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Virtual learning — 5 essential skills for teachers to help students succeed

By Michael Feder

At a glance

  • Teachers and students alike face new challenges and opportunities in a virtual learning environment.
  • Communicating, taking the initiative and managing time are some skills that teachers can use to help students successfully learn online.
  • University of Phoenix offers professional development courses that prepare teachers with skills that are useful in virtual learning.

In recent years, we have seen a profound change in the way students learn and teachers teach. The proliferation of digital technologies has set the stage for online colleges and universities, a development that has made education more accessible across the board.

Before the pandemic, we were seeing gradual growth of online schools and universities; the outbreak of COVID-19 only accelerated the process. Lockdowns and social distancing protocols forced students and teachers to adopt new technologies in their learning processes.

At every educational level, students can be found logging in to online school that would otherwise have been taught in person. A laptop computer, a webcam and a microphone have replaced the blackboard, the pencil and the notebook.

A changing world can bring many benefits and opportunities, particularly in the realm of education. At the same time, the rapid digitization of education has left many teachers and students feeling like something is missing.


In this article, we’ll talk about some of the challenges teachers face in virtual learning and the skills that can help overcome them. Exploring the issue of remote education from both the teacher and student perspectives, we’ll discover some essential skills for making virtual learning a success for everyone.

5 skills to succeed in virtual learning

1. Communicate and collaborate

Considering nearly everyone has a phone or other telecommunication device at their disposal, you’d think people would have an easier time communicating. But it’s just not that simple.

Virtual learning presents several technical and psychological challenges that can hinder communication between teachers and students. On a technical level, breakdowns in internet connectivity, communication software and devices can lead to disruptions that make communication difficult.

Learn more about what it takes to teach virtually with University of Phoenix’s Foundations in Virtual Teaching course!

Here are some tips to improve communication and collaboration skills for online learning:

  • Be clear and concise in both verbal and written communication.
  • Don’t be afraid to repeat back what you hear someone say to ensure you understand the key takeaways of an exchange.
  • Double-check that everyone in your group is on the same page, and leave opportunities for questions.

Here’s why communication and collaboration are important online learning skills for students and teachers.

For teachers:

Many teachers were unprepared for the shift to online learning. Developing strong communication skills can help make that shift easier.

  • Good communication skills can help you empower students to understand and relate to the instruction.
  • Students have natural abilities as social learners, and clear communication forms a central part of this learning process.
  • By understanding verbal and nonverbal cues, you can better identify when it’s time to change your approach.

How teachers can help students:

  • Encouraging communication is central to building and maintaining strong relationships with classmates.
  • Creating a back-and-forth dynamic can benefit everyone and help students get the most from their teacher’s instruction.
  • Encourage and accept feedback on curriculum and instruction to make better coursework for virtual students. 

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2. Take the initiative

In traditional, in-person education settings, students and teachers have ample opportunity to interact and fine-tune the overall experience. A student can stay after class to go over homework with an instructor, who may also pull a student aside to have an impromptu chat about how the class is going.

Remote learning reduces opportunities for these kinds of spontaneous interactions that facilitate a successful education. Immediately after class, many students and teachers leave the group call, take off their headphones and slam their laptops shut. That doesn’t do anyone any favors. 


Whether you’re a student or a teacher, taking the initiative can spell the difference between maintaining crucial, person-to-person interactions during remote learning or not. 

Here are a few reasons why taking the initiative is important for students and teachers.

For teachers:

  • Students do not always communicate when they’re struggling. Taking the initiative gives you the opportunity to find where students feel challenged and provide guidance.
  • Taking the initiative can help your students look at you as an active and engaging educator.
  • Starting conversations with students about their digital education can give you information to improve your curriculum.

How teachers can help students:

  • Expressing interest in a student’s perspective or concerns can help position a teacher to identify and capitalize on opportunities to connect and foster communication.
  • Taking the initiative to ask that nagging question or express a concern can help solidify an understanding of a concept before the lesson moves on.
  • Taking the initiative in the classroom can help develop skills students can use in their career.

Starting these conversations can make the difference for students who may be struggling. 


3. Manage time

When students and teachers observe the same schedule in a school or university, literally traveling together from classroom to classroom, it can be easy to manage time over the day. Such consistency benefits both students and teachers.

The advent of online classes and virtual schooling, however, has strained or even obliterated such consistency. A fluid schedule seems appealing at first, allowing students to wake up just a few minutes before class begins or using class time to do outside work. But over time, the lack of consistency can wreak havoc on academic results.

How can students and teachers develop and maintain good time-management habits? Read on.

For teachers:

  • Take the time to prep.
  • Address student needs as they arise.
  • Take note of where time is used in virtual settings and adjust lesson plans accordingly.
  • Work with students to make the best use of your shared time.

How teachers can help students:


4. Establish achievable goals

It might be too much to ask students and teachers to act as if the demands of virtual schooling are the same as those of in-person learning. Many virtual schooling measures were implemented quickly, and they shift responsibility to both students and teachers when it comes to making necessary adjustments. That can be a tall order.

By that same token, however, this unprecedented time also brings new opportunities for making and reaching educational goals.

While the course material might not necessarily change between physical classrooms and virtual settings, the lesson plans to create strategies and maintain engagement will be very different. When done well, students feel their goals are achievable, and that’s a win for students and teachers alike.

Setting reasonable goals for educational progress offers other benefits too, such as the following.

For teachers:

  • Try out a couple of new technologies to see what works for students. The vastness of resources can be overwhelming, but new developments in technology can help meet student needs.
  • When students fall short of their goals, it can require additional time and attention that teachers may not have. Alternatively, helping to establish feasible goals keeps everyone on track for success.
  • Setting achievable goals can help build trust with students, as they feel that their needs are being heard and addressed.

How teachers can help students:

  • Encourage them to only commit to classes and extracurricular activities that they have time for, so they’re more likely to succeed.
  • Provide a platform to express any doubts or concerns to help them achieve their goals with less stress. 
  • Set out on an achievable plan toward educational goals that can help make their path to graduation smoother. 


5. Practice patience and flexibility

Being a student or teacher has never been easy. Students are expected to work hard and get good grades while mastering a rigorous curriculum. Teachers are expected to guide students through the curriculum without leaving anyone behind. Taken together, this can require a lot of patience and flexibility from both students and teachers.

Online schooling exacerbates the challenges in this area. Developing patience and flexibility can be crucial online class skills for students and teachers alike as they help make the educational experience much less stressful for both.

Here are some reasons why remaining flexible and patient is important as a student and as a teacher.

For teachers:

  • Students may not be enthusiastic about learning new technology skills, requiring teachers to develop patience and communication skills to help them adapt.
  • These skills are especially crucial when working with younger students.
  • Introduce skills little by little over time so that students aren’t overwhelmed, and encourage them to share new technologies with the teacher and class.

How teachers can help students:

  • Having a backup can help students adjust when things don’t go as planned.
  • Accepting changes as they arise can help students keep a level head when class gets stressful.
  • Emphasize that learning these skills can benefit their career.

With these skills, it’s possible to foster a positive online education experience everyone enjoys.


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