Best Practices for Distance Learning in Higher Education


Without a doubt, COVID-19 has shifted the way we do virtually everything, and one of the primary sectors affected is academic life. This new normal requires a bit of an adjustment, but with the right equipment, it can ultimately optimize learning from afar. Distance learning has the potential to do great things, as it enables students to forge relationships and strengthen bonds between their instructors and fellow peers.


Whether we continue remote learning or integrate it into our daily practices, many are curious about how they can effectively use distance learning software solutions to enhance the classroom setting. Below, we share a few best practices for effective video conferencing in higher education.


Quick Jump


  1. Be Prepared
  2. Have the Right Tools
  3. Establish Proper Online Etiquette
  4. Define Class Rules
  5. Humanize the Environment
  6. Set Aside Time for Office Hours
  7. Consider Recordings Carefully
  8. Prepare for Hybrid Lectures
  9. Practice Beforehand
  10. Decide How You'll Answer Questions


Be Prepared

Nothing appears more unprofessional than being unprepared. An excellent practice for effective distance learning in higher education is to have your materials prepared before class. Just as you would ensure that all materials you plan to distribute in a physical classroom are prepped, do the same for your remote learning courses.

This means posting any assignments, handouts, notes, and supplemental materials and giving access to your students before class. Doing so sets your students up for success as they learn remotely and gives you ample time to address any technical difficulties that may arise. For an additional touch, you can also send your students an email introducing yourself at the beginning of the semester.


Have the Right Tools

Having the right tools at your disposal is key for effective distance learning in higher education. Because not every distance learning application is built the same, it is paramount that you understand both your needs and the limitations of each solution. It isn’t enough to have the right setup, you must also test your equipment to ensure that everything is as you need it for showtime. Time permitting, have someone test the audio, lighting, and wi-fi connection. The day of is certainly not the best day to optimize your setup.

Additionally, if you need collaboration or video conferencing functionality, you can turn to Applied Global Technologies to assist with system design and implementation. For more information about our services, contact our team.


Establish Proper Online Etiquette

For many, distance learning suggests a more laidback atmosphere. However, your virtual classroom is what you make of it. If you want your students to conduct themselves a certain way in your virtual course, you must lead by example. A few ways you can do this include muting yourself until ready to speak, wearing a headset to reduce distractions and outside noise, and dressing appropriately. Some of your students will take note of your behavior and follow suit, whereas others might need you to clearly define your expectations for the classroom.


Define Class Rules

Because a virtual classroom slightly varies from an in-person classroom, the rules for the course should, too. Similar to setting expectations for classroom etiquette, one must clearly define the dos and don’ts of remote classroom learning. A best practice for effective distance learning in higher education is to send your students a list of the rules for attending your course prior to the first day of class. You can also attach a link to a document detailing how each student is expected to behave in the course and requires an e-signature. And after the student has signed, they will receive a link to attend the video conferencing call. Here are a few ideas for rules you can set:

  • Allow time for others to respond.
  • Raise your hand when if wanting to give an answer
  • Keep your mic muted unless called upon
  • Keep your camera on
  • Don’t lay in bed
  • You need to participate


Humanize the Environment

Since everyone engaged in distance learning is talking through a computer, yourself included, it can be hard to feel the same human connection you would in a physical lecture hall. Many people miss the feeling of connecting with others and establishing friendships. To regain some of the lost connection, break down the one-to-many experience by incorporating breakout sessions into your lesson.

These smaller groups encourage healthy discussion which can foster connections. Students can work together to complete a task or project, demonstrating how even when quarantined, we can still come together to create something great. You can also connect to the class a few minutes early to allow yourself time to set up and greet your students as they trickle in.


Set Aside Time for Office Hours

Just because students aren’t able to come to your office, doesn’t mean they wouldn’t still benefit from office hours. You can set aside time for office hours the same way you did with in-person teaching. The only difference is that instead of answering your office door, you’ll be letting students into the videoconference call from a waiting room.

To set up your office hours, just create a video conference call for the duration. Make sure to select the ‘waiting room’ option. When students want to have a one on one with you, they can simply join the call. When you’re ready, you can let them in from the waiting room and carry on like you would with regular office hours. The waiting room ensures that no one interrupts your time with another student, especially if it is discussing sensitive information.


Consider Recordings Carefully

A benefit of many distance learning applications is that you can record the lectures. Before you decide to send the links to all your students, think about the repercussions of doing so. If students can watch classes whenever they want, they might stop attending them live. On the other hand, if they are able to review class recordings when they are studying for a test, they don’t have to take such rigorous notes in class. This allows them to be more present.

If you do decide to send recordings to your students, give them a reason to come to class. You can do this by making attendance part of their grade and make the classes interactive. Bear in mind that even if you see a student is attending your class, if their camera isn’t on, they might not be there. You can require students to answer a question during the lecture or take an online quiz to prove their attendance.


Prepare for Hybrid Lectures

Hybrid classes require a bit more preparation than just in-person or virtual classes do. You need to ensure that you are effectively teaching to and engaging with both audiences. If you write something on the whiteboard, students in your class may be able to see it, but those tuning in at home might have a difficult time if the camera is not angled properly or the board isn’t in focus.

You also need to make sure that you are checking in on your virtual students to answer comments and questions. Don’t forget about them just because they aren’t physically in class.


Practice Beforehand

It’s smart to take some time before your classes to practice with your equipment. If your presentation includes audio and videos, ensure that you know how to set it up properly. Sometimes, virtual students can see the video playing, but the audio is muted. You should also practice sharing your screen, so there’s no disruption moving from one part of the lecture to the next.

If students are presenting during your class, instruct them to practice as well. They should have everything for their presentation pulled up on their screen so all they have to do is share their screen when the time comes. Without this practice and preparation, you might spend precious class time fiddling with the equipment, when you could be teaching.


Decide How You’ll Answer Questions

Asking questions in a virtual class is a little more complicated than a typical in-person lecture. If a student just unmutes themselves and interrupts the class to ask a question, the experience will quickly turn to chaos with students trying to talk over each other. There are a few different ways you can handle questions, but it’s important to establish your method and communicate it at the start of class.

Students can ask questions in a virtual class by typing into the chat or virtually raising their hand with the ‘raise hand’ button. If you choose the chat option, make sure to have the chat open on your screen so you can answer questions as they come in. If students are raising their hands to ask their questions verbally, you’ll need to call on them and instruct them when to mute and unmute their mic. Keep in mind that there will be a slight lag when a student unmutes which can cause disrupt the flow of the class.