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7 best practices for virtual lesson planning

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School and university instructors may have had little online teaching experience before the spring of 2020. A global health crisis forced instructors and students online, changing the delivery method for instruction dramatically.

As the health crisis wore on, academic institutions continued remote learning, yet instructors have still struggled to adapt to this new teaching method. Remote learning demands different lesson planning styles. To help instructors, we’ve compiled some best practices for virtual lesson planning.

👩‍🏫 💻 📚 Need a refresher on virtual lesson planning? Grab our comprehensive resource guide to free virtual lesson planning resources available online.

Educators across all grade levels can provide effective learning experiences with the help of this guide.


7 best practices for virtual lesson planning

To plan effective, engaging virtual lessons, follow these 7 best practices: 

1. Give yourself time and space for lesson planning

The best lessons aren’t products of last-minute planning (or winging it). Give yourself adequate time and space to plan lessons so that you’re not rushed. The end result will be a thoughtful lesson from which students will gain the requisite course knowledge.

2. Set learning objectives before planning lessons

The Understanding by Design (UbD) framework, developed by Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe, is a framework to improve student achievement. While it was designed for students in a primary setting, it has applications for the realm of higher education, too.

Under the UbD framework, educators plan backward—they set the learning objectives first before planning any activities. Instructors must first decide what they want students to learn before they can do anything else. When instructors put learning objectives first, lesson planning becomes clearer and simpler.

3. Determine how you’ll assess students

After you’ve set learning objectives for the course, think about how you’ll assess your students.

Virtual learning tools have a significant role to play in assessing students. You can integrate online quizzes during class to test students’ knowledge (more on that later).

4. Remember the foundations of lesson planning

While teaching online is different than in-person teaching, the fundamentals of lesson planning still apply:

  • Set the learning objective for the lesson
  • Create anticipatory sets (also known as hooks) that introduce the material and capture students’ attention
  • Decide how you’ll demonstrate a specific skill or strategy
  • Provide students with an opportunity to work collaboratively to complete a task under your guidance
  • Consider which activities will engage the students
  • Give students a chance to practice what they’ve learned independently
  • Select resources that supplement learning
  • Assign an activity that allows students to reflect on what they’ve learned and what it means to them

These lesson planning principles create coherent, engaging lessons that help students learn the material. They can be implemented even if you’re teaching online, although they’ll need to be modified slightly to fit the medium.

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5. Focus on what’s essential

For many students, learning remotely might not be a choice. Their institution might not be offering in-person classes due to health restrictions. Or, perhaps they’re taking online classes because their immune system is compromised, and learning in-person presents too great a risk. The chances are that this semester, students are dealing with the usual stresses (finances, families, relationships, and homework) plus an uncertain global situation.

As a result, focusing on learning can be a challenge. Experienced online instructors advise not trying to cover all the planned material. Instead, focus on what is absolutely essential—what students must learn to pass the course.

6. Leave time for class discussion

You most likely remember lively in-class discussions during your days at university. Those discussions can still take place in a virtual classroom.

Make space in your lesson plan for in-class discussion so students can demonstrate their knowledge of the materials, as well as make a personal connection to what they’re learning. Virtual learning tools, such as a virtual classroom, facilitate these discussions. In addition, learning management software (LMS) allows students to continue the conversation through an online forum.

7. Maximize your virtual learning tools

One of the most important virtual lesson planning best practices is to maximize your virtual learning tools. Your virtual learning tools are powerful. Here are some of the things they can do:

  • Enable screen-sharing, so you can upload resources during synchronous lessons
  • Integrate with your LMS so you can share resources with students and they can continue classroom discussions online
  • Facilitate communication between students and faculty

Screen-sharing capabilities

Let’s say you’ve found a great video clip that you want to share during your lesson. Virtual learning tools offer screen-sharing capabilities, so you can share your screen and show that clip.

In addition, you can use screen-sharing to upload links to online quizzes or polls, so virtual learning becomes an interactive and engaging experience.

Integrate with your LMS

Your LMS serves as the backbone for your online course—it’s the place you upload all resources for your course, including the syllabus, course materials, and supplementary materials. Many LMS platforms also contain an online forum for discussions, so you can assign your students discussion questions they can complete after class.

Leading virtual learning tools integrate with LMS, which saves time for instructors and students. They don’t have to use two separate systems—everything they need is in one place. 

Facilitate communication between students and faculty

Virtual learning tools also connect students with each other and faculty. Market-leading virtual learning tools allow students to message, call, email, and hold video conferences with one another. This helps them collaborate on classwork while enabling social interaction.

With virtual learning tools, students can also connect to faculty members. Faculty can hold virtual office hours and send personalized messages to students.

Best-of-breed virtual learning tools offer the highest levels of built-in security, so all communications are confidential.

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UP NEXT: LMS + communications platform = remote learning success

RingCentral’s virtual learning tools help instructors create engaging online experiences

RingCentral’s feature-rich, secure learning tools help instructors create engaging online experiences for students. With LMS integration, live teaching capabilities, and flexible, easy communication methods, planning online lessons becomes smooth and hassle-free. To learn more, get a demo.

Originally published May 03, 2021, updated Mar 30, 2022

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