By Darlene Wilgus | April, 30 2021, 6:57 PM PT

When my lenses or windshield become foggy, I need to stop and clear my vision so I know where to head. Amidst all of the disruption that has occurred this past year, here are five proven strategies to clear and improve online learning vision.

#1: Develop a Network of Leaders Doing Similar Work

Being an island leads to isolation and a lack of a shared mission. In 2013, when our program was just a kernel of an idea, seeking wisdom from established online programs was not only incredibly helpful, it allowed us to forge connections that would shed light on problems and situations we would encounter.

Those leaders who had programs that were more mature, gave us program benchmarks to strive for and a few to avoid. Also, their insight on provider partnerships helped steer us toward selecting solid online learning options for students and responsive training for our growing team.

The rhythm of this work is unique and having like-minded colleagues that see the landscape of personalized learning via online options can give you a place to bounce ideas and consider service paths that have not been contemplated. This is not the place for hiding ideas for fear of competition or someone running with your thinking. The collective “WE” is powerful in visual clarity.

#2: Survey Your Current Students and Families

Real-time data is often the best and it is often very economical and effective. At the beginning of my educator practice, I recall the end-of-the-year survey that I gave to my students. Though it yielded information that I could use in my planning for fall, it seemed like the insights gained could have positively impacted my service if done along our learning journey together.

Coming off this disrupted learning year, the time to get a clear picture of what students and families experienced is now. Keep it simple so they are apt to respond. Remember to draft student/parent language-friendly prompts and be short-winded. Here is a few samples prompts you can adapt to your demographics:

  • What worked well for your student/family as a virtual/online learning student?
  • If you could change/improve 1-3 parts of the program, what would they be?
  • What advice would you give to another student/family considering this learning option?
  • Do you plan to re-enroll with our program in the fall?
  • Would you like the program leader or a staff member to follow up with you regarding this survey?

This type of survey could be administered on a regular basis throughout the year and your team would have data to work with that improves the vision and clarifies areas to target as well as to celebrate.

#3: Review Your Curriculum Provider(s)

On the continuum of online learning programs and experience, start where you are. Report metrics on usage, course completions, etc., are truly more significant than large enrollment numbers. If students are receiving credits/completing learning sequences, then there is a synergy that builds momentum, word of mouth buzz, and credibility. The latest features and course updates may be amazing, but they will do little to build your visibility as a program if the metrics are not mastered and communicated. 

Our state requires reports to be filed annually regarding course completions. This is far more significant than how many students you started with that drifted off course. If your overall program’s course completion rates are not where you want them to be, as a team strategize and think of ways you can keep this data visually framed.

Hint: We had a visual bulletin board that celebrated course completions by students. This could also be done in a virtual modality as well.

#4: Attend Virtually or In Person Online Learning Conferences

My greatest increase in vision and learning in the past two years came from participating with the Aurora Institute Conference (formerly iNacol) and the Digital Learning Collaborative Conference (DLAC). The energy and like-mindedness of both groups opened my thinking to additional ways we could support student learning options.

I could see where our program sat in terms of the relatively new field of online learning programs. This in turn provided context, encouragement, and a clear vision that our program was on the right track. Little did we know that within three weeks time from the conference in February of 2020 (DLAC) that our school systems, many without online learning programs, would plunge into an uncharted remote system with little visibility.

#5: Dream With Your Team

Your team is walking the walk with students daily. Their successes and frustrations are laser points of light that help expose rough edges and identify places that need growth in mindset thinking. Schedule both informal and formal times with them collectively and in grade bands to hear their thinking and act on it when at all possible. This will escalate trust and propel this online learning option as a desired place to practice and grow professionally.

Encourage them to give voice to their experiences in features and short stories. Make sure your website reflects current dynamic student and staff life. Recently, we had one of our online students land a modeling contract in NYC and stay not only on track for graduation but finish early. An NCAA athlete that was one of our full-time students, received a full-ride athletic scholarship because we had made sure we were compliant with NCAA standards. This kind of visibility sends waves throughout the broader community that the district serves.

Increasing visibility is about capitalizing on what you are already doing in even more intentional ways. Help your staff live the mantra of transparent practices by dreaming with vision.

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Meet the Writer

Darlene has 35+ years of experience in education spanning teaching and leading private and public schools K-12. She has also served as an adjunct professor in both education and university administrative programs for George Fox, Seattle Pacific, and Heritage. Her passions lie in student-centered practices, program development, and best practices approaches for teachers to employ. Her undergrad work was at Northwest Nazarene University, MED in School Administration from Central Washington University, and her Superintendent’s license was earned through the Executive Leadership program at Seattle Pacific University.

During her tenure in alternative learning the past 14 years, she became an NBCT, led a 10 member cohort with 80% certification in year one, and facilitated two district-level program cohorts. Her focus for the past seven years became a lightning rod for today’s educational paradigm: developing and implementing a successful district online learning program.