Higher education e-Book

Transitioning to Effective
 Online Learning: The Playbook

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The remote learning industry has exploded in the last five years. The market, valued at roughly $109 billion1 in 2015, grew to $200 billion2 in 2019. And even before the COVID-19 pandemic, experts projected it to reach $350 billion by 20253.

This massive growth is due to a number of factors.

Online courses — particularly those that leverage live captions for web conferencing — make learning accessible and flexible to a greater number of potential learners. These include students with disabilities, geographical restrictions, or prohibitive work schedules. Plus, as more people expect colleges and universities to provide online options, virtual classes allow institutions to stay competitive.

Percentage of Post-Secondary Students.
Enrolled in at Least One Online Course

Of course, the pandemic has compelled colleges and universities around the world to go virtual. Now, the vast majority of classes are at least partially online. While some students enjoy learning virtually, others have concerns around focus, engagement, and accessibility. Post-secondary leaders share these concerns and have a few more of their own. They worry about unfamiliar technologies and a lack of face-to-face interaction.

Student Engagement: The Foremost Challenge

How to engage students in a remote setting is the question on the minds of most administrators and teachers. In a study conducted by Inside Higher Ed and Hanover Research, 81% of college and university presidents said maintaining student engagement was their biggest challenge with online learning.

And with good reason. Research by Digital Promise and Tyton Partners shows that 57% of students said they had more difficulty remaining engaged with course content when their class went remote.

For students, engagement provides focus, encourages critical thinking, and ultimately advances rates of learning and retention. But how do teachers engage students through a screen?

This eBook explores the key components of shifting to effective online learning. We aim to help you empower instructors, engage students, and provide meaningful experiences in the years to come. We’ll cover facets of successful remote learning, including best practices around web conferencing, course design, personal connection with students, and improving accessibility with live captioning, video captioning, and transcription.

How to Edit Videos in iMovie


Take A Unified Approach to Technology

Impactful learning starts with effective communication. In an online setting, administrators, instructors, and students need to be on the same page. This starts with a careful balance of technology.

Is your institution using video conferencing software like Zoom for both communication and instruction? Or, are you employing a more interactive video platform for your online classroom? Are you using asynchronous learning content through a learning management system (LMS), like Canvas or Blackboard?

Most institutions employ a combination of the following:

  • A unified communication solution for out-of-classroom interaction;
  • A live broadcast solution for in-classroom activities; and,
  • Asynchronous learning technologies for supplementary materials.

To maximize the value of these technologies, it’s vital that both your instructors and students know how to use the tools. And that’s not always as easy as it sounds. Inside Higher Ed and Hanover Research found that administrators saw significant challenges adapting to the virtual classroom.

(Source: Inside Higher Ed and Hanover Research)

Well-trained support staff can help mitigate some of these challenges, but they can’t be everywhere at once. Establishing an online resource center with captioned how-to videos and set-up tutorials can create efficiencies for your support staff and make trouble-shooting materials easily accessible to everyone. Captioning these videos can provide more clarity to professors and students when going through setup processes, especially if they’re unfamiliar with the tools.

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Balance Synchronous & Asynchronous Learning

Which technologies you leverage is only a piece of the online learning puzzle. A course’s design — how content is deployed — also plays an important role. 

Accessible learning content is only a piece of the online learning puzzle. A course’s design — how that learning content is deployed — also needs to be considered. Virtual classrooms require a combination of synchronous and asynchronous pedagogy, engaging students with simultaneous live instruction and pre-recorded, on-demand material. But determining which activities should take place when needs careful and considered planning.

An instructor’s ideal synchronous-asynchronous mix will depend on the course and their particular teaching style. For instance, if a course is largely case-study based, that instructor may focus on live, synchronous discussion sessions and rely on asynchronous assessment and homework assignments.

On the other hand, if an instructor relies heavily on lectures in their course, it may be beneficial to break those lectures up into smaller segments that can be administered both synchronously and asynchronously. Hour-long lectures via Zoom can prove to be huge obstacles for student engagement, especially when students are already spending so much time on Zoom for other classes. Breaking up lectures to be both live and on-demand makes the content more digestible and can help students retain the information.

Leveraging the interactive capabilities within your institution’s particular video conferencing platform will also help with student engagement. Breaking up synchronous lectures with polling or small group discussions via breakout rooms will keep students on their toes, actively engaged with the lesson.

While some activities can be effective synchronously or asynchronously, others are best suited for one specific method. In their research, Digital Promise and Tyton Partners found that instructors were using synchronous and asynchronous learning for the following activities:


  • Class orientation/getting acquainted
  • Live discussion sessions
  • Live lectures
  • Personal messages to students
  • Course content with real-world examples
  • Situations requiring students to express what they’ve learned or need to learn



  • Personal messages to students
  • Recorded lectures
  • Pre-recorded videos from external
  • Any frequently administered quizzes or assignments
  • Course content with real-world examples
  • Student reflection on complex topics

Of course, there are many instructors who haven’t created an online course before and may be struggling to settle on the right mix of activities. In those instances, it can be useful to start with the desired learning outcome, plan out a basic structure for the course, identify which materials students need to easily access, and build out from there.

When in doubt, instructors should work with their institution’s support staff to build out their courses and improve them throughout the semester. Instructors who have had to make the shift from in-person to online teaching told Digital Promise and Tyton Partners that their IT staff and their institution's center for teaching and learning have been key resources.

  • 85% instructional technology support staff
  • 82% center for teaching and learning, or similar resource
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Capitalize on Hybrid Learning Opportunities

Careful pedagogy considerations also need to be made if your institution has the capability for a hybrid learning environment, where some students are in-class while others watch synchronously via videoconferencing. Hybrid learning models give institutions the opportunity to combine the best of both face-to-face and online instruction, allowing professors to use in-person time for activities that better lend themselves to face-to-face interaction.

When designing a hybrid learning environment, institutions and instructors need to consider the following:

  • What are the desired learning outcomes of the course? What skills are students expected to have by the end of the course?
  • What kinds of activities, exercises, and assessments will help students develop and achieve those learning outcomes?
  • Which of those activities are best suited for face-to-face learning and which are best suited for online

In-Class Activities

In-class instruction should focus less on long lectures and more on active learning activities like group discussion, worked examples, case study review, and student presentations. To truly maximize the value of a hybrid course’s in-person time, make sure that in-person activities are collaborative and student-focused. This will allow students to get to know each other and increase investment in the course.

Online Activities

Online activities can be reserved for asynchronous materials like brief videos, readings, some assessments, and further group discussions. Students can meet online to discuss and build out group projects and then meet in-class to go over the finer details of the project’s presentation. These materials can also help prepare students for in-class discussion. Above all, the in-person and online portions of the course should integrate and work together to enrich students’ learning experiences.

Some students may gravitate towards (and excel during) during the in-person portions of the class, while others might prefer online instruction. But giving students the flexibility to both participate in-person and online at their own pace can benefit different learning styles and increase student engagement.

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Foster Connections with Students in a Virtual Space

Face-to-face interaction — and, more importantly, connection — is one of the biggest challenges of online learning. Being able to connect with students (and create a sense of community with the entire class) is an essential part of effective learning. Unfortunately, like student engagement, that sense of connection can suffer in online learning environments. In their report, Digital Promise and Tyton Research found that the following aspects of a course were worse after a move online:

So how do institutions and instructors facilitate this connection if classes are entirely remote?

Informal Video Messages

Institutions need to empower instructors to create more informal video content, such as encouraging messages or announcements that can be uploaded to the LMS for all students to see. These announcements don’t need to be professionally made — in fact, sometimes, the more informal the better — but it’s important for faculty members to know how to record and upload them. The more an instructor lets a student see who they really are (outside of class) the more connected that student may feel.

Virtual Office Hours

Rethinking the concept of “office hours” can also help instructors develop meaningful academic relationships with their students. Online learning models actually make office hours more accessible to all students, giving them the opportunity to pop in, ask a question via video conference or chat, and then get back to work.

In addition to meeting with students one-on-one if they request it, instructors can also host office hours for individual study groups or even the whole class, using the time as a question and answer or informal discussion session.

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Accessible Course Materials

Accessibility is perhaps the most important aspect of online learning. Once professors have the right tools, the ideal course design, and the learning content they intend to use for instruction, they need to ensure that those materials are accessible to all of their students. That includes students with potential disabilities, foreign students in other countries, or those with different learning requirements.

Online learning employs a wide range of video content, all of which needs to be accessible to every potential viewer. Beyond helping your institution comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), speech-to-text services like Rev, which provide captioning and transcription, are a fast, affordable way to increase student engagement.

Research from The University of South Florida St. Petersburg found that captions can benefit nearly all students in a virtual classroom.

99% of students found captions helpful

How should captioning and transcription be used?

Live captions powered by Automatic Speech Recognition (ASR) technology can instantly increase the accessibility of live, synchronous activities such as:

  • Live-streamed lectures
  • Live-streamed group discussion sessions
  • Office hours with instructors
  • One-on-one meetings with instructors or peers

Asynchronous content also needs to be accessible, which is why institutions and instructors should invest in captioning for the following materials:

  • Pre-recorded lectures
  • Recordings of live lectures shared after the fact
  • Informal video announcements or messages from instructors

Finally, consider offering students searchable transcripts of live classroom sessions so they can easily reference the material on their own time.

How do students benefit from captions and transcription?

Captioning video materials and providing transcripts can help students engage with the material, understand it, and retain the information.

Clarification: Live-captioning lectures and group discussion sessions allows students to understand what’s being said when the audio could be potentially indiscernible. If a student has to watch from a location with background noise (small children, outside traffic, etc.), live captions give them a chance to see words or sentences they may have missed.

Comprehension: According to the VARK model, students learn in manifold ways. Some are more visually oriented, while others excel by reading or writing down the material. Captioning and transcription services can actually help these learners better comprehend the content of the course and help them succeed.

Supplemental Study Aids: Captioned videos and accurate transcripts of lectures are valuable study aids and can supplement students’ notes. While 99% of students take notes during class, they only capture about 30-40% of the material. Transcripts of recorded lectures and discussion sessions help students fill in any holes they might have in their notes. Plus, accurate transcripts ensure that keywords or phrases are spelled correctly, which can be particularly helpful for more complex, technical courses like chemistry or biology.

InSummary@150x-8 1



In Summary

Traditional in-classroom teaching already posed its own unique set of challenges. Moving the classroom online presents a whole new set of obstacles for instructors and students alike. But it also presents opportunities to connect and collaborate in creative and exciting ways.

With the right tools, the appropriate methodology, and a world-class accessibility partner like Rev, institutions can provide thorough, engaging learning experiences and help students achieve their goals.

Key Takeaways

  • Organize learning technologies and make sure students and professors are trained on them
  • Instructors should capitalize on synchronous instruction with active learning activities
  • Foster personal connection between students and teachers in and out of the classroom
  • Personal messages to students
  • Course content with real-world examples
  • Situations requiring students to express what they’ve learned or need to learn

The Best Solution for Educators

Speech-to-Text that’s best-in-class (and outside of class, too).
 Rev isn’t just the most accurate and adaptable in captions and
 transcripts—we’re also the most budget-friendly.