How to Set Virtual Learning Expectations to Promote Healthy Learning
Jan 10 2022
Updated at: Mar 22 2022

How to Set Virtual Learning Expectations to Promote Healthy Learning

Positive Action Staff
It’s safe to say that there’s a huge difference between online instruction and in-person instruction.

Indeed, educators in online learning environments are often challenged by two major needs. They must figure out how to strike a balance between delivering content that meets course objectives while keeping their learners engaged.

Teachers in virtual learning environments must focus more on facilitating student efforts to think critically while applying and making sense of new knowledge.

That’s because students who’re learning virtually have access to endless information at their fingertips. They can easily open up a new tab in their browsers and Google answers—a feat that’s much harder to accomplish while in a face-to-face classroom.

“Nearly 93% of households with school-age children reported engaging in some form of ‘distance learning’ from home in 2020” - United States Census Bureau

But just because you might be teaching virtually doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t set expectations to help promote healthy learning.

After all, while students can be incredibly fast at picking up technology, they might still need some help with how to go about behaving as members of a digital class.

Thankfully, there are several things you can do to help your students focus on their learning and participate constructively as you create a sustainable virtual space for them.

Instructors using Positive Action, for instance, have Virtual Learning Guidance Reports that help them identify lessons that are best suited for virtual delivery.

Here are a few other ways you can set virtual learning expectations to ensure your online lessons go as smoothly as possible:

Step 1 - Discuss Workspace Expectations

It’s important to remember that your digital learners have their own workspace at home which neither you, their teacher, nor the school can control.

That said, a considerable portion of your student population may require assistance in setting up an environment that’s conducive to learning.

After considering the learning level of the class and the content areas you’ll be covering, decide what’s important for your students to have within arms reach.

Here are some dos and don’ts to consider:

Ideal Conditions

  • Quiet workspace free from distractions
  • A clean, well-lit working surface with easy access to a power source
  • Adequate and easily accessible classroom supplies such as crayons, pens, pencils, paper, and glue
  • Access to comfortable-to-wear headphones with a microphone (to provide smooth interfacing with the rest of the class)

Not-So-Ideal Conditions

  • High-traffic area with parents, siblings, or pets in the background
  • Easy all-day access to snacks and chewables
  • No contact information for the school’s IT department in case login problems arise
  • Too comfortable/permissive dressing such as pajamas

You can often detect if your students are distracted by checking their eye contact and background.

Ensure your students remain engaged with your virtual lesson so that they don’t miss out on essential academic content: Impress upon them your expectation that they have a clean and distraction-free workspace.

Step 2 - Have Everyone Log In a Little Early

It can be very distracting to have students pop up on your screen when you’re in the middle of explaining a concept to the rest of the class.

Their request? To be allowed entry into your virtual class now that they’ve finally logged in.

To avoid such inconveniences, make sure to let all your students know to have everything set up before class begins.

When students know they need to be logged in a little earlier, they’ll be better prepared for unplanned incidents such as a longer log-in time.

At the very least, the extra time provides a buffer for you to help them solve any technological issues they might have before class begins. These issues can even include taking note of whether student devices are charged and ready to go.

Additionally, checking in early gives students time to check whether their microphones are muted—without discovering that that’s not the case when loud background noises distract other students from the speaker.

Having your students arrive a little early also means that you won’t need to keep catching up latecomers on what they missed.

Step 3 - Require the Camera to Be Turned On

A healthy learning environment can be hard to set up when the avenues of communication are as limited as they are in a virtual learning environment.

It’s harder, for instance, to read body language and facial expressions in a virtual setting than it would be in face-to-face interactions.

It’s good to be aware that some students (and even adults) are more likely to turn off the camera function during meetings or classes when they want to hide off-task behavior.

Other times, WiFi or internet connection issues may automatically trigger the video conferencing software to disable the camera.

Prepare for these eventualities by creating an expectation that cameras should be on for the duration of the class, then practice how to do so.

Asking your students to have their cameras on does mean that they’ll need to show the entire class their home environment.

For those who are uncomfortable with showing their homes, you can settle on a workaround by showing them how to either blur their background or use a background image instead.

Taking these steps ensures that all students feel safe and accommodated in your class, which in turn will help create a healthy learning environment.

Step 4 - Schedule One-On-One Time With Your Students

One of the benefits of face-to-face teaching is that it gives educators the opportunity to give students personal attention and praise on an as-needed basis.

Deciding to schedule regular, dedicated sessions with each of your virtual learning students can be a great way to replace the personal attention students typically crave.

During your one-on-one chat times, you can ask your students:

  • How they are doing
  • What they think about their virtual learning environment
  • What they can do to make learning at home easier instead of more difficult
  • How successful they’ve been at setting a regular routine for school activities

Creating chat times with students gives you an opportunity to listen to them, which makes it much easier for you to design your teaching around their current capabilities.

Another benefit of having one-on-one chats with your students is that it helps keep them focused during virtual learning since they’ll be expecting to talk about their learning experience with you later on.

These cats will also give you a chance to revisit the rules and standards of engagement for your online class with students who you might have noticed are having some difficulties.

Lastly, one-on-one discussions with your students can give you an idea of whether they’ve established healthy routines in their lives outside the class.

Step 5 - Ensure There Are Sufficient Break Times

No matter their age or the length of the day, kids need breaks.

Because most kids aren’t used to staying indoors all day long, consider incorporating online exercises during your virtual class time.

Another way to schedule a break during online class is to assign students virtual breakout rooms. Here, students can enjoy a change of pace as they chat and participate in activities with smaller groups of their peers. Don’t forget to monitor these rooms.

Break time activities might include:

  • Charades
  • Casual chats
  • Positive affirmations
  • Listening to interesting podcasts

Additionally, periodically engage your students in activities that give them a break from online devices by giving them tasks that correspond with your lesson. Offline break activities can include:

  • Seek and find
  • Easy stretches
  • Scavenger hunts
  • A few jumping jacks
  • Drawing for 5–10 minutes

Since you want to avoid having students snacking or continually drinking during class, breaks provide the perfect opportunity for your class to indulge in a bite.

Remember that it’s not healthy to have your students stuck in front of a computer all day. Allowing them to move throughout the day will keep their minds active and refreshed while getting their blood pumping.

Setting Expectations Promotes Healthy Learning

Expectations, whether in virtual settings or in one-on-one class settings, are the guide rails that help keep students on track.

When students know what’s expected of them early on, classroom management issues can be stemmed, learners can be challenged to achieve higher goals, and mutual respect between teachers and students can be established.

You can take advantage of the Positive Action program to boost academic achievement in your students, even when they’re studying virtually.

Combine healthy expectations with a full range of learning styles, such as those incorporated by the Positive Action curriculum, and your students will have a solid foundation from which to excel.

“Students enjoyed Positive Action. They broke out of their shell and had the chance to talk about their feelings.” - Middle School Teacher, New York


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