your learners  you become aware that most college students choose one of three broad approaches to their learning AND their choice directly impacts what they do in your online course.

  1. Surface learners intentions are  to survive, to get out of the course alive. They often resort to what they think will be the easiest approach.
  2. Strategic learners are driven by a desire for recognition, usually in the form of higher grades. They will do what they think is necessary to get high grades. Strategic learners tend not to take risks (for fear it will jeopardize their grade point average) or to learn conceptually. They learn procedurally, how to plug the right number in a formula, or the right words in a particular form of essay.
  3. Deep learners grapple with ideas, concepts, and the implications and applications of those ideas and concepts. Deep learners undergo transformations in the concepts they hold. Their learning has a sustained and substantial influence on the way they will subsequently think, act, and feel. What the Best College Teachers Do– Dr. Ken Bains

Teaching online is about reaching these types of learners by influencing their learning intentions and successes in ways that go far beyond their expectations . It’s about moving difficult, unprepared, and ill-prepared learners to a slightly higher level.  It’s about taking disengaged learners and turning them into very deep learners, with deep intentions.


There are three primary factors for engagement in every online learning environment: the student, the teacher, and the content.

  1. When a learner engages with the instructor there is relationship and when a learner engages with another learner there is also relationship.
  2. When a learner engages with the content there is relevance and interest.
  3. When an instructor engages with the content there is expertise and the potential for rigor.

When you bring relationship, relevance, and expertise together you will discover meaningful learner engagement in the online courses you teach.

  1. Relationship
    1. Relationship is the bond of trust and mutual respect between the instructor and learner, and between learners.
  2. Relevance
    1. What can I learn in my class that won’t just be for a grade but also can be something that I can take away, something that will be useful to me as an adult.
  3. Expertise
    1. Even though a teacher knows their subject thoroughly, this does not guarantee that they are able to teach others. Online instructors not only have knowledge and expertise in their subject area but also in pedagogical and andragogical (adult learning) strategies. When instructors have expertise in a subject and how to learn they are more likely to inspire students to learn, grow and become responsible learners and citizens. The best online instructors use their expertise to foster students cognitive, emotional and behavioral engagement.


Relationship is the bond of trust and mutual respect between the instructor and learner, and between learners.

  • When a learner engages with the instructor there is relationship.
  • When a learner engages with another learner there is also relationship.

College graduates…had double the chances of being engaged in their work and were three times as likely to be thriving in their well-being if they connected with a professor who stimulated them, cared about them, and encouraged their hopes and dreams.

Results from this study of 30,000 graduates of American colleges  concludes it all comes down to values and human connectedness.

As an online instructor you have the life changing opportunity to create and promote positive relationships that build confidence and open learners to discovering themselves.

Spend most of your time online building relationships

First, and foremost, a positive relationship between the instructor and the learner is critical for the learner to feel a connection between what he or she is learning and their hopes and dreams. When this happens a mutually respectful relationship begins to grow increasing the learners self-worth, sense of wellbeing and emotional engagement- Parker Palmer.

When relationship building is a priority in online courses the following occurs.

  1. Everyone cares about the other.
  2. Everyone enjoys interacting with each other.
  3. Everyone is sensitive to the specific needs of the other.

The most practical thing we can achieve in any kind of work is insight into what is happening inside us as we do it. The more familiar we are with our inner terrain, the more sure-footed our teaching–and living–becomes. If we want to develop the identity and integrity that good teaching requires, we must do something alien to academic culture: we must talk to each other about our inner lives–risky stuff in a profession that fears the personal and seeks safety in the technical, the distant, the abstract. We must look at two of the most difficult truths about teaching online.

  1. The first truth is that what we teach will never “take” unless it connects with the inward, living core of our students’ lives, with our students’ inward teachers.
    • We can, and do, make education an exclusively outward enterprise, forcing students to memorize and repeat facts without ever appealing to their inner truth–and we get predictable results: many students never want to read a challenging book or think a creative thought once they get out of school. The kind of teaching that transforms people does not happen if the student’s inward teacher is ignored
  2. The second truth is even more daunting: we can speak to the teacher within our students only when we are on speaking terms with the teacher within ourselves.
    • The student who said that her bad teachers spoke like cartoon characters was describing teachers who have grown deaf to their Inner guide, who have so thoroughly separated inner truth from outer actions that they have lost touch with a sense of self. Deep speaks to deep, and when we have not sounded our own depths, we cannot sound the depths of our students’ lives.

Parker Palmer Shorts

  1. Teaching and Leading– Part 1 (3:58). Fear.
  2. Teaching and Leading– Part 2 (3:39). Shared Inquiry.
  3. Myth of the Individual– (1:52). Community.

Critical Thinking

If teaching online is about devoting yourself to helping develop the power of your learners minds, then you must begin to think about critical thinking. To think critically we use reasoning by asking questions, gathering information, making inferences and assumptions to come to conclusions. We do not want to look at content as a lot of information to remember, but as tools to think about critical thinking. Thinking about critical thinking is about using empathy, attentive awareness and reasoning by asking questions, gathering information, making inferences and assumptions to come to conclusions about how things should or ought to be, which things are good or bad, and which actions are right or wrong.

We must be clear about the purposes of using thinking critically online. We must begin to ask questions, and recognize the questions being asked, about critical thinking to improve how we think about critical thinking. We must begin to sift through information, and draw conclusions about critical thinking. We must begin to question where information about critical thinking comes from. We must notice the different interpretations that are formed about critical thinking give meaning to critical thinking. We must question those interpretations to understand them better. We must begin to question the implications of various critical thinking interpretations and begin to see how to reasoning is used to come to conclusions. We must begin to look at the world and develop the viewpoint of how to think critically and embed it into online learning. Consequently, you are encouraged to infuse critical thinking into your own online course. 


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