Find your portal

CYPHER Learning named a G2 Best Software Awards winner 2024
Read more

5 Basic ingredients to online learning success

In an effort to keep up with the fast-paced world driven by technological advances, the education system is including more and more technology into classrooms all over the country. While critics argue about the slow-pace adoption of ed-tech in school instruction, at least we see things moving in the right direction.

We already have online courses, learning management systems, online collaboration tools, apps for all sorts of classroom activities, and so on, and so forth. E-learning is part of today’s education and will probably be a bigger part of it in the future.

But since there are so many ways to adapt e-learning, or to blend it with face-to-face instruction in a physical learning environment, one question gets on many teachers’ lips:

How do I know if I’m doing this right?!

To be honest, I doubt there is one right answer to this question. It all depends. Some tactics that can work very well on a group of students may fall short in the case of others.

There is no one right way to achieve online learning success.

However, if your students seem to enjoy your online activities, if they pay more attention to class, and if their academic results are somehow better, you must be doing something right.

5 Basic ingredients to online learning success

At the bottom line, each teacher needs to find the perfect recipe of blended learning for each of their classes. Anyway, no matter how diverse these recipes turn out to be, there are a few ingredients that blend smoothly into online learning success. Check them out:

  1. Pedagogical content knowledge (PCK)

    Pedagogical content knowledge is a teacher’s knowledge of subject matter that is necessary to help students learn that knowledge. Or so Shulman said, back in 1986. Every great teacher needs to actually know the subject that they’re teaching, and know the best way to deliver it so that every student understands and learns it.

    Perhaps most of you will scoff at this idea: “Of course I know what I teach and how to teach it!”, but the sad truth is that not every educator does. And when you think about it, this is the base of education, no matter if we’re talking about face-to-face, or online.

  2. Technological knowledge

    When we add technological knowledge into the mix, we get the TPACK framework. (Read this post for more about it.) Educators can no longer ignore the technological part of things in this day and age. Nobody expects teachers to become tech experts overnight, but at least simple things like rotating a PDF or using cloud-based software shouldn’t be a problem.

    While plenty of educators are still reluctant to including technology in their instruction, others are leading the way to tech-savvy-ness in schools. After all, using technology effectively in the classroom is a basic requirement for teaching effectively online.

  3. Game-based learning design

    Well-designed digital games are like tools that can promote and support the complex cognitive activities associated with scientific inquiry. Students love a gamified-learning experience because it’s usually more fun that classical learning activities, it rewards mastery instead of quantity of school work, it allows a certain degree of self management, and it usually provides instant feedback.

    An online learning environment offers plenty of opportunities for teachers to create and use game-based learning. And if they figure out how to use students’ experiences within learning games — their asking questions and taking action in finding the answers — to make decisions about the instruction beyond the game, they’ll be a step closer to online learning success.

  4. Data-driven decision making

    While online learning activities can provide teachers with large amounts of formatted data in a timely manner, thanks to the LMS that’s always collecting, sorting and delivering data reports, these data are not always the base of decision-making. Many teachers don’t understand how to use data systematically and often time they need training on this side of things — training that’s not always available.

    But being able to make pedagogical decisions based on data means more than simply looking at the numbers or statistics collected through analysis. This is all about a teacher’s ability to transform the numbers and statistics of online learning into instructional strategies that meet the needs of specific students. Once this is sorted out, the chances to see better results through online education will only get higher.

  5. Formative assessment

    If a student doesn’t perfectly understand a concept but has to hold an official test at a pre-established date, that student will most probably not get a perfect score. That test, which is a summative assessment, will only identify the student’s lack of mastery of the subject, but that’s that.

    In an online learning environment, on the other hand, educators have many resources to create formative assessment and monitor student learning. As Carnegie Mellon University clearly points out, formative assessments:

    • help students identify their strengths and weaknesses and target areas that need work;
    • help faculty recognize where students are struggling and address problems immediately.

    Once students get the feedback they need, when they need it, and teachers can provide the perfect feedback for each student at the right time, their teamwork will mirror in the academic results of the class.


If achieving online learning success is like making a healthy meal, both students and educators must keep in mind that there are many ways to create a nutritious dinner. As long as the food has the right amount and balance between carbs, fat, protein, and other basic ingredients, the body will be healthy.

Likewise, achieving great results with online education requires a balance between pedagogical content knowledge, technological knowledge, game-based learning, data-driven decision making, and formative assessments. What other basic ingredient would you add to this recipe?

f-image t-image pin-image lin-image