The COVID-19 outbreak has forced professors to transition to online classes. Discover some of the best skills and resources for how to teach online.

Preparing College Instructors to Teach Online


  • A new survey has revealed that most faculty are inexperienced with online teaching.
  • Instructors should prepare for a probable increase in remote classes going forward.
  • Many resources are available to help instructors adapt to the shift toward online learning.
  • Student feedback remains a valuable factor in improving the quality of remote courses.

As campuses remain closed during the coronavirus outbreak, college students aren't the only ones experiencing a learning curve with online education. Many of your professors are just as new to online teaching as you are to online learning.

According to a new survey of college administrators conducted by a partnership of digital learning organizations, 97% reported "using faculty with no prior online teaching experience for some of their courses."

This study also notes that "even experienced online instructors have had to adapt on the fly." In the quick switch from on-campus to remote learning that happened in response to COVID-19, most professors had about a week to prepare and deliver the remainder of their spring semester classes online.

[In] a new survey of college administrators conducted by a partnership of digital learning organizations, 97% reported “using faculty with no prior online teaching experience for some of their courses.”

Most campuses will remain closed at least through the end of the spring academic term. Some schools have even announced that they will extend these closures, or move to partial closures, through the summer and fall terms.

As the weeks progress, schools are moving beyond an emergency response to prepare for what may lie ahead. This preparation includes shifting instructors and courses from emergency remote learning to fully online classes.

What does this kind of preparation look like? It begins with identifying best practices and relevant resources, providing opportunities to develop skills and work with experienced online educators, and gathering and incorporating feedback from students.

A woman with short, gray hair in an Oxford shirt and glasses looks down at her laptop computer, pen in hand.

Best Practices and Relevant Resources for Teaching Online

Online education has been around since the 1960s, when a network was developed to deliver communication and training for U.S. Department of Defense research projects.

In the decades since, the internet and higher education have evolved in many ways to offer complete courses and academic programs at a distance. The result is a growing collection of effective strategies and methods.

As colleges and universities prepare for the future, leaders are relying on this history of experience and research — as well as professionals with online education expertise — to understand how to teach online effectively.

Resources for Teaching Students Online

American Educational Research Association Resources University of Florida Remote Resources Online Learning Consortium Quality Scorecard Penn State Faculty Self-Assessment for Online Teaching Instructional Design Emergency Response Network

Professors have access to general resources, such as a list of open-access articles and websites provided by the American Educational Research Association.

They also have access to more specific resources being developed by your institution. For example, the University of South Florida's faculty and student toolkits include quick links to IT tools and support, course checklists, FAQ forums, and training tutorials.

Furthermore, there are now several available sets of standards that guide the development of online courses and programs. Backed by research, the goal of implementing one of these tools is to ensure the quality of the online learning experience.

The Online Learning Consortium's Quality Scorecard system is one example, which includes reviews of course design and teaching practice, in addition to digital tools and student support.

The Skills Needed Most for Teaching Online

For online teachers, there are always new ways to not only connect with students, but also to connect them with one another and their course materials. Teaching is a practice, not unlike law or medicine; there is always something new to learn, and we get better with each class we teach.

Teaching online requires specific skills. Penn State's faculty self-assessment for online teaching separates these skills into four categories: organization and time management, communicating online, teaching and online experience, and technical skills.

Teaching is a practice, not unlike law or medicine; there is always something new to learn, and we get better with each class we teach.

All of these skills are required, in addition to subject matter expertise. Learning these skills right now may include a combination of resources, including working with a peer or mentor who has more experience than you.

Instructional designers and technologists — the roles often charged with leading the development of new online courses even before the pandemic — have joined forces to volunteer their assistance through the Instructional Design Emergency Response Network. On this site, professors new to online teaching can sign up to get matched with an experienced professional who is willing to help.

The ISTE COVID-19 Educator Help Desk is an online community geared toward K-12 teachers who are looking for answers and solutions as they work with their school closure situations.

It may come as no surprise that online learning requires skills, too. Stanislaus State's online readiness self-assessment is a quick way to identify areas in which you are ready for online learning and areas you need to improve.

The Importance of Student Feedback in Online Instruction

There are built-in opportunities for students to evaluate not only their courses but also their instructors, usually through midterm and end-of-course evaluation forms. But right now, your feedback can be especially helpful.

Suggestions to … post “class notes” and “provide more office hours” can guide professors to focus their time and energy where students need it most.

Jeffrey Young from EdSurge shares that frequent constructive feedback from students is important for professors to be able to "continue to adapt and iterate" their courses in a new online format.

Washington State University's Voiland College of Engineering and Architecture shared and celebrated some of the student feedback its professors have received so far. Suggestions to "record lectures [and] post in class notes" and "provide more office hours" can guide professors to focus their time and energy where students need it most.

Do you have suggestions for your professors? What do you need to be successful as an online learner? Take the time to share not only what isn't working, but also what is. Additionally, you should reach out to your instructors with any ongoing concerns or problems you may have related to participating in your online classes.

What Do New Online Instructors Need Right Now?

In a Digital Learning Pulse study conducted in April 2020, faculty identified what types of assistance would be helpful in the current transition to online learning. This list includes needs related to resources, training, and digital materials.

  • Guidance on how to support students learning at a distance

    Provide specific ways for identifying the range of student needs and connecting them with available resources in a timely manner.

  • Training for students on how to be successful online learners

    Develop tutorials, webinars, and checklists for students new to online courses on a variety of topics, including time management and technology.

  • Access to more online course materials

    Curate sources for open-source and fair-use materials, such as readings, videos, presentations, and demonstrations.

  • Access to an online collection of resources related to quickly transitioning online

    Develop a frequently updated, one-stop website or portal for school- or program-specific tools and guidelines.

  • Guidance on how to meet students' accessibility needs online

    Connect faculty with disability services offices and resources, and provide guidance on working with students who may need accommodations online.

  • Technology assistance

    Establish multiple ways to access help related to using the school's technology tools, as well as best practices for implementing them in online classes.

An older, cleanshaven man in a sweater vest and collared shirt concentrates on the open laptop before him.

Student Success Is the Primary Goal of Online Learning

As students finish spring term courses with campuses closed, their schools and professors are making quick changes to support your academic success. These shifts include creating alternative assignments and exams and streamlining course requirements.

Almost half (48%) of faculty responding to the digital learning partnership survey said that they had "lowered expectations about the amount of work" their students may be able to complete right now. Evidently, the disruption to students' education is not just an academic concern. This is just one area in which the lives of students and professors has changed due to the pandemic.

Almost half (48%) of faculty responding to the digital learning partnership survey said that they had “lowered expectations about the amount of work” their students may be able to complete right now.

Nevertheless, we are all continuing to learn, gaining skills related to being flexible, adjusting our expectations, developing alternative courses of action, communicating in new ways, and making tough decisions in less-than-ideal circumstances.

As your college or university prepares for the fall academic term, the focus on student success remains, along with the goal of improving the quality of the online learning experience.