How Curriculum and Instruction Differ in an Online Environment

Vanessa Petek
Vanessa Petek
High school social studies teacher; M.Ed. in Curriculum & Instruction from Concordia University St. Paul, MN
Young boy wearing headphones during a Zoom lesson with a teacher.

Differences Between an Online Classroom and a Traditional Classroom

There are obvious differences between online classrooms and traditional classrooms. The teacher is not working with a classroom full of students day in and day out, students get a lot more flexibility with time, and lesson planning has to take into consideration the location of the classroom as well.

However, there are a few that are unexpected as well. There is a lot of opportunity to reach students, but there are also easy ways for students to get lost in the shuffle if teachers aren’t careful. Curriculum needs to include the state standards and support students who are learning from home using online tools. Instruction needs to be creative enough to engage learners who are working independently from home and include enough background to be sure students of all levels are reaching their goals.

Planning Curriculum for an Online Classroom

Planning curriculum in an online environment is a great way to use creativity! Standards are a good way to guide your planning, and then finding resources will make it meaningful for students. There are plenty of online textbook options to help aid your course goals, but there are so many resources available that it is possible to go without one as well. There is a lot of flexibility when an online school is building curriculum since there aren’t district limitations.

Money doesn’t even have to limit you with all the free sites. Finding the resources in an online platform can be overwhelming due to the amount of information available online. With a traditional classroom, you can normally rely on a textbook and then use supplemental materials. Online, it is important to have an outline to follow and do the research in the backend to be sure the learning outcomes are what you want.

A great benefit to online curriculum is that links can be embedded right into your course so you will be able to place your resources right where you want that information to be available. You can send students to a video of a professional demonstrating a skill, a museum tour to show students tangible sources, or a Quizlet so students can master vocabulary.

For online curriculum, you are not restricted to your classroom or ability to get the technology needed for your students. PDFs, Word documents, Excel spreadsheets, and many other formats can be uploaded and utilized as well. There are also options to release different assignments at certain times so students must complete them in order. Another benefit is that they can be opened for different students so there is a good amount of student choice if you want students to have options or want to help support students who need some more background before they go into the higher learning strategies.

The building of a course and curriculum is just as time consuming online, if not a bit longer than a traditional classroom, depending on the level of direction there is from administration. However, after the initial creation, the lesson planning is easy from year to year. Once a teacher has their course built, it is easy to adjust to stay current and use best practices as well. Finding new resources and creating those assignments can be switched out and changed without having to start from scratch. A complete online course curriculum sets the teacher up to be successful delivering their instructions just like in the classroom, but it is a process that can truly adjust to meet the students where they are.

Instruction for an Online Classroom

Instruction for an online classroom can take some getting used to. Figuring out the nuance takes some practice. The format is the biggest difference. Either talking with a microphone or video chatting takes time to figure out the tools so you can get the most out of them. Recording a lesson is also an option that helps students who are looking for the flexibility.

The trick is to make the lesson dynamic with little interaction. PowerPoint is compatible with online teaching programs so you can still have a visual available. For the online classroom, making your lessons interactive helps keep students engaged. It is easy to feel like you are talking to yourself online. Using checkpoint questions, polling students, having time for students to share or discuss, and/or creating activities to be used on the whiteboard are all examples of ways to enhance engagement.

There are a lot of great programs that can enhance a synchronous lesson. My favorite tools are the “breakout rooms” so students can have space to interact with each other for group work. I find it better than a traditional setting since it is a quiet space and teachers can go into each room and get that time with each group that is uninterrupted. Once teachers get used to the online classrooms and figures out how to use the tools, it can become a very dynamic learning experience.

Another advantage of teaching online is the multiple modalities you can implement. In one lesson, you can incorporate a reading, a video, an activity, and some independent studying. Each type of learner can benefit from online instruction. Captions can be turned on to reach those who are hard of hearing or English language learners. It is a great way to scaffold lessons as well. Using tools to match background knowledge to levels of learning can be gained through the online tools to make sure all students are reaching the outcome you are teaching for.

Even when the recorded meetings are the only options for students, there are ways for them to make comments and interact asynchronously. It is not as comprehensive as the live meetings, but it is like when a student is absent at school. Absent students get the full lesson without having to worry about missing the initial lesson. Online instruction can be very successful for teachers who take the time to get to know the tools that are available in their online classroom. There are a lot of benefits compared to the traditional classroom once a teacher becomes comfortable with the format.

Want to expand your knowledge of curriculum and instruction to reach learners in today’s environment? Explore our available curriculum and instruction programs to get started today!

graduate program favicon

Looking for a graduate program?

We can help you find a graduate program.

Our accessible staff is dedicated to providing a smooth and supportive admissions process for busy teachers.

By subscribing you agree to receive marketing emails, and newsletters from us. See privacy policy.