Online Program Toolkit

Published on August 20, 2021

The purpose of this document is to help you create and/or maintain a quality online learning program that fits the needs of your students, no matter where you are on this journey. Much of what is covered in this toolkit reflects best practices found in the National Online Standards (NSQ), which were developed by experts from across the country.

We have designed this toolkit with the intention of being brief, and to provide questions and actionable steps to help you support your students in online learning.

Leadership & Planning

To begin or maintain an effective teaching and learning online program, school leaders must develop a comprehensive strategy that proactively addresses the challenges and barriers they may encounter throughout the implementation process. The key aspect of such a strategy is the development of a carefully designed execution plan that is aligned with the current district mission and vision.


  • Who are our key stakeholders for the program? How will we engage them? Consider…
    • Students
    • Parents
    • Teachers 
    • Mentors
    • School Board members
    • Community members
  • What are our overall goals/outcomes for the online program?
  • What policies and procedures need to be in place to achieve our goals/outcomes?
  • What processes and procedures will we adopt and use to ensure the successful implementation or refinement of our online program?
  • How will we know our program is successful?

Key Action Steps

  • Identify team/staff members who will be a part of the online program, including
    • Administrative leadership
    • Mentor(s)
    • Online teachers (if applicable)
  • Identify intended outcomes or goals for the online program.
  • Identify the critical success factors (CSF) that affect the attainment of the program outcomes or goals.
  • Develop the action plans needed to address the CSF by establishing essential conditions for success.
  • Develop the protocols and execution steps for the online program.
  • Develop the process for evaluating effectiveness of the online program.


Administrator Guide to Online Learning

Michigan Virtual policy example

Gull Lake Program Example

Oxford Virtual Academy Example

12 School Factors that Impact Successful Implementation

Technology & Tech Support

One of the primary challenges of creating an effective online learning environment is providing adequate levels of technology access to all students and instructional staff, regardless of whether they are working in school or at home. Providing the necessary technology resources and eliminating all barriers to accessing technical support should be a top priority.


  • Do the students and staff involved in our online program have dedicated computing devices?
  • Are the computing devices used in our program compatible with the digital content used in our program?
  • Do the students and teachers of the online program have adequate internet access and bandwidth?
  • Are the computing devices used by students and staff configured to filter inappropriate website content, keeping us in compliance with the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA)?
  • How are we providing technical support for online students working in school or from home?

Key Action Steps

  • Ensure technology staff members are part of the online learning program planning process.
  • Determine which students will need computing devices to complete their online course work and provide these devices in a manner that supports the digital curriculum and also complies with FAPE.
  • Determine which students/families to determine are in need of internet access and provide this access as needed.
  • Identify and implement a web content filtering solution for all devices used by the students and staff who are learning online.
  • Identify the roles needed to support technology in an online learning model and allocate personnel accordingly.


Transformative Digital Learning: A Guide to Implementation

How IT Staff Provide Tech Support During Remote Learning


Curriculum serves as the backbone of the online program. Your program will want to provide appropriate grade-level content for your students.  To accomplish this, content may be purchased from existing curriculum providers (e.g., Michigan Virtual, Edgenuity, Pearson, Apex Learning, etc.) or it may be curated or developed by teachers within the school or district. Content that is curated or developed by teachers should be organized within a learning management system (LMS) or some type of learning platform.    


  • What types of instructional strategies do you want our program to use? (self-paced learning, teacher-guided learning, synchronous learning, asynchronous learning, etc.)
  • Which providers offer solutions to our grade level and instructional strategy requirements?
  • Who should be involved in our evaluation, selection, and implementation of digital content processes?

Key Action Steps for Purchased Digital Content

  • Reaffirm desired outcomes, goals, and instructional strategies of our online program.
  • Identify potential digital content solution providers and schedule product demonstrations.
  • Assemble a cross-functional team to participate in the digital content demonstrations and evaluate proposed solutions.
  • Plan and execute implementation of selected solution (including planning for ample training and professional learning).

Key Action Steps for LMS Implementation and Content Creation/Curation

  • Reaffirm desired outcomes, goals, and instructional strategies of our online program.
  • Identify potential LMS providers and schedule product demonstrations.
  • Assemble a cross-functional team to participate in the LMS demonstrations and evaluate proposed solutions.
  • Plan time (two to three months) for teachers and instructional staff to create or curate digital content to be used within the LMS.


Professional Learning

Online learning is available for all students and will impact many staff members. It is important to identify the roles in your organization that will be involved with online learning. These staff members need individual training, according to their role, to ensure student success. 


  • How will we determine which staff members will be involved in online learning?  
  • What criteria will we use to choose an appropriate mentor?
  • How will we train all staff members for their role in online learning?

Key Action Steps

  • Outline our program’s staff.
  • Determine roles and responsibilities.
  • Develop an SEL support plan.
  • Choose staff members who will be involved with online learning and train accordingly. These could be special education teachers, paraprofessionals, counselors, etc.

Note: Choosing a mentor who is the right-fit is essential. They should be dedicated to the success of their students and be welcoming, supportive, and flexible. Their responsibilities should not be an add-on to their existing role.


Parent & Family Support

Schools connected to what their community and families view as an optimal online learning experience are able to engage family support to help learners succeed in virtual courses. 


  • Have we defined for our staff and students the characteristics of successful online learners and given them opportunities to assess their skills?
  • What do families expect from our online learning program and are we prepared to meet these expectations? 
  • What role will we ask families to play and how will we prepare them? 
  • Who will we train to support all learners and their families before, during and after an online experience? 
  • How will we gather feedback from students/families and act on their suggestions?

Key Action Steps

  • Design a communication plan specifically for families that outlines our online program— the when, where, how and why students learn online. 
  • Document academic, social emotional and special needs support available to learners and families. 
  • Create a feedback loop from families to program staff and act on the feedback given. 



Within any online program, effective communication is essential not only to the success of the program, but to student success. In order to create a supportive online learning environment for students, administrators, mentors, teachers, and parents must work together. Mentors can play a significant role in helping to bridge communication gaps between students, parents, and online instructors. The ways in which school leaders, program coordinators, mentors, and teachers communicate with each other as well as with students and parents must be well-planned to be effective. 


  • Are we clearly communicating the requirements for student eligibility within our program policies? 
  • What roles and responsibilities do we expect your mentors and teachers to fulfill? 
  • How often will our program coordinator check in with teachers and mentors? 
  • Are teachers provided documentation on the requirements for teacher-student communication? 
  • Within our program policies, are guidelines provided to students, parents, and teachers regarding communication frequency, methods, and expectations during an online course?
  • Do students and parents know how to communicate with teachers and mentors? 
  • Will administrators provide teachers feedback based on online classroom observations regarding actions, communications, and student performance? 

Key Action Steps

  • Ensure that roles and responsibilities are clearly communicated to:
    • Mentors
    • Teachers
    • Students
    • Parents
  • Ensure that students and parents understand how to communicate with their instructor(s). 
  • Ensure that online teachers and mentors communicate frequently with students and parents regarding learner progress and strategies for supporting learner engagement.
  • Ensure that instructors have clearly defined expectations as to how often they will communicate with students as well as by what means (other than and in addition to emails). 
  • Student accommodations, modifications, and/or needs are communicated with appropriate school staff in order to ensure student success.
  • General course expectations and grading policies are clearly communicated to both students and parents. 


School Operations

In an online program, many facets of standard school operations change. District and school leaders should consider the following aspects of school operations to meet the needs of their students, staff, and families.


  • What type of schedule is conducive to the success of our online program for both students and staff?
    • How does this fit with your other traditional school schedules?
  • Who else might students and staff need access to (school nurse, instructional support, clerical personnel, etc.)? 
  • Where will students and staff meet, learn, and collaborate if they come onsite?
  • How might students access food to address scarcity issues?
  • How will students with special needs be accommodated?
  • How might the community play a role in supporting our online program (study spaces, resources, etc.)?

Key Action Steps

  • Identify the facets of school operations that might be different for our online program.
  • Identify essential personnel needed to support our online program.
  • Identify the learning spaces for students and staff who come onsite.
  • Identify and communicate expectations of school or district staff related to schedules and work performance during school closures.
  • Develop and execute a plan to provide special education services and accommodations to students for our online program.
  • Conduct outreach to community organizations to partner with to provide comprehensive support to students and families of our online program.


Need More Support?

Visit our “How to Start an Online School Program” page with additional resources.

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