10 tips for effective distance learning

4 min read
September 29, 2020

Distance learning connects students to learning resources remotely. If this sounds vague, that’s because there are a lot of ways to do it. Email, online video courses, online course material and tests, and technically even using the mail can count because it gets students in communication while they’re far away.

Live & recorded sessions in online classrooms

Most online teaching being done is moving to live and recorded video. Whether your students are in middle school, high school, or at a university level, there are guidelines that apply universally to tackling learning online. Here are 10 helpful tips to improve your online classroom, followed by some insights to take away for teaching in this new paradigm.

  1. Exercise more patience than you would in person
    Adding a layer of technology between you and the student puts a handicap on their attention span. Research has shown
    that interactivity may improve the attention span of students in online classes.

  2. Use internet culture
    The internet isn’t the same as being in person, it has its own culture, and acclimating your students to the culture of the internet
    is a life skill. For example, you could use memes to bring some variation to your slides.

  3. Reiterate what you say multiple times
    Have a plurality of ways of approaching your subject material, so that students can more thoroughly grasp what you are saying in case they missed it the first time. Provide useful, additional content to your students.

  4. Be aware that parents could be watching, or you could be recorded.
    You never know nor can you fully control who is watching while you’re on the internet. Also, be aware that anyone can record your session.

  5. Have backup ways of communicating in case you lose power
    Even if you blast out a group message announcing that you had to cut a day’s lesson short, that closure for your students avoids a lot of uncertainty and anxiety.

  6. Remember to budget time for one-on-one
    Your class will do a whole lot better if you spend time one-on-one with the students
    who need it after each lesson.

  7. Prepare visual aids
    Visual stimulation keeps students engaged and paying attention. Take advantage of this by sharing your screen
    , images, infographics or videos. Consider enhancing your visual materials further with creativity using a photo generator, offering a range of features to make your educational content visually compelling.

  8. Record your sessions
    Seeing yourself teach will give you insights on how to improve, and you may even capture highlights. Therefore, it's a good idea to record your sessions even if you don't plan to share them.

  9. Have references to share with your class
    Provide links so that students can do their own reading, watching, or research
    . Enable them to prepare easily for your class (this is also referred to as a "flipped classroom"). This will work when teaching online more frequently than it does in person.

  10. Keep your class on topic
    It is really easy to get derailed online. Keep yourself on track.

Flipped classrooms is a new approach to learning which fits distance learning well.Flipped classrooms are a new approach to learning which fits distance learning well.

Two fundamental principles to teaching online

Teaching online is fundamentally different from the traditional classroom model of education. The two parts of online learning have to do with access and self-discipline. While these two principles certainly apply in ‘real life’ as well, they almost completely cover every facet of learning and working online.


Access is both a challenge and an advantage that online learning has. Firstly, as a challenge, students and teachers both have to have access to the course material and to each other. They need an internet connection, and they also need each others’ attention and availability.

Nowadays, students have access to the internet through their mobile devices, which is a good enough means to do effective distance learning. There are also public libraries with internet access points and computers available for public use that students can use.

The principle of access includes being exposed to or having access to information for further learning. Think of it kind of like the raw materials that you build knowledge and understanding with. When you provide reference materials or links to other resources, you are expanding the students’ access to further learning.

When you budget time for one-on-one sessions, you are improving their access to learning. When you record your own material, you are expanding your own access to insights on how to improve your own teaching methods.

Relying on self-discipline

In a traditional classroom, discipline is more direct for students who act up, particularly with younger students. We are familiar with these institutional forms of discipline but online, you are not physically in an institution. You are usually in your own home.

Online, while there are tools for moderation, there is not as direct of an instilled sense of discipline. Instead, both your own productivity and the students’ productivity rely almost entirely on a sense of self-discipline. A virtual classroom etiquette can help to get students and teachers on the same page in terms of discipline and respect.

The new age of being able to connect with anyone

The new era of online education is much more independent-oriented than its more traditional institutional approach to learning.

It’s no secret that the greatest resource we have as human beings is each other. Information technology allows us to connect to just about anyone, which is a massive empowerment for regular people.

Students can of course be connected to their lecturers more or less directly through vast distances. But they can be connected to any lecturer or teacher through vast distances and times through the very same technology.

This means that every student can be exposed to the very best educators from this point in history forward. That’s amazing access to learn through distances of both space and time.

Photos by Jacob Lund from Noun Project

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