Exploring Preparation and Support for K-12 Online Teachers

Published on June 22, 2018

Modified on December 11, 2020


A recent nationwide study revealed that very few teacher education programs are preparing K-12 online teachers for success in the online learning environment (Archambault et al., 2016), which leaves virtual schools with the need to provide their own preparation and support for new online instructors. To paint a picture of K-12 online teacher preparation and support, this case study examined ways in which eight virtual K-12 teachers were prepared and supported for their roles. Findings revealed commonalities in the expectations for and challenges facing K-12 online teachers and the types of professional learning opportunities and support available to K-12 online teachers. This report offers recommendations to help virtual schools and K-12 districts strengthen professional learning and support for K-12 online teachers.

Download the Report

Written By:

Jayme Linton, Lenoir-Rhyne University

What We Already Know About This Topic:
  • K-12 online teachers need coursework and field experiences to help them develop competencies for effective online instruction.
  • Teacher education programs are not equipping K-12 teachers for quality online course design and instruction.
  • Professional learning communities can reduce the isolation experienced by K-12 online teachers.
What This Report Adds:
  • Teachers who were new to online teaching participated in new online teacher professional development programs provided by their virtual schools and K-12 districts, but the duration and intensity of these programs varied greatly. New online teacher professional development programs ranged from 18 hours to a semester-long experience.
  • K-12 online teachers perceived that support for quality online teaching was provided primarily by their peers via professional learning communities, mentoring, and other support systems.
  • Virtual schools held high standards for communication, course design, grading, and feedback and often modeled those expectations through professional development opportunities. New online teacher professional development and other processes were leveraged to train and support online teachers with these expectations; however, some online teachers noted that schools and districts failed to follow their own guidelines for effective communication and feedback.
Implications for Practice and/or Policy:
  • Virtual schools and public school districts should create or use an online community to provide an extra layer of support for K-12 online teachers to include synchronous messaging and resource sharing. Instant access to peers and their ideas was highly valued by participants.
  • Professional learning opportunities should prioritize peer learning experiences such as mentoring and professional learning communities to provide real-time, ongoing support for K-12 online teachers. A professional learning community model and mentoring system can serve to complement one another to provide ongoing support for online teachers.
  • New online teacher professional development should be followed by ongoing, just-in-time offerings to continue building competencies for quality online teaching and to ensure consistency and quality of course delivery. A one-shot workshop or even a semester-long course is not sufficient to fully prepare new online teachers to experience success.
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Limited Course Capacity

We’re sorry to inform you that we have reached capacity for several of our Semester 1 and Trimester 1 courses. You’ll notice when attempting to enroll students in our Student Learning Portal that some courses are unavailable. While we are no longer accepting new enrollments for these courses at this time, many courses continue to remain open for enrollment.

With many students across the state 100% remote, demand for our online courses is greater than ever before. Because every course we offer is taught by a Michigan-certified teacher, this high volume of enrollments has created capacity issues for our teachers who provide each and every student with individual feedback.

While the Michigan Virtual team anticipated and planned for significant increases in student enrollments this Fall, the increased demand we’ve experienced has been unprecedented. As a result, we are taking steps to hire even more part-and full-time teachers to support larger numbers of student enrollments for Semester 2 as well as for Trimester 2 and 3. 

For schools that still need online learning options this year, please fill out the form at the bottom of our virtual pathways page to meet with someone to discuss other solutions. While some of our teacher-led courses are full, we may still have the capacity to help you in upcoming terms or can discuss timing to implement a whole-school or collaborative program in which local teachers from your school/district use our online course content to teach students. We also have free course content and resources available for you to use.

We know this is an incredibly stressful time for all, and we’re sorry if the courses you’re looking for are unavailable. We never want to turn away a student who wants to learn from us. Our top concern, however, is student success, and we have a policy to not take on additional enrollments if we cannot guarantee that all students will have a quality online learning experience. 

We appreciate your patience and understanding as we navigate the unusually high volume of enrollments we are receiving.