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Teaching remotely: introduction to synchronous learning

This week we begin by looking at the role of synchronous teaching approaches. We’ll then explore how formative assessment, self-assessment and independent learning relates to remote teaching, before concluding with approaches that are specific to practical science.

Synchronous learning: live online lessons

Teachers presenting remote lessons frequently appear on social media and in the news, and that can feel like an expectation is being set. However, a live online lesson is a significant undertaking. Quality of teaching is more important than the mode of delivery (EEF, 2020), and considerations about access to technology also need to factor into any decisions about using synchronous approaches.

Online lessons and technology

Live online lessons often aim to replicate ‘in classroom’ teaching where both teacher and students are together at the same place and time, undertaking tasks simultaneously and sharing understanding. This typically involves a platform or tool with: live streamed sound of the teacher, optionally with webcam; slides to present content; text chat for the whole group; screen-sharing to demonstrate software.

These tools allow content to be presented, explained verbally and visually, and immediate text-based interaction between students, the teacher, and each other. Most tools enable students to talk to each other also using their microphone, though this requires agreed standards of behaviour and may be a key reason why this may not be appropriate for all age groups.

Some platforms specifically designed for learning also include recording capability; features that prevent students’ use of microphones and webcams; polls or quizzes to assess student learning; or other interactions that enable students to share their responses or convey a reaction, such as agree/disagree.

Examples of synchronous tools commonly available at whole-school level include Google Meet and Microsoft Teams, where both teachers and students have an institutional account to access a secure space.


Whilst live online lessons are more social and allow immediate responses to students, there are several practical limitations which affect their use:

  • Internet connection reliability and speed, particularly if the connection is shared.
  • Device availability for you as a teacher and your students; features not available if using mobile devices.
  • Mobile data allowances, if no fixed line broadband is suitable.
  • Physical space without distraction to deliver or pay attention to the lesson.
  • Appropriate time allocated, considering demands from other subjects and students’ (and your) family circumstances.

What’s the purpose of a live online lesson?

To start this week, we’d like you to think about the purpose of a live online lesson, with a focus on enabling students to meet learning outcomes.

In the comments below, suggest two reasons for live teaching online, and two reasons why synchronous lessons may not work for your teaching context.

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This article is from the free online course:

Teaching for Home Learning: Secondary Science

National STEM Learning Centre