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REL Midwest Ask A REL Response

Teacher Workforce

November 2020


What research is available on virtual learning and teacher working conditions or teacher well-being?


Following an established Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Midwest protocol, we conducted a search for research reports, descriptive studies, and literature reviews on virtual learning and teacher working conditions or teacher well-being. For details on the databases and sources, key words, and selection criteria used to create this response, please see the Methods section at the end of this memo.

Below, we share a sampling of the publicly accessible resources on this topic. References are listed in alphabetical order, not necessarily in order of relevance. The search conducted is not comprehensive; other relevant references and resources may exist. For each reference, we provide an abstract, excerpt, or summary written by the study’s author or publisher. We have not evaluated the quality of these references, but provide them for your information only.

Research References

Archambault, L., & Crippen, K. (2009). K–12 distance educators at work: Who’s teaching online across the United States. Journal of Research on Technology in Education, 41(4), 363–391.

From the ERIC abstract: “Due to the current proliferation of virtual schools, a growing number of teachers are facing the challenge of teaching online. This study examines the demographic nature and experiences of K-12 online teachers. Findings show that online teachers are experienced in the traditional classroom, as indicated by their years of experience and the level of their advanced degrees. These teachers seek a better means to engage with students, a greater sense of community, and the ability to teach without the constraints of traditional teachings, such as a bell schedule or issues of classroom management. Data also suggest that aspects of teaching online, such as the number of classes/students, student motivation, and lack of support, can be overwhelming at times. Through this study, we are able to gain a better understanding of the educators themselves, including specific advantages and challenges of teaching in an online environment.”

Archambault, L., & Larson, J. (2015). Pioneering the digital age of instruction: Learning from and about K-12 online teachers. Journal of Online Learning Research, 1(1), 49–83.

From the ERIC abstract: “The purpose of this study was threefold: (1) to examine the needs of K-12 online teachers, including the dominant factors and career paths that influenced their decision to teach online; (2) to discover what online teachers viewed as the most important attributes an online teacher must have to be highly effective; and (3) to highlight the nature of the preparation/training K-12 online teachers received and found to be most helpful in fulfilling their positions. A web-based survey, including questions in both open and closed form, was used to gather data from 325 participants. Based on the findings, teachers working with K-12 students online are self-motivated, place a high value on learning and education, and enjoy the challenge and process of using technology for teaching. However, only a limited number of teacher preparation programs address any aspect of the methods and techniques required for teaching online, and even fewer offer online field placement opportunities for pre-service teachers. For the most part, current online teachers were found to have received training after graduation, while working in the field. Further research is needed to specifically define and empirically validate the methods and techniques required for effective online teaching at the K-12 level so that programs can be further developed to effectively prepare future K-12 online teachers.”

Borup, J., & Stevens, M. A. (2016). Factors influencing teacher satisfaction at an online charter school. Journal of Online Learning Research, 2(1), 3–22.

From the ERIC abstract: “As K-12 online programs mature, it is increasingly important that they work to retain their effective teachers. However, there is little research that has examined teacher satisfaction in K-12 online learning environments. Our analysis of 22 interviews with 11 teachers at an online charter school identified three primary factors that influenced teacher satisfaction. First, teachers enjoyed having flexibility in when, where, and how they taught. The use of open educational resources was especially important because it enabled teachers to make modifications to meet student needs. Second, teachers were most satisfied when they were provided with time to interact individually with students. Third, teachers appeared most satisfied when their efforts positively impacted student performance. Similarly, teachers appreciated administrative support that increased teachers’ capacity to impact student performance. We also discuss possible tensions that school administrators may experience as they attempt to balance these factors with other—sometimes competing—forces.”

Jacobs, P., Zweig, J., Stafford, E., Nordine, D., Nickels, M., Kielkucki, M., & Nagel, G. (2016). Meeting the needs of online teachers: Training and challenges. [Webinar]. U.S. Department of Education, Institution of Education Sciences, Regional Educational Laboratory Midwest.

From the IES description: “REL Midwest and its Virtual Education Research Alliance hosted a webinar to explore the alignment of virtual education professional development with the challenges and preferences expressed by teachers.”

Hassel, B. C., & Hassel, E. A. (2012). Teachers in the age of digital instruction. Washington, DC: Thomas B. Fordham Institute.

From the ERIC abstract: “As digital tools proliferate and improve, solid instruction in the basics will eventually become “flat”—available anywhere globally—and the elements of excellent teaching that are most difficult for technology to replace will increasingly differentiate student outcomes. As a result, teacher effectiveness may matter even more than it does today, as the selectivity and prevalence of the teachers-in-charge who will leverage technology—and be leveraged by it—will be the distinguisher of learning outcomes among schools and nations. But in order to allow for such a drastic reshaping of the education system in the U.S., myriad policies affecting teachers—from professional development to compensation—will need to be revamped. This paper outlines how.”

Larkin, I. M., Brantley-Dias, L., & Lokey-Vega, A. (2016). Job satisfaction, organizational commitment, and turnover intention of online teachers in the K-12 setting. Online Learning, 20(3), 26–51.

From the ERIC abstract: “The purpose of this study was to measure and explore factors influencing K-12 online teachers’ job satisfaction, organizational commitment, and turnover intentions. Using Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (1954), Herzberg’s Two-Factor Theory of Satisfaction (1959, 1968), Meyer and Allen’s measure of Organizational Commitment (1997), and Fishbein and Ajzen’s Theory of Reasoned Action and Planned Behavior (1975), this mixed-methods study was conducted in public, private, charter, for-profit, and not-for-profit K-12 online schools in a single Southeastern state. The researchers used a sequential explanatory design by collecting and analyzing quantitative data and then qualitative data in two consecutive phases. Phase I included a 74-item survey with responses from 108 participants. Results revealed that K-12 online teachers have a moderate to high level of job satisfaction, which corresponds to their affective commitment to their organization and their intent to remain teaching in the online setting in the immediate, intermediate, and long-term future. Participants identified flexibility, meeting student needs, technical support, and their professional community as the most satisfying aspects of their jobs. Compensation, workload, missing face-to-face interaction with students, and unmotivated students were identified as least satisfying aspects of their work. In Phase II, eight qualitative focus group interviews were conducted and analyzed using constant comparative methods; these findings confirmed and illuminated quantitative results from Phase I. This study informs K-12 online school leaders, policymakers, and researchers of statistically significant variables that influence K-12 online teacher satisfaction, commitment, and retention.”

Larkin, I. M., Lokey-Vega, A., & Brantley-Dias, L. (2018). Retaining K-12 online teachers: A predictive model for K-12 online teacher turnover. Journal of Online Learning Research, 4(1), 53–85.

From the ERIC abstract: “The purpose of this study was to measure and explore factors influencing K-12 online teachers’ turnover intentions, with job satisfaction and organizational commitment serving as moderating variables. Using Fishbein and Ajzen’s Theory of Reasoned Action and Planned Behavior (1975), this study was conducted in public, private, charter, for-profit, and not-for-profit K-12 online schools in a single Southeastern state. Using a quantitative survey design, the study included responses from 108 participants. The results revealed that K-12 online teachers intend to remain teaching in the online setting in the immediate, intermediate, and long-term future. A logistic regression model indicated schedule flexibility, mentoring, number of students, number of years teaching experience, and affective commitment are predictors of online teacher’s likelihood of turnover. These results inform K-12 online school leaders who seek to retain new hires of statistically significant variables that influence online teacher retention.”

Trammell, B. A., & LaForge, C. (2017). Common challenges for instructors in large online courses: Strategies to mitigate student and instructor frustration. Journal of Educators Online, 14(1).

From the ERIC abstract: “Teaching in the online classroom is becoming commonplace for instructors as universities seek to grow enrollments and tap into unexplored markets. Many instructors, however, are often unprepared for the nuances of distance education and apprehensive about making the transition to online learning. This article aims to discuss common challenges for instructors of high-enrollment online courses (70+ students). Course design and instructional effectiveness are some of the most significant challenges facing instructors tasked with managing large online courses and those challenges align with the areas students commonly consider as necessary for successful online delivery. Using examples from large online classes and the existing research on best practices in online education, ways to minimize those challenges will be discussed. These suggestions include recommendations for assignment construction, including the use of group work, collaborative assignments, e-portfolios, as well as for planning course design, including consistent deadlines and course structure. These suggestions are aimed at mitigating student and instructor frustration with high enrollment online classes.”

Zweig, J., Stafford, E., Clements, M., & Pazzaglia, A. M. (2015). Professional experiences of online teachers in Wisconsin: Results from a survey about training and challenges (REL 2016-110). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Regional Educational Laboratory Midwest.

From the ERIC abstract: “REL Midwest, in partnership with the Midwest Virtual Education Research Alliance, analyzed the results of a survey administered to Wisconsin Virtual School teachers about the training in which they participated related to online instruction, the challenges they encounter while teaching online, and the type of training they thought would help them address those challenges. REL Midwest researchers and Virtual Education Research Alliance members collaborated to develop the survey based on items from the Going Virtual! survey (Dawley et al., 2010; Rice & Dawley, 2007; Rice et al., 2008). Wisconsin Virtual School administered the survey to its 54 teachers, and 49 (91 percent) responded to the survey. The responses of the 48 teachers who indicated that they taught an online course during the 2013/14 or 2014/15 school year were analyzed for the report. Results indicate that all Wisconsin Virtual School teachers reported participating in training or professional development related to online instruction and that more teachers reported participating in training that occurred while teaching online than prior to teaching online or during preservice education. The teachers most frequently reported challenges related to students’ perseverance and engagement and indicated that they preferred unstructured professional development to structured professional development to help them address those challenges. Further research is needed to determine what types of professional development and training are most effective in improving teaching practice, especially related to student engagement and perseverance.”


Keywords and Search Strings

The following keywords and search strings were used to search the reference databases and other sources:

  • Online courses

  • “Teaching conditions” “blended learning”

  • “Teaching conditions” “online courses”

Databases and Search Engines

We searched ERIC for relevant resources. ERIC is a free online library of more than 1.6 million citations of education research sponsored by the Institute of Education Sciences (IES). Additionally, we searched IES and Google Scholar.

Reference Search and Selection Criteria

When we were searching and reviewing resources, we considered the following criteria:

  • Date of the publication: References and resources published over the last 15 years, from 2005 to present, were included in the search and review.

  • Search priorities of reference sources: Search priority is given to study reports, briefs, and other documents that are published or reviewed by IES and other federal or federally funded organizations.

  • Methodology: We used the following methodological priorities/considerations in the review and selection of the references: (a) study types—randomized control trials, quasi-experiments, surveys, descriptive data analyses, literature reviews, policy briefs, and so forth, generally in this order, (b) target population, samples (e.g., representativeness of the target population, sample size, volunteered or randomly selected), study duration, and so forth, and (c) limitations, generalizability of the findings and conclusions, and so forth.
This memorandum is one in a series of quick-turnaround responses to specific questions posed by educational stakeholders in the Midwest Region (Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Wisconsin), which is served by the Regional Educational Laboratory (REL Midwest) at American Institutes for Research. This memorandum was prepared by REL Midwest under a contract with the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES), Contract ED-IES-17-C-0007, administered by American Institutes for Research. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of IES or the U.S. Department of Education nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.