Online Can’t Mimic Face-to-Face Learning

The irony is that this video was created for a class project. Students will do incredible work if the task is engaging.

You can’t just “upload” your class.

As I scroll through teacher social media I keep seeing posts: “How do I have students take notes virtually? Does anyone have a good powerpoint on _________ that they can share? Who has a PDF of the textbook? How do you grade ___________(rote activity) online? What is your favorite app for tracking student engagement.” And the horrible behavior guidelines for Zoom that are not only controlling, but invasive of student privacy.

Please don’t start your remote or hybrid learning thinking that you can mimic the face-to-face experience. This is especially true if you run a traditional, teacher-centered classroom. You can’t “upload” your face-to-face lessons to your school’s LMS and be done. Don’t plan on video or asynchronous lectures and slides with notes, expecting every student to watch them and excel. You can’t just scan worksheets to PDF and ask students to print at home.

All of the social media requests from teachers basically asking for canned resources shows me that we have a long way to go pedagogically. Many teachers are not student-centered face-to-face and are trying to replicate the only thing that they know online.

So here’s 6 things you shouldn’t expect from remote learning and what to do instead.

Go as fast

Everything is going to take longer than in school. Logging in, introducing the technology, teaching, building relationships, and even attendance. But think about how many things are better done slowly: crockpots, BBQ, and walks outside.

No sense stressing, accept the slower pace. One quarantine lesson is that it is more human to take our time and focus on the significant people in our lives. It’s not healthy living every moment at a frantic pace. Plan extra time for everything and center on your students, not completing tasks.

Cover the same amount of standards/content

First of all, let’s just delete the word “cover” from education. Curriculum is bloated with too much content already. Since we are moving slower, then we need to focus on less material. Winnow your class down to the essential standards that are fundamental to the discipline or will be needed as prerequisites in following classes. Instead of a shallow drive through a zillion topics, go deep on a few and concentrate on developing the skills, not just memorizing facts.

Run a normal bell schedule

I can’t believe how many districts are trying to do this. They think that kids are going to engage sitting in online meetings for 30 hours a week? This is ludicrous and the school leaders are out of their minds. It is not going to work for any amount of time. Online meetings are exhausting for adults and students alike. I think 2-3 hours a day is maximum for secondary students.

Instead assign students projects and hands on activities to do throughout the day such as science investigations outside, choice reading, and PBL. Kids don’t need to be “on camera” to be learning. Teachers should have regular office hours to consult and help students as needed, but requiring students to sit through their daily schedule online is asinine.

Take attendance by simulating butts in seats

Similar to above, we can’t take normal procedures like attendance and shift wholesale to online. I even heard one teacher say that their district is asking parents to keep track that their child is online and verify it. If you post videos that for asynchronous viewing and your student views it at 1am, were they absent? If older students provide childcare for siblings and “attend” your class in the evening were they absent?

Let’s find creative ways to check in with kids and relax outdated policies. Let’s assign credit based on the actual proof of learning of the content of the course, rather than whether or not they were physically present in front of a camera at any given time.

Micromanage student behavior

Don’t make a bunch of rules to regulate students–you can’t control participation, distractions, what kids are wearing, where they are, or if their eyes are on the screen the whole time. Quit trying to control students! Who cares if they are in PJs or eating breakfast. At least if they spill, you won’t have to clean it up! I saw one system set up for points if students were on time to the Zoom call, stayed the whole time, and had their eyes on the screen 95% of the time. I am not sure how you even measure that!

Instead of worrying about student behavior, build community. Many students have experienced trauma through the double tragedies of Covid and the murder of George Floyd. Remote learning adds another layer of stress for them and places our most disadvantaged learners at an even greater risk. Get to know your students deeply. Foster SEL Competencies. Let your class overflow with love, grace, and caring.

Be boring

Those powerpoints and videos of you lecturing aren’t going to cut it. Kids are going to tune you out and play a game on their phone. Kids will find ways to copy your worksheet answers and shortcut your lectures. They will cheat on assessments and basically learn hardly anything at all.

Instead challenge kids with a project that involves movement and hands on activities. Create Project Based Learning lessons around themes in your content. Give kids design challenges to motivate them.

The final products could be digital or a picture or video (Flipgrid is an excellent tool) of a physical product. Worried about supplies? Have students upcycle from their junk drawers and recycling bins. Prototypes can be made from just about anything. Even while social distancing students can still connect with community experts and family members through video calls.


Of course, I have been arguing for years, that these kind of practices should end in face-to-face classes too. But it is obvious that they are still the dominant pattern in many classrooms. The difference with online classes is that cheating is easier and teachers really can’t control students when they check out. A subset of kids who care about grades and achievement (or their parents do) will do whatever is asked of them, but many kids are going to quit playing the game of school.

We can do better. Kids deserve better! Let’s find ways to make online learning as personable and engaging as possible!

Let’s Connect

Questions? Interested in SEL and PBL workshops or consulting on remote learning?  Connect with me at or @mikekaechele.

2 thoughts on “Online Can’t Mimic Face-to-Face Learning

  1. Donna

    Great article! I do have a comment about attendance taking. Our state has made it so that we need to mark students present daily even if online. So, if you are doing a multi-tiered project that doesn’t have submissions daily, students would/could get marked absent. This becomes a big deal because of count. We need to have 75% attendance for count. I know they made that a little more lenient this year, but it still makes keeping attendance important.

    Good teaching is still being stifled by bad policy, unfortunately.  

    1. Michael Kaechele Post author

      Teachers definitely need to meet state and district requirements for attendance, but my hope is that we can start to shift some of these poor policies to competency-based. In Michigan is the attendance requirement once a day or once per class? Even if schools have the flexibility that students can check in whenever they want during the day, that is progress. I am hearing schools running normal bell schedules while students are at home and expecting kids to sit on Zoom for 6 hours with tardies and absences. That is ridiculous!

      Long term, I hope that we see a shift at the state policy level of high school credit being based on completion of competencies, rather than perfect attendance (as a factor).

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