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Characteristics of successful online teachers

Whether schools adopt a full-time virtual model, or a blended or supplemental approach to online instruction, their success depends on having high-quality online teaching. The International Association for K-12 Online Learning’s National Standards for Quality Online Teaching describes the skills and characteristics that effective online teachers should possess. Here’s a summary of the organization’s standards.

An effective online teacher…

1. Meets the professional teaching standards established by a state licensing agency or has academic credentials in the field in which he or she is teaching.

2. Has the prerequisite technology skills to teach online:


  • Can effectively use word-processing, spreadsheet, and presentation software, internet browsers, eMail applications, and synchronous and asynchronous communication tools (such as discussion boards, chat tools, and interactive whiteboards).
  • Demonstrates appropriate online etiquette.
  • Troubleshoots typical software and hardware problems (can change passwords, download plug-ins, etc).
  • Stays current with emerging technologies and trends.

3. Plans, designs, and incorporates strategies to encourage active learning, interaction, participation, and collaboration in an online environment:

  • Builds and maintains a community of learners by creating a relationship of trust, establishing consistent and reliable expectations, creating a warm and inviting atmosphere, and supporting and encouraging independence and creativity.
  • Actively engages students in the learning process through techniques such as team problem solving, inquiry-based, and project-based activities, instead of passive lectures.
  • Facilitates and monitors appropriate interaction among students, and promotes learning through group interaction.
  • Differentiates instruction based on students’ learning styles and needs, and helps students assimilate information.
  • Mandates participation by setting limits if participation wanes or if the conversation is headed in the wrong direction.
  • Provides structure for students, but allows for flexibility and negotiation.

4. Promotes success through regular feedback, prompt response, and clear expectations:

  • Models effective communication skills, and maintains records of applicable communications with students.
  • Provides prompt feedback, communicates high expectations, and respects diverse talents and learning styles.
  • Persists, in a consistent and reasonable manner, until students are successful.
  • Establishes and maintains frequent teacher-student interaction, student-student interaction, and teacher-parent interaction.
  • Provides an online syllabus that defines course objectives, concepts, and learning outcomes in a clearly written, concise format; defines the terms of class interaction for both teacher and students; defines the grading criteria and establishes expectations for appropriate behavior for both teacher and students; and explains the course organization to students.
  • Guides and monitors students’ management of their time, monitors learner progress with available tools, and develops an intervention plan for unsuccessful learners.
  • Provides timely, constructive feedback to students about assignments and questions.
  • Contacts students who are not participating and encourages them to participate.
  • Personalizes feedback to students.

5. Models and encourages legal, ethical, and safe online behavior:

  • Facilitates student investigations of the legal and ethical issues related to technology and society; teaches students that copyright laws are created for a reason.
  • Establishes standards for student behavior that are designed to ensure academic integrity and appropriate uses of the internet and written communication.
  • Uses course content that complies with intellectual property rights policies and fair-use standards.
  • Teaches students the importance of Acceptable Use Policies (AUPs).
  • Informs students of their rights to privacy and the conditions under which their names or online submissions may be shared with others.

6. Has experienced online learning from the perspective of a student, and demonstrates the ability to anticipate challenges and problems in the online classroom.

7. Understands and is responsive to students with special needs in the online classroom.

8. Creates and implements assessments in ways that assure validity and reliability.

9. Develops and delivers assessments, projects, and assignments that meet standards-based learning goals:

  • Includes authentic assessment as part of the evaluation process; assesses student knowledge in ways beyond multiple choice.
  • Provides continuous evaluation of students, including pre- and post-testing, and creates opportunities for student input throughout the course.
  • Understands the relationships between assignments, assessments, and standards-based learning goals.

10. Uses data to modify instruction and guide student learning:

  • Assesses each student’s background and content knowledge and uses these data to plan instruction.
  • Reviews student responses to test items to measure their validity.
  • Uses observational data (such as web logs, eMail, etc.) to monitor course progress and effectiveness.
  • Creates opportunities for self-reflection or assessment of teaching effectiveness within the online environment.
  • Addresses multiple intelligences and levels of ability through a variety of alternative interventions.

11. Collaborates with colleagues; networks with others involved in online education.

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