10 Things You Should Unlearn Before Starting to Teach Online

unlearn two

1) Unlearn Telling Students to Stop Using their Mobiles in Class.

Online teaching embraces mobile learning. Rather than act as a distraction, mobiles can be amazing tools for interactive learning. In the future, most e-learning will take place via mobile technology, where the mobile phone is actually the computerized key to the classroom. Today, students log into virtual classrooms via mobile phone or iPad, and this technology is evolving as fast as new e-learning methodologies. Read about 50 resources and tips for mobile learning on Shelly Terrell’s blog.

With blended learning methodologies, teachers can also use mobile and iPad technology during class time to organize web quests and all kinds of exciting activities to keep students mindfully on-task, while using traditionally perceived ‘off-task’ tools.

2) Unlearn Telling Students to be Quiet


The only ‘noises’ in the virtual classroom or learning management system are creative, fun ‘noises’ that you want to develop and encourage. In the virtual classroom, this can be creative chat box noise. It can be fun, free chat in the chat box via text messaging during a class – it can be any number of word games, it can even be chanting and ‘chat RAP’ sessions such as I have experienced in class with Fluency MC.

The chat box is a back channel tool that can be exploited so much that the only limit on that is the extent of your enthusiasm and creativity.

We also have audio and video tools so students can speak to you or each other in the virtual classroom.

On learning management systems, noise can be beautifully focused and controlled as students can be given audio/video assignments as well as participate in forum discussion. You can have them make simple videos based on creative language assignments, record their voices with tools such as Audio Boo and Fotobabble, tell stories with tools such as VoiceThread or engage in asynchronous chats with tools such as Voxopop. There is no need to worry about using a variety of tools if they are all readily available on a learning management system with a clear, self-explanatory interface.

3) Unlearn Wallowing in Comfort Zones.

comfort zone

There are no comfort zones in passionate online teaching programmes. There is challenge around every corner. This is fantastic psychologically and physically. Your brain gets used to thinking outside the box, novelty is an every day experience, you are the author of your own courses – no bureaucracy to cling to or cringe from.

4) Unlearn Being Led by the Book

ledbybook Image credit: Biblio archives

The best online courses use powerpoints, prezis, infographics, posters and interactive, visual presentation styles. This means that the coursebook is no longer the main protagonist in the learner experience.

That is not to say that books are counter-productive. On the contrary, I am an avid book worm and think that reading should be a central part of any course. However, the classroom experience online is very visual, kind of like television. Small print, excessive scrolling etc. ruins the experience. With online learning, books should be provided in the courseware or on the learning management system. If you want to read in class, copy excerpts onto a colourful powerpoint.

However, I do believe that authentic literature can and will replace outdated publishing models. I recently participated in a collaborative book experiment with my Edupreneuring colleagues. It was the brainchild of Andre Klein. We devised a way to write naturally and teach English at the same time. What we did was very simple. It is available for free download language at for the next two days and it is number one on the free best seller list on amazon.com. We have many more ideas in this respect. Read about how Andre Klein learnt English so well that he is now a successful author on amazon.com.

5) Unlearn Being in a Bureaucratic Cage.


So many of my colleagues around the world have their hands tied by the red tape their governments wrap their schools up in. They have to follow rigid curricula, follow out of date practices, teach to the test and waste time on excessive paper work.

You’ve got to ‘be the tame, docile, frightened animal who is brave enough to leave the cage’….online teaching is the door left open that the zoo keeper forgot to lock.

Through teaching online, and being in constant touch with teachers from around the world I have come to two conclusions.

One is that most rigid school systems are damaging to teacher and student morale. Working online can give us the freedom to break through the apathy of clueless governments and sick policies.

The second one is that no matter how awful a standard curriculum is, or how many tests must be passed, we can use technology and online teaching to rise above these limitations by being creative with what we have. It’s not what you do, it’s the way that you do it.

6) Unlearn the Fallacy that You are the Fountain of Knowledge.


Now your job is to facilitate learning not pour it into multiple skulls. Students experiment, create, learn, and practice without any dependency crutches. You remove all comfort zones and strait jackets from our students’ bag of tricks. You believe in them and lead them on exciting voyages of discovery.

This happens naturally in online courses. The proverbial safety net of left-brain stagnation has been swept from under your feet. Safety nets are boring. Students brains cannot develop with stunted visions. Brian-friendly approaches become natural online as it’s all about researching, experimenting, expressing, creating and sharing. This is the foundation of any good online course, so there is no turning back. Traditionally ingrained, neural pathways will becom impassable and you will quickly find new trails to blaze.

7) Unlearn your Limiting Beliefs


You may think that you can’t teach without a course book. The truth is that you will soon get hooked on creating materials and nobody will be able to stop you.

You may think that you are a techno-phobe. Nowadays technology is user-friendly – you don’t need to be a computer nerd to teach online.

You may think that classroom dynamics suffer online. In my experience, dynamics can be even better online provided that you sincerely care about communication, rapport and cultural idiosyncracies, both in the online classroom and asynchronously through coursefeeds and learning management systems. In fact, students often share much more online that they would in class. Think of how people communicate on facebook .

Whatever your limiting beliefs may be, the cure is to have a supportive personal learning network and technology that helps you rather than hinder you.

8 ) Unlearn the Experience of Gossipy, Smoky Staff Rooms ;)

Smoky Shape 1

My ‘staffroom’ these days is a network of inspiring, supportive online teachers who are above ‘office politics’ or other narrow perspectives.

To thrive online you’ve got to have a wide open vision and know that you are more than your ego. Sadly, much of education may still be ruled by petty egos, and that certainly chokes off inspiration. There is no glass ceiling for Edupreneurs. No political bias, no socio-linguistic bias, no cultural bias.

In my network online, we celebrate individual and collaborative successes. We share each other’s work and we vote for each other. We buy each other’s books (if they are good). We are connected, yet entirely separate. We have much in common, yet our teaching styles and teaching venues may be worlds apart. We value diversity, support each other, and chat in smoke-free environments, even if our online colleagues are smoking.

9) Unlearn our Control Issues

flower opening Image credit: Joe Ormonde Sheosamh

To teach online you’ve got to have faith. I don’t mean faith that cyber-space will rain down paypal riches, but faith that your teaching is bigger than you are and you’ve got to let go of the reins. Learning online is as natural as the blossoming of a beautiful flower.

Traditional schools always had genius deviants biting at the bit. Most famous geniuses such as Einstein did badly at school because the classroom killed creativity. Now the walls have broken down, information is everywhere. We can funnel our passions into fostering higher level thinking skills in students who must learn to traverse the educational cloud autonomously. We can teach our students how their own minds work, how social learning can expand their horizons, and how mindfulness can help them master the internet rather than be victimized by new frontiers.

To do all of this, we need faith in ourselves, faith in our students, and faith in our instincts and the creative potential that all humans share.

10) Unlearn the Long Commute

long commute

If you are a long-suffering martyr who loves to get stuck in traffic jams, contribute to global warming and air pollution, fume more toxically than your exhaust pipe, or can’t get through the day without some powerful road rage or cursing work–outs, you will have to seriously wean yourself off commuting long distances to work.

This may feel strange at first and the cold turkey may have you reaching for your car keys in the middle of the night, but soon you’ll begin to enjoy the comfort of reaching out to students around the world with the click of a mouse.

If you would like to add more points to the list, please let me know, in comments below. Cheers!


is an online English teacher, writer and blogger who facilitates professional development online. She uses brain-friendly techniques to help students and teachers around the world. She designs educational materials, develops courses, writes resource papers and publishes ebooks. Her work is the result of much research into the psychology of learning, as well as hands-on experience with multi-media technology.


  1. Moving.
    Empowering …
    Thank you, Sylvia. [You absolutely deserve Jason’s “SKILLvia!” nickname.]

  2. I believe that is among the so much vital info for me.
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  3. datEnglish Says: August 20, 2013 at 3:46 am

    Hi Sylvia,
    Excellent work! Thanks for sharing what teaching online is about. And I can’t agree more on saying good bye to text books, once you start to dig inside to unveil your creativity and your students’ own creativity as well, I feel it’s a one way road.
    Thanks again

  4. Sieg Holle Says: August 16, 2013 at 11:32 pm

    Excellent -thank you for helping everyone break out of their box

  5. Marie-Brigitte Souci Says: August 16, 2013 at 7:56 am

    Thank you for this article, it precisely sums up how most people feel and where the schools, businesses and lifestyles are leading towards. This is a real change and is best to go along with it than against it. I am so glad to have embraced the change and am moving along happily.
    Kind regards,
    Marie-Brigitte Souci
    Melbourne – Australia

  6. Thanks al lot for such an interesting “Unlearning Decalogue” It will help me a lot now when I’m starting to teaching online

  7. Tomas Jokar Says: August 6, 2013 at 12:06 am

    New opinions in teaching are novel routs to ambiguous horizon.

  8. One important aspect of online teaching and learning, which to me is one and the same, is credit. Teachers and students should be open about ideas, but remember that every idea has a mother and father. So kudus to Sylvia for rewarding her sources.

  9. Sarah M Howell Says: August 4, 2013 at 5:16 am


  10. Robert McCall Says: August 3, 2013 at 8:54 pm

    Oh Syvia – that is a wonderful article. Thank you.

  11. wonderful blog post and so true! I hope you don’t mind, but I’m going to blog about this blog on my personal blog, that’s been lying fallow since May because I’m having so much fun blogging over here. I’ll send you the link. Such good advice!

  12. Jason R Levine Says: August 3, 2013 at 1:11 pm

    It is truly fantastic, Sylvia. Passionate teachers who wish to REACH when they teach: ONWARD!

  13. Neha Garg Says: August 3, 2013 at 12:17 pm

    Its awesome and inspiring…I am an English Trainer and never thought of peeping into online teaching before going through this mind changing article…Thanks a lot for making my mind…

  14. Naeem Nowparast Says: August 2, 2013 at 11:59 pm

    absolutely useful . .. thank u

    I Shared it ….

  15. Love the images, Sylvia. Where do you get them? Thanks.

  16. Manuelle Rochadi Says: August 2, 2013 at 12:22 pm

    Thanks for allowing me reading your blog, Sylvia… waiting for the next article of yours. Regards

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