How Can Your School Implement Online Learning?

At our May 18 webinar, “How are Schools Going to Serve Students that Do Not Want to Return to the Building in the Fall?”, Rob Birdsell and Tom Burnford, leaders in online education, shared their insights on how schools can serve students seeking a fully online learning option this fall. With a recent NPR/Ipsos poll reporting that 29% of parents say they are likely to stick with some form of online learning for the coming school year, it is clear that schools need to adapt in order to retain current students and attract new ones. 

Birdsell and Burnford emphasized that for online learning to be successful for both students and teachers, it must be “built from the ground up.” Courses need to be designed specifically for online format and delivery. Whereas remote learning delivered during the COVID-19 pandemic usually consisted of simply transferring brick and mortar content to Zoom, true online learning offers an integrated learning management system, with coursework available on a single platform, and a mix of synchronous and asynchronous learning with interactive instruction and student collaboration. When implemented successfully, online learning teaches students to work independently, take responsibility for their learning and communicate effectively with peers and teachers in a virtual setting. 

While schools can implement their own online learning program, that can be costly. It was clear from teachers’ exhaustion this past school year that teaching online and in-person at the same time was not sustainable. Schools have found that it is much more effective and cost-effective to partner with an online learning provider like Columbia School. We provide all the tools, systems and support necessary to implement and online learning program, with teachers trained in both the subject matter and online education. 

First, schools need to determine what their goals are (ex: offering more courses, a richer educational experience, better outcomes). Student learning, not cost mitigation, needs to drive decisions. When developing their plans, schools should listen to parent concerns and ensure the program meets their expectations. 

Birdsell and Burnford noted that one school reworked its daily schedule to accommodate an extra class period for students to take an elective of their choice from Columbia’s online offerings. Students were able to explore additional interests outside the school curriculum in a flexible, self-paced format. 

The post-pandemic ‘new normal’ requires schools to innovate and constantly adapt. Over the past year, many students and parents enjoyed the flexibility of online learning, while recognizing the challenges of ‘Zooming’ into classrooms. Schools need to develop new models of teaching and learning to stay competitive and meet their enrollment goals. 

Watch the full webinar at

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