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How to Transition Your Traditional Classroom to the Web

Oct 25, 2010 Jennifer Williamson, Distance Columnist | 5 Comments

Online learning is making headway—not just in traditional colleges, but in high schools as well. If you’ve been asked to transition your traditional classes to an online format, you may be unsure of where to start. Online learning is vastly different from the traditional classroom in a lot of ways. But there are also ways in which it’s unexpectedly similar. Here are a few tips for taking your classroom online.

Explore the technology

There are lots of online tools that can transition well to an online classroom. Many schools with an online component will implement a system such as Blackboard school-wide, and all teachers can use it. These are basically course and content management systems that allow you to share documents and other content, host online discussions, provide grades and assignments, and more. There are also free online tools out there that will let your students engage online—such as connecting on Facebook, creating a blog or a class website, and hosting online videos.

Books and reading materials

Teacher and Chair
It’s easy to share reading materials online, and hosting classes online means you can distribute links to articles easily while saving money and time printing handouts. Bear in mind, however, that some students find it straining to read long articles and excerpts on a screen. It’s still a good idea to have a textbook, and distribute your articles in a format that students can easily print on their own if they want.


One of the big differences between online and traditional learning is that you can’t give your lectures in person. But there are many ways you can still give lecture presentations. Videotape yourself giving a lecture in class, and post it on YouTube, on your class blog or in your content management system—you may want to edit the video for length. Upload PowerPoint presentations and slideshows, or post transcripts and lecture notes for students to download.

Be sure to break up information into easily digestible segments, however. Five or ten minutes of audio or video is optimal for students watching online video, and it’s important to organize your notes instead of posting long documents online. This way, students can find specific information more easily.

Interactive components

The biggest complaint most people have about online classrooms is that you don’t get the same level of interaction you’d get with a traditional class. But you can integrate interactive elements in many ways in the online classroom.

Facilitate class discussions online over message board or chat room. This can be a great way for more introverted students to get involved—because writing on a message board or screen can be less intimidating than speaking up in class. Many online teachers make discussion participation a graded requirement, and evaluate students based on the quality and frequency of their contributions.

Group projects are another way to foster cooperation and interaction in the classroom. Make them online-friendly by creating projects that culminate in an online presentation or website of some sort.


You can easily adapt tests to the online format, although it is more difficult to discourage cheating on the web. One solution is to have each student take the test in a proctored area, even if it’s not in your classroom. Some online educators suggest keeping tests shorter to discourage web browsing during the test-taking process.


Exercises and activities such as flash cards, worksheets, matching games, and others can be easily adapted to the web. There are many websites that already offer interactive educational games in math, reading, science, and many other subjects—and will let you make your own as well. Check out,, or

Teaching online is just as demanding as teaching in a traditional classroom—although the challenges can be quite different. In both types of classroom, you must work to build a community, encourage discussion and participation, teach to many different learning styles, and test fairly. Despite the differences between the two mediums, it’s not difficult—and won’t require major content changes—to transition your traditional classroom materials to the web. Once you’ve made the transition from traditional to online, you’ll have a wealth of online tools at your fingertips to help students learn, build their skills, and earn their degrees.


Apetroski Over a year ago

We've broken down online course creation into four crucial areas of consideration; Communication, Discovery, Reflection and Creation. The general course format we've created breaks down 60% of the required contact time for Discovery and 40% for Reflection. Communication and Creation are items that happen outside of required contact hours. This is a framework for starting online course creation and can vary depending on the learning objectives and individual instructional strategies of the instructor.

Specific activities identified for Discovery include Faculty Presentation, Media-based information / presentation, Resource search and catalog, Guest speaker / panel, Guest blogger, Game / Simulation, Case study / scenario, Pre-Assessment, Examples / Demos, Observations. Reflection activities might include Case Study / Scenario, Discussion Forum, Survey, Assessment, Game / Simulation, Blog Comment, Live Chat, Journal, Wiki (Group Collection of Resources), Mind Map.

We're taking this approach to provide a fairly structured way of looking at online course creation, while still providing instructors the opportunity to create their own specific experience. We believe that this is a more effective way of communicating expectations than general guidelines.

Chartt Over a year ago

My first online teaching position was with a very large online education system and one element that they stressed was adult education theory. That theory put the instructor more into the role of a facilitator (rather than all-knowing expert). It was actually my love of team facilitation and individual coaching that attracted me into education from the clinical world.

The field of positive psychology states that "engagement" is a large part of human flourishing. Engagement generally requires that we use our individual strengths for something we believe is valuable to society. So, both adult education and engagement theory move education to a place where the student has some voice in deciding their learning plan for the course.

I teach a popular course in positive psychology for nurses that is online. I use several components you mention in your article, starting with weekly voice thread instructions for the week that I have created. These tie together the reading assignments and then describe the weekly assignments. I have heard that seeing the teacher on video makes a difference in student satisfaction - so I added these last year.

The students actually do assigned positive psychology exercises in their lives (such as writing a gratitude letter) and share there experiences with their online "pod" group. To foster engagement, I never put more than 10 students in a group, because I want to build trust around sharing real-life experiences.

I use youtube videos of the positive psychology experts to further augment the learning - and the students use online web tests designed to test measures such as strengths, happiness, engagement.

I believe that in using a facilitation/engagement teaching model, assigning students to small learning groups where they share engaging experiences and augmenting this with online tools (such as voice thread and youtube), that this online class can be every bit as "life changing" as it would be onground - perhaps more so.

jasonoutthere Over a year ago

We teach ESL using just PDFs and MP3s, and connect and manage closed learning groups using Skype and Facebook or Edmodo dot com The number of PDF viewers that facilitate online collaboration and act as workbooks is growing's one we tried out earlier today

Christopher Bugaj Over a year ago

I think one of the most important frameworks related to the contemporary classroom is that of the Universal Design for Learning. A number of educational institutions have adopted this framework when it comes to face-to-face, in-person instruction. Online instructors should embrace this notion as well and develop lessons/modules with this approach in mind. If they do, they'll make the content more accessible to the widest audience possible which, in turn, will attract a larger audience. In order to implement the UDL framework in an online environment the instructor should provide as many different modalities to experience the content as possible. Text, audio, video, images, simulations and more could be provided for each topic, allowing the participant to choose how best they'd like to experience the content. Likewise, options should be given for the activities by which a participant demonstrates what they have learned.

Ben Pfeiffer Over a year ago

I agree Christopher for the most part, but it is slightly more difficult to implement that framework online. Professors if possible should provide a greater rich experience to online students through various types of media depending on their learning style. However in most big online schools the standards are pretty rigid. It's one size fits all. There is a huge dependence on Blackboard, online communities, forums, social media, and chat for professors to interact and classmates to collaborate. Students are often graded on participation in these forums. Allowing students to select which type of media they learn best on would be ideal, but not really practical sometimes for an online setting. Many schools are making progress however to a online classroom setting that is close to rivaling their offline component.

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