Who is training the online teachers to teach online?


NEWSFLASH: Online Education is Here to Stay.

Okay so tell me something I don’t know. When I start to see articles and stories appearing in the NY Times, NPR, WSJ, on TV and lots of other places I start to think “mainstream”. What every one of you reading this already knows has become The Latest Big News. Online education is here to stay.

So that begs an important question. The more traditional onground version of education has been around since Moby Dick was a minnow. As in forever. And formal education was truly formalized when Teacher’s Colleges were started and teacher’s were taught to teach.

From Wikipedia:

Generally, Teacher Education curricula can be broken down into four major areas:

  1. Foundational knowledge in education-related aspects of philosophy of education, history of education, educational psychology, and sociology of education.
  2. Skills in assessing student learning, supporting English Language learners, using technology to improve teaching and learning, and supporting students with special needs.
  3. Content-area and methods knowledge and skills—often also including ways of teaching and assessing a specific subject, in which case this area may overlap with the first (“foundational”) area. There is increasing debate about this aspect; because it is no longer possible to know in advance what kinds of knowledge and skill pupils will need when they enter adult life, it becomes harder to know what kinds of knowledge and skill teachers should have. Increasingly, emphasis is placed upon ‘transversal’ or ‘horizontal’ skills (such as ‘learning to learn’ or ‘social competences’, which cut across traditional subject boundaries, and therefore call into question traditional ways of designing the Teacher Education curriculum (and traditional school curricula and ways of working in the classroom).
  4. Practice at classroom teaching or at some other form of educational practice—usually supervised and supported in some way. Practice can take the form of field observations, student teaching, or (U.S.) internship.

All this leads to a certification and ongoing teacher education to make sure the level of quality of the teaching is maintained. We would not let our kids go to a school where the teachers were not certified to teach. We do not go to colleges and universities to learn from from people who are not prepared to teach. Yet we flip on our headphones and sit in front of our [fill in your device here] for hours on end taking online courses, not ever really knowing who is inside the screen, or what training they had that qualifies them to be the instructor.

Traditional onground teachers are highly qualified professionals. I cannot say the same for online teachers. According to the numbers I’m hearing lately, more than 63% of Americans have taken one of more online courses. That means a course with a curriculum and several sessions of teaching and learning, not a one-off webinar. And in many countries the numbers are dramatically higher (South Korea for example at over 85%).

Towards a Smarter Nation

Here’s the question:

Who is training the online teachers to teach online?

Some of the worst ‘teaching’ I have ever tried to learn from has been online. The worst. And I’m not alone. Everyone I know has stories about an online class that was a total waste of time. Poorly organized content. Terrible to no graphics. So many bullet points that the screen ended up being 8pt Arial.  A droning voice with no modulation or interest in the subject. Talking bullet points. Less than a modicum of enthusiasm. Hardly any interaction in a medium defined by interaction.

In sum, it was taking the untutored teacher without certification person and putting that so-called teacher in a box, without so much as a nod to the tools afforded by the fantastic digital medium being used. Cheaper perhaps than getting people in a classroom. But what a waste of brainpower and yet another missed opportunity.

There are exceptions that always prove the rule. The free university level courses being taught by outstanding teachers who are first and foremost outstanding  teachers and then outstanding online teachers as well. Starting with Khan academy. Great teachers using a new online approach and really working hard to find ways to make online education work online (e.g. Udacity and Coursera). Taking advantage of Communities of Learners, peer-to-peer learning, great interaction, and graduating students into Communities of Practice. Those are the exceptions.

The question again is when do we answer the question? When will we start to take online teaching as seriously as we take onground teaching? I found only one decent online teaching program and it’s from Cisco, where they are certifying their online – virtual – teachers so they know how to teach online. Certified to understand how online teaching – in a virtual classroom – is different than teaching onground – in an actual classroom. Some are still better than others when it come to teaching – the art and science of lighting a fire, not filling a bucket.

At the very least, when they are certified – actually certified after going through a process as rigorous as any other Cisco certification – they know how to correctly use the online classroom to maximize the capabilities of their virtual presence and get learners interacting and, dare I say it, actually learning something. As in those rare and wonderful “Aha!” moments.

So once again I leave you with a question.

Who is training the online teachers to teach online?

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  1. tomhogers · January 9, 2013

    Hello David.

    My name is Tom Hodgers and am a qualified (certified sounds a little “nutty”, doesn´t it) “On-Line” teacher.

    I agree with you completely about the plethora of untrained educators used in the distance learning business, having passed through their unethical hands myself.

    However, times are a changing and most “authentic” universities have on-line/bimodal teacher training programmes for their staff.

    There are also available some very professional courses, two of the best that I can attest to, having participated in both (as well as in-house courses), are:
    “Integrating Technology for Active Lifelong Learning (IT4ALL)”´s free Moodle for Teachers courses – http://www.integrating-technology.org/course/index.php for English speakers, or for Spanish speaking educators, why not try the 90% grant given by the “Fundación para la actualización tecnológica de Latinoamérica” for their course: Experto en Procesos Elearning. http://www.fatla.org/

    So you see David, somebody is training the on-line teachers. It´s just a matter of time until the qualified instructors make it into the mainstream of virtual education.

    Tom Hodgers
    Coordinator of on-line Certificate and Diploma courses.
    Universidad José Antonio Páez,


    • davidgrebow13 · January 10, 2013


      Thank you for your excellent comments and links to the courses. I would like to hear more about your thoughts regarding how we can make teaching online as much of a profession as teaching onground. We seem to think that anyone who has the hardware and software can be an online instructor … just missing the brainware is the problem. I also know that your country and close to 23 others around the world are leading the way to make online learning pedagogically sound and substantial. We here in the U.S. are not in that group. Alas!


  2. Brian Reilly · January 10, 2013

    We offer a couple of free short (1 month) classes at UC Riverside Extension for online instructors and those interested in learning more about teaching online (we use Moodle). Our current class started on Tuesday of this week but we offer it every quarter – http://moodle.ucx.ucr.edu/mod/resource/view.php?id=50891

    Over the past several years, I have seen how preparation makes a big difference for new online instructors in terms of how they design their courses and how they interact with students. Making an uninformed transition from face-to-face classroom to online classroom rarely ends well. Many of our new online instructors have no experience as online students, so they lack models, good or bad, of what an online class is like. Their experience in our class, Teaching Online with Moodle, can get them started in the right direction.

    -Brian Reilly
    Distance Learning Coordinator
    University of California, Riverside Extension


    • davidgrebow13 · January 10, 2013

      Brian, Thanks for passing the lead on for people to look into. Your comments are spot on regarding the lack of great models and experience with online programs, and the illusion that if one can teach onground they can simply flip a switch (or in this case click a mouse) and teach effectively and engagingly online. Plus I’ve noticed a trend where teachers who are being let go use their onground teaching credential as a plus for getting online teaching jobs. If anything I even seen relatively good onground teachers get completely bollixed up when confronting a virtual classroom filled with unseen students. Anyone I have ever hired for an online teaching position needs great recommendations, plus courses and/or experience actually teaching online. Thanks! David


      • Brian Reilly · January 10, 2013

        Hi David,

        I agree that teaching in a classroom doesn’t always prepare someone well for teaching online. On the other hand, we hire quite a few people who are knowledgeable about a particular area but have no real teaching experience to teach classroom classes. The format is almost always a lecture, textbook and quizzes. When those instructors move online, they have even more trouble adjusting than someone who has a K-12 teaching background and is used to employing different strategies in the classroom. Most K-12 teachers we work with tend to be more flexible and able to adjust their instructional methods more easily because they have more ideas to draw from. Of course, it varies and there are people in both groups who do fine while others have trouble.


      • davidgrebow13 · January 11, 2013

        Bill, Thanks for your comments. Still leaves me with the questions “Do online teaches need the same rigorous certification as onground teachers?” and if the answer is yes, then where will that training and demand for excellence come from? The world is shifting to online learning and without highly qualified teachers teaching online is the learning enabled or disabled. Appreciate your thought?


  3. Tommcdonald · January 15, 2013

    Thanks for this article

    There needs to be a paradigm change within education…

    …from teaching (short term, superficial, individual, initial, understanding) …

    …to learning (long term, deep, learning, transfer and application, resulting in sustained, individual, advanced performance improvement outcomes)

    This is classroom AND elearning focused (bad pedagogy in classrooms is bad pedagogy online)

    Traditional educators are subject matter experts, not long term learning experts

    This must change
    You might find these supporting links interesting:

    Click to access GSContest1.pdf



  4. Anne · January 20, 2013

    Hi David
    Thanks for your article – I’m new to the blog and I’m really enjoying it.
    I had some thoughts on your ‘Who is training the online trainers’ article. I am a qualified Primary School teacher turned eLearning consultant. My belief is what makes a good teacher online or on the ground is a passion for education, a love of learning (learning for yourself and for others) and an understanding of how ‘learning’ works. So here are some thoughts for what they’re worth:
    A ‘qualified’ teacher is never a guarantee of a good teacher. Even a 4 year degree cannot make someone passionate about education. Ask anyone who has been at school (which is hopefully just about everyone you know) whether all their ‘qualified’ high school and primary school teachers were good at their jobs. The answer will be no. In just about every school today there are still teachers who are not good at teaching (or educating, or facilitating learning, or whatever you want to call it today!). So, sadly a qualification doesn’t guarantee anything. I think we should put more thought into ‘what’ goes into a qualification than just the fact of getting it. Much like corporations often miss the point of eLearning as just a way to reduce trainer headcounts and minimise traning costs, instead of striving for best outcome, quality learning and how this can actually improve their business.

    Similarly, I find university and college lecturers often ‘qualified’ in their subject matter, but by no means good at inspiring or engaging a lecture-room full of students – thank goodness for textbooks, study groups and Wikipedia! Again, ask any university graduate if all their lecturers were good ‘teachers’ and the answer will undoubtedly be ‘no’. Just because you ‘know’ something doesn’t mean you’re going to be good at teaching it. So I don’t think the problem of poor teaching/engagement is solely at the door of online learning. Again, I am not saying that it’s ok to have no training or certification to teach, online or otherwise, I’m saying there’s more to it than having the qualification…what is IN the qualification is key. Everyone is always talking about changing our paradigm in education, but for me the reality is we have to go to ground zero. There are flaws at every level. Perhaps online learning just shows them up more clearly?
    I think a few other people who commented mentioned other places that are also putting some effort into training online trainers, in addition to Cisco that you noted. I think there is actually more and more training of this kind coming up – I recently attended a course on a rapid eLearning authoring tool and the same company also does a Master eLearning Course that you can certify in which covers a broad spectrum of eLearning teaching skills (this is in Australia). So I think they’re there, but more are needed…we just need to make sure they’re quality!
    Thanks again for the article! Anne


  5. Pingback: Reference Lists | uuwrennie
  6. Mary Kraus · September 26, 2013

    Who is Training the Online Teachers to Teach Online? We are!

    The Leading Edge Certification (LEC) is a national certification program in educational technology and curriculum innovation. Created by an Alliance of nonprofits, universities and educational agencies, LEC is the first national certification program of its kind, and is platform and vendor neutral. There are currently three (3) areas of certification offered by LEC: Online and Blended Teacher, Administrator and Digital Educator (available late fall 2013). http://www.leadingedgecertification.org/

    The San Diego Office of Education is a trusted Leading Edge Alliance partner and has certified over 200 educators from San Diego County and across the nation. Because we conduct focused, ongoing evaluation of our program we know that 98% of our LEC graduates self-report they are “moderately to highly confident in their ability to integrate or manage key components in an online or blended learning environment.” For more information on San Diego County Office of Education’s Leading Edge Certification course go to: http://goo.gl/wOual3

    Or contact me directly:

    Mary Kraus
    Project Specialist, Online and Blended Learning
    San Diego County Office of Education


  7. Alexis Alexander · November 22, 2013

    Great article and I am glad to see people asking these questions. Here is the California Community Colleges we do ask teachers to get training to teach online, at most colleges anyway.

    I have a program for this you can see here http://alexandereducation.org/EDT/ which began in 2008, many teachers have completed it.

    We also have @ONE, a program run by the State Chancellors Office.

    There are also several programs in the UC’s however these are not hands on, in my experience.


  8. WizIQ · September 18, 2017

    There are so many sources are available over web like Wikipedia, Google and much more that compare to be very effective in designing online course materials and getting the insight on how to teach online using different platform.

    Really great post thanks for sharing.


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