Pooling together their experiences of what can make or break a successful online learning program (in a broad scope), respondents outlined five best practices for other education leaders to consider:

1. Reporting tools/progress monitoring.

According to the survey, reporting and progress monitoring tools are “critical,” since there can be less face-to-face interaction between the teacher and the student, and the teachers can’t rely on a student’s verbal responses or body language to indicate their level of understanding.

These tools are also necessary for intervention, as well as to provide “immediate and specific feedback that teachers can use to personalize instruction,” said respondents.

2. Availability of teachers to assist struggling students.

“The tools are only helpful if they are used by the staff,” noted Ivonne Glenn, assistant director of alternative education at Salinas Union High School District in Salinas, Calif.

For Glenn, the most successful teachers are those who build relationships with students, which is why her district has on-site mentors who not only teach the students how to use the technology and take an online class, they also make sure they can log in.

Mary Fluharty, coordinator of online learning for Alexandria City Public Schools (ACPS) in VA also agrees that the availability of teachers to intervene with struggling students is vital.

To ensure that students taking online courses can receive help, ACPS provides three tiers of support: an online teacher, a content-specific teacher at the satellite campus or a learning mentor on the main campus; and an online tutor available 24/7.

3. Instructors well-trained in delivering online courses.

Respondents with experience in all types of online programs rated this practice as “extremely important.”

According to Laura Belnap, director of Utah Online School K-12—an online program that is part of the Washington County School District in St. George, UT, but open to K-12 students across the state—effective online teachers not only need to know how to teach an online course, they also need to have particular personality traits and communication skills.

“Hiring online teachers is not the same as hiring traditional teachers,” explained Belnap. “Online teachers need to be self-motivated, tech-savvy, and possess strong people skills. We ask questions during the hiring interviews to make sure our online teachers possess these traits.”

Belnap also noted that portions of the hiring interviews are done over the phone to hear how candidates respond, as well as ask for email responses to certain questions.

Teachers who are then hired are also given “a lot of professional development,” she said.

(Next page: Practices 4-5 and a bonus)