Online Learning: It’s Not What Happened During the Pandemic

OC OnlineOnline Learning, The CACE RoundtableLeave a Comment

Young girl doing online school work.

During the pandemic many families, educational programs, and schools made a sudden and desperate conversion to bring K-12 completely online. Their efforts deserve our highest appreciation and respect because what they attempted to do was nearly impossible, and yet many fought and sacrificed to bring online education to students despite the challenges.  

Unfortunately, the immensity of these circumstances left many families, students, and schools saying, “I know what online education is, and I hate it.”   

Now it’s true that a fully online education is certainly not for every, or even most students. But it’s important for parents and schools to understand that what many people experienced during the pandemic is not what online education is. We need to clarify the difference between what we might call “triage online learning” (also known as “emergency remote learning”) and “intentional online learning.” The table below contrasts the two.

Below are some of the differences those at OC Online, a program in its twelfth school year, noticed between emergency remote learning and true online learning.


If you’re a parent or administrator, you know that bringing students online was often horrendous. Once again, the pandemic complications were completely understandable. But in an authentic online learning school or program, the process would be much more relational and informational. In the case of OC Online, we offer a whole course that helps full-time students acclimate to online learning and a hand-held individualized experience for partner schools onboarding students. After refining this process for many years, our ability to get kids going is efficient and low-stress.


To put people, processes, and products in place that fully support a complete and effective online learning experience is impossible to do well quickly. Full courses and programs take a lot of resource investment (time and money) to build and implement, and the offerings are constantly being updated to improve the experience. In fact, schools looking to “build their own online learning program” often find that they do not find they have the million dollars or more needed.

Professional Development for Teachers

Schools and teachers that moved to remote learning got very specific professional development and support as they attempted to make the big shift last year. But that first-aid training differs significantly from the ongoing and specific to online teaching professional development an established online program engages teachers in each year. 

“It is one thing to learn how to use Zoom to host a class and another to learn best practices for class engagement with synchronous or asynchronous attendees.”

In the case of emergency remote learning, teachers received emergency bootcamp training for a unique season of learning. Whereas lots of vendors and publishers provided free resources, webinars, and support, they were tailored to the moment and did not have long-lasting impact on pedagogy in physical classrooms. Often, the training for remote learning simply focuses on successfully navigating edtech solutions. It is one thing to learn how to use Zoom to host a class and another to learn best practices for class engagement with synchronous or asynchronous attendees.

Schools like OC Online and other established programs rely on the National Standards for Quality Online Learning to guide professional development. Much of it includes learning how to connect with students and nurture spiritual formation since providing distinctively Christian education is a unique challenge in the remote environment.

Synchronous and Asynchronous

Many families have misconceptions about the amount of time students will spend in live, synchronous video conferences. During emergency remote learning, students found themselves sitting in one spot for hours upon hours only “moving” to their next class by switching to a new video conference room.

Established online programs think through how to best accomplish the learning objectives and then build that experience in a learning management system or web-based classroom. Online programs tend to presume that students will be working quite independently (without constant supervision), so all the tools, resources, and support must be pre-built with less reliance on the instructor to deliver the content. The greater burden of the instruction comes through text, videos, simulations, and other engaging activities on the screen. Teachers then interact with students about that learning, providing just-in-time assistance, instructional feedback on assignments, and (in some programs) a weekly live instruction. 

By contrast, teachers in emergency remote learning had to translate their classroom reality into a virtual one every day, which often looked like long Zoom sessions, a lot of lecturing, and last-minute determinations of how to host and collect assessments. It was exhausting work, and we heard about how unsustainable this juggling was from colleagues trying to accomplish that task while also completing regular teaching tasks.

“Established online programs think through how to best accomplish the learning objectives and then build that experience in a learning management system or web-based classroom.”

Ideally, online learning will roll out in a way that gives students the connection and quality of the occasional live video conference class with the scheduling flexibility of an asynchronous program. This balance is different from the emergency remote learning model that defined instruction exclusively as long, live Zoom sessions. At the same time, programs that offer no live instruction leave students feeling isolated.

Grounded and permanent online programs need to choreograph instruction to include both real time live instruction as well as thoughtfully constructed asynchronous activities for learning. This balance of the two helps students break up their days while still including quality instruction. Because of the asynchronous content, students can build in their own breaks, family time, sleep, exercise, etc. while still building meaningful connections with their teacher through the live class. 

Independent Learning Means Personal Learning

For classroom teachers who love that full classroom environment, the independence of the students in the online learning environment and the lack of daily interaction is a big change. However, some highly successful teachers with only physical campus classroom teaching experience really enjoy the flexibility of online learning as it maximizes the time they do spend with students in live classes.

Students can have more voice and experience more freedom in the online environment. From their point of view, things feel like one-on-one instruction since the questions asked are for them instead of for thirty kids in a room. Students experience less social pressure to answer formational questions in a particular way. This liberty has been very rewarding for courses like Bible, Health, Psychology, and other Humanities classes where students are asked to reflect on coursework both academically and psychosocially. 

The Unexpected Benefits of Online Learning

Established online programs often lead to lasting connections between students and teachers. When seeking an online program, there should be routine opportunities to share those enriching, positive experiences as well as suggest opportunities for improvement. Since online programs are more adaptable and nimble than traditional programs, this feedback-and-revision cycle can lead to the following benefits for parents or schools considering online learning:

  • Your voice can lead to real changes.
    • Structurally speaking, online programs can adapt more easily than many other brick and mortar schools. On the one hand, responding to constituent concerns needs to be carefully navigated; some traditional models and methods of education need to be protected from impulsive reactivity. That said, teachers, students, and families need to feel as if they can vocalize what is not working and then see real changes happen. Since swapping out an activity, rephrasing a prompt, or even exchanging a reading can be done reasonably quickly in this format, learners and instructors get to see their ideas move to action, rather than waiting years to see implementation.
  • Flexibility means freedom.
  • If brick and mortar schools can partner with or use established online programs, administrators get to say “YES” to more families
    • Yes, we can give you that AP/Honors class. Yes we can offer you that elective that very few students are interested in. Yes we can offer you that uncommon, yet valuable, foreign language class. When traditional brick-and-mortar schools utilize proper online learning programs, they can enhance and expand their course offerings and resources, not just replicate them.

If you’d like to see what saying “yes” can look like for your family or school, we invite you to reach out to OC Online.


  • OC Online

    Established in 2011, Oaks Christian Online (OC Online) provides a rigorous, NCAA and UC approved, college preparatory Christian education option for middle and high school students and partner schools all around the world. Inspired by their physical campus in Westlake, CA, Oaks is accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) as well as the Southern Association of Independent Schools (SAIS). One hundred percent of full-time OC Online graduates were accepted to four-year colleges.

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