Research-Based Implementation of Online Learning: Part Two

One thing that has always been true of online learning is that to be as successful as possible, it needs to be implemented properly and with care. Identifying your goals for online learning—for many schools right now, it’s simply to safely educate students—is an important first step to take, and after that, consider other aspects of your chosen programs/solutions. In this and a previous article, we share best practices for a research-based implementation of online learning into your school or district, which can make the difference between a program that successfully transforms the teacher’s role and moves students forward in their learning and one that treads water.

More Best Practices for Research-Based Implementation of Online Learning

Best Practice #5: Make Learning Relevant and Engaging

The more students engage with academic content, the more comfortable they’ll be discussing the subject matter with teachers in order to receive coaching and instruction. One well-supported method of fostering student engagement is through online collaborative learning activities such as informal discussions or working on group projects. Teachers can capitalize on group assignments through video breakout rooms, discussion boards, jigsaw puzzles, and group-learning simulations (Reilly, 2020).

Students also need to understand how their coursework is related to their lives or they will quickly lose interest. Perhaps most importantly, students will be less engaged when they are given tasks far above or below their instructional level. Research also shows that adding game-based elements to online instruction can facilitate motivation and engagement, promote interaction and socialization, and provide opportunities to build executive function (Zainuddin et al., 2020).

Best Practice #6: Elevate and Empower Teachers to Differentiate Instruction

To truly differentiate instruction, teachers must provide explanatory and timely feedback to students, ensuring that students will learn from both their successes and setbacks (Tomlinson, 2014). Whole-group instruction should be used to introduce critical concepts and address common misconceptions, and small-group and one-on-one instruction can ensure students receive the remediation, challenge, and support needed to master complicated subject matter. The ability to provide individualized feedback is contingent on having access to data on real-time progress, engagement, and achievement. Using this data, teachers need to set learning goals with students, check for understanding, and consistently monitor progress (Jeffrey et al., 2012).

Best Practice #7: Connect, Communicate, and Capitalize on Caregivers

Research-based implementation of online learning needs the involvement of a responsible adult, typically a parent—this is critical to the success of online learners (Currie-Rubin & Smith, 2014). But caregivers can only help students take ownership of learning if they know what tools students should be using and how they should engage with them. Using short emails, texts, or phone calls, educators should provide resources to parents who may not be familiar with content material. Giving parents and families strategies to engage students can help both feel more connected and empowered.

Best Practice #8: Provide Professional Development

Proper professional development is critical to help educators adopt new technology and pedagogies, and research shows that when teachers embrace technology in their classrooms, the success rate of these programs increases (Hew & Bush, 2007). Teachers will need to learn how to:

  • Establish academic and behavioral rules, roles, and responsibilities for all students
  • Promote deeper learning so students can apply existing knowledge to new situations
  • Design strategies for unexpected situations
  • Set and monitor student usage
  • Communicate with parents
  • Define the conditions under which students will receive whole-group, small-group, and one-on-one instruction
  • Establish standards for acceptable and unacceptable work
  • Define the behaviors that will and will not be tolerated
  • Articulate the support that is available and under what conditions students can obtain it

With thoughtful consideration, administrators, school leaders, educators, and caregivers can work together to give these evidence-based best practices a vision and a dynamic plan to execute them. COVID-19 may offer unprecedented educational challenges, but it also presents an unparalleled opportunity to reshape student learning.

This piece was adapted from Online Learning in the Era of COVID-19 by Lindsay Marczak, with permission.

To discover Best Practices 1–4, read our earlier article, Research-Based Implementation of Online Learning: Part One


Currie-Rubin, R., & Smith, S. J. (2014). Understanding the roles of families in virtual learning. Teaching Exceptional Children, 46(5), 117–126.

Hew, K. F., & Brush, T. (2007). Integrating technology into K–12 teaching and learning: Current knowledge gaps and recommendations for future research. Education Technology Research and Development, 55, 223–252.

Jeffrey, L. M., Milne, J. D., Suddaby, G., & Higgins A. (2012). Summary Report: Strategies for engaging learners in a blended environment. Ako Aotearoa National Centre for Tertiary Teaching Excellence. https://ako.ac.nz/knowledge-centre/blended-learning/help-or-hindrance-blended-approaches-and-student-engagement-2/

Marczak, L. (2020). Online learning in the era of COVID-19. Leaders of Learners, 14(12), 7–15. https://www.txascd.org/LOL_July-August_2020.pdf

Reilly, J. (2020, April 8). Online teaching for K–12 schools: What the research says. Center for Research and Reform in Education. https://jscholarship.library.jhu.edu/handle/1774.2/62397

Tomlinson, C. A. (2014). Differentiated classroom: Responding to the needs of all learners (2nd ed.). ASCD.

Zainuddin, Z., Chu, S. K., Shujahat, M., & Perera, C. J. (2020). The impact of gamification on learning and instruction: A systematic review of empirical evidence. Educational Research Review, 30, 100326. doi:10.1016/j.edurev.2020.100326

About the Author


Emily Kirk

After growing up in the Phoenix area, Emily escaped the heat to study in Flagstaff where she graduated from Northern Arizona University with a BA in Art History. She went on to work and study at The University of Phoenix, earning her MBA. After volunteering to teach English in Chile for a semester, she worked in sales and marketing for a major ocean freight carrier. Throughout her career, Emily has also taught ballet, so she is thrilled to be part of the Where Learning Clicks team where she can combine her love of teaching and business acumen to help transform classrooms.