An eTeacher’s Perspective on Online Learning

To develop effective techniques for early childhood professionals to engage in learning opportunities through the use of technology, eTeachers use the same strategies and knowledge they acquired from teaching in traditional settings and adult learning environments. Potential students and faculty will learn from this article how eTeachers facilitate online learning and create a community in which early childhood professionals connect and learn from their peers. The article addresses the following topics: what is an eTeacher; how do they foster a community of learning; how do they keep online courses simple for eLearning early childhood professionals who may have limited familiarity with technology; how do eTeachers connect with their students to provide ongoing help and support.

The following is an excerpt from .
Head Start Bulletin

by Chip Donohue

Teachers who take steps into eTeaching can use all they have learned about their teaching style, early childhood education, effective adult learning, and the learning styles and needs of students. Through eTeaching, they also can create another effective way for early childhood professionals to access education and professional development.

Technology is available to serve the goals of the adult educator, not the other way around.

Online Learning and Early Childhood Professionals

Technology is one tool for teacher education and professional development— but not the only tool. It is not meant to replace the traditional face-to-face classroom. The goals for both methods of instruction are the same—to improve teacher knowledge and performance in the classroom and to enhance child outcomes and family support. Online training makes education and training more accessible to early childhood professionals. It is:

  • Another way of getting courses to students _
  • A convenient way for working professionals to continue their education
  • An anytime and anywhere learning environment that never closes
  • A way to give a "voice" to some students who may not speak up in class but might online
  • An effective way to enable exchanging ideas and information between learners
  • A powerful way to create a dynamic community of learners

What is an eTeacher?

The job of an eTeacher is to use enabling technology and effective distance learning methods to remove the barriers and build on the strengths of eLearning. The teacher must be:

  • Intentional in choices and
  • Always keep the early childhood adult learner and content at the center of the process to design, develop and deliver eLearning.

Many online instructors comment on the importance of serving as a tour guide and being an active participant in the online learning community themselves. ETeachers plan and prepare the environment and then invite the students to join online. They can point out interesting places and things along the way while keeping key concepts and course materials in view.

A well-organized and well-managed online classroom is both an empowering place to learn, and a place to contribute to the online community. Online learners often report that they felt they had more one-on-one attention from their instructor than in face-to-face courses. There are some similarities and some differences between eTeaching and classroom teaching. ETeachers can:

  • Participate in the discussions and learn alongside students as they share their knowledge, skills and experience.
  • Have a chance to really "listen" to each student and to get to know their voice. ETeachers may have more of an opportunity to "listen" since the online environment can promote communication.
  • Spend time in a managerial role keeping everyone and everything on track and working well. This is a crucial role for all teachers, particularly those online.
Student looking at monitor

Creating Community

When asked, early childhood professionals express a strong preference for face-to-face training and courses. They like to get together with others and share ideas, and they tend to be skeptical and cautious about technology as an appropriate means of delivering training about the art and science of teaching young children. They wonder if it is possible to learn how to hug and hold a baby online, and they raise serious concerns about being isolated from the instructor and other students.

The key to success in an online course for early childhood professionals is to create a sense of community that encourages active participation, meaningful contributions, and an open exchange of ideas and resources in a safe and friendly environment. It is important for the eTeacher to be intentional about community-building goals and explicit about efforts to create connections. Some strategies for building community include:

  • Using an online "Ice Breaker" to help the students get to know one another,
  • Building a personal relationship with each student through responses to assignments and journals,
  • Providing a variety of opportunities for interaction—instructor student and student-student,
  • Creating opportunities for students to exchange information and ideas, and exchange resources,
  • Monitoring the discussions and managing the tone of the conversation,
  • Modeling effective discussion skills and good "netiquette,"
  • Identifying the link between students' comments, ideas, roles, responsibilities, backgrounds, and programs,
  • Emphasizing collaborative learning—discussion forums, chat rooms, student hosted guided tours, resource sharing, group projects, case studies, and individual and group work posted for review and discussion, and
  • Offering expert hosted discussions—to bring the world of early care and education to the students.

Keeping Online Courses Simple

If the eLearning students are like many other early childhood students, they will be low tech/high touch, and they will begin the online course with minimal technology experience and skills. They may also be new to going online, navigating through a Web site, using email, adding attachments, and participating in online discussions—all essential skills for eLearners that they will have to gain while learning online. So, teachers can keep it simple by providing:

  • Easy access to the course Web site,
  • Consistent navigation options throughout the course—hard to get lost but easy to get "home,"
  • One click access to "help" from anywhere in the course,
  • Straightforward and intuitive ways to find and use course materials, readings and resources,
  • Easy to use tools like e-mail, the drop box, the grade book, and discussion forums,
  • Slow and progressive introduction to the tools and areas of the course—new online learners get overwhelmed by all the choices, unfamiliar words, new tools and required skills just to participate, much less to learn the course content, and
  • Opportunities to gain lasting technology skills while learning course content.

Hands Up Online—Is Help Available?

Everyone will need help at first—ongoing help and support is critical to the success of an eTeacher and to the quality and effectiveness of the online experience for the eLearners. Online learning can be an empowering experience if the students feel supported and have easy access to assistance. Teachers should make it easy to get help:

  • Make sure help is never more than "one click" away when students are online.
  • Ensure the help they can get is actually helpful. An adult learner with minimal technology skills may have little success in understanding the recommendations of the computer expert at the campus Help Desk.
  • Develop some simple help tools and resources.
  • Model that it is OK for students and teachers to ask for help.
  • Check in with the class and with individual students regularly and ask if they need help—it isn't always easy to "see" that raised hand online.
  • Encourage students to share "solutions" they've gotten from the Help Desk or figured out on their own.
  • Link new online learners with experienced students who are often the most helpful and supportive since they've "been there, done that."

ETeachers can open the door to effective online learning. By offering support, community, new experiences, and early childhood education in this new realm, they can create a new world of possibilities for early childhood professionals.


Donohue, C., S. Fox & M. LaBonte. 2004. eLearning: What Our Students Can Teach Us. Child Care Information Exchange, 79-82. Available at

Donohue, C. 2003. It's a Small World After All (Part 2): Creating Learning Communities Online. Child Care Information Exchange, 80-85. Available at

Chickering, A. W. & S.C. Ehrmann. 1996. Implementing the Seven Principles: Technology as Lever. American Association for Higher Education. Available at

Graham, C., K. Cagiltay, B. Lim, J. Craner & T. M. Duffy. 2001. Seven Principles of Effective Teaching: A Practical Lens for Evaluating Online Courses. The Technology Source. Available at

LaBonte, M. 2003. Understanding Students' Experiences in Online Distance Education: A Qualitative Case Study of Two Courses in a Postbaccalaureate Professional Certification Program in Child Care Program Administration. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

Pelz, B. 2004. (My) Three Principles of Effective Online Pedagogy. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Network (JALN), 8 (3). Available at [PDF, 967KB].

Salmon, G. 2002. E-tivities: The Key to Active Online Learning. London: Kogan Page.


eCommunity and eTeachers info:

Illinois Online Network, University of Illinois:

What Makes a Successful Online Facilitator:

Learning Styles and the Online Environment href="

Instructional Strategies for Online Courses:

Chip Donohue was the Director of Distance Learning at the Erikson Institute.

"An eTeacher’s Perspective on Online Learning." Donohue, Chip. Professional Development. Head Start Bulletin #79. HHS/ACF/OHS. 2007. English.

Last Reviewed: June 2014

Last Updated: March 17, 2015