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Ask a REL Response

Coaching online instruction — May 2020


Could you provide information on how to coach instructors who are teaching online, including any measures or protocols?


Following an established REL West research protocol, we conducted a search for research reports and resources on how to coach instructors who are teaching online. The sources included ERIC, Google Scholar, and PsychInfo. (For details, please see the methods section at the end of this memo.)

We have not evaluated the quality of references and the resources provided in this response. We offer them only for your reference. Also, we searched for references through the most commonly used sources of research, but the list is not comprehensive and other relevant references and resources may exist. References are listed in alphabetical order, not necessarily in order of relevance. Access to the full articles is free unless indicated otherwise.

Research References

Baker, J. D., Redfield, K. L., & Tonkin, S. (2006). Collaborative coaching and networking for online instructors. Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration, 9(4), 1–6. Abstract available from and full text available from

From the abstract: “This paper presents a model of professional development using collaborative coaching and networking which has been used to improve online instructor effectiveness. Components of the model are presented in the context of a ten-year-old faculty development program at a private university in the Southeast. A collaborative coaching checklist is also provided.”

Black, E., DiPietro, M., Ferdig, R., & Polling, N. (2009). Developing a survey to measure best practices of K–12 online instructors. Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration, 12(1). Abstract available from and full text available from

From the abstract: “Limited data exists related to teaching and learning in K–12 virtual schools. This paper builds upon a recent study related to successful practices of K–12 online instructors. The paper describes the utilization of a survey built upon qualitatively derived best practices of K–12 online instructors and provides the opportunity to relate these practices to teacher’s perceived professional development needs. Outcomes indicate that virtual school instructors identify online presence, diligent student monitoring and an enjoyment of technology among factors that contribute to virtual school instructor success. Instructors also identified face-to-face student mentors as a key component for success. Respondents felt that they would benefit from professional development focused on technological skills, content-based technological integration and evaluative resources for online learners. The paper concludes with a call for additional research to refine and implement the assessment.”

Natale, C. F. (2012). Teaching in the world of virtual K–12 learning: Challenges to ensure educator quality. Princeton, NJ: Educational Testing Service (ETS). Full text available from

From the Introduction: “This report presents the results of a six-month research project examining virtual K–12 teaching and learning. It was first necessary to understand the current state of K–12 virtual education across the country: various contexts and dimensions of online learning, various categories and models of online delivery systems and recent and projected trends in online learning. From there, one can begin to examine how teaching in an online environment differs from ‘traditional’ or ‘brick-and-mortar’ classrooms, what key skills or knowledge are needed for effective online teaching and if and how higher education is preparing teachers for the new world of virtual K–12 learning. Next came an in-depth examination of what was going on in the states: what states have significant virtual K–12 learning initiatives? What specific requirements do states have to ensure the quality of their online teaching force? How many full- and part-time online teachers are there? What interest do states have in pursuing endorsements specific to online teachers and/or an assessment of online teaching competencies? The results of this study do not produce simple answers, as the world of virtual K–12 education has been described by several individuals as the ‘wild, wild west’; that is, a largely unregulated, fluid and rapidly changing environment influenced by factors beyond the current jurisdiction of many state departments of education. Nonetheless, as this report will show, there is a growing recognition on the part of many state agency personnel that, while policies often lag behind practice, the issue of teacher quality remains critically important, and attention is gradually shifting to focus on such a critical matter.”

Northcote, M., Gosselin, K. P., Reynaud, D., Kilgour, P., & Anderson, M. (2015). Navigating learning journeys of online teachers: Threshold concepts and self-efficacy. Issues in Educational Research, 25(3), 319–344. Abstract available from and full text available from

From the abstract: “Higher education institutions are developing more and more online courses to supplement and augment the courses they offer in on-campus modes. In fact, some universities now offer the majority of their courses through online contexts. However, for academic staff who design and teach these courses, the transition from teaching on-campus courses to teaching in online learning environments is not always speedy or smooth. Academic teaching staff require support, mentoring and professional learning programs to develop their existing capacities and apply them to an online context. This paper reports on Phase 2 of a research project, which takes into consideration the cumulative effect of tailored professional development measures implemented in response to findings in Phase 1. The three aims were: 1) to identify the threshold concepts that teaching staff develop when they learn about online learning and teaching; 2) to compare self-efficacy levels and threshold concepts of staff who are experienced or inexperienced in online learning and teaching; and 3) to develop customized professional learning programs and resources to extend the online teaching and course design skills of academic staff. Findings from the study are outlined by identifying threshold concepts, threshold attitudes and self-efficacy levels of online educators and the implications these findings have for designing professional development programs in higher education contexts.”

Schulte, M. (2009). Efficient evaluation of online course facilitation: The “quick check” policy measure. Journal of Continuing Higher Education, 57(2), 110–116. Abstract available from and full text available for a fee from

From the abstract: “In distance education and online learning, the exponential growth of programs and the need for instructors has forced proper analysis of instructor teaching and learning to the background. To meet the immediate needs of students and technical operations, distance learning institutions often fail to evaluate how well instructors follow needed online policies and online best practices, and do not provide general mentoring or remediation for instructors. One task confronting many distance learning programs is to properly evaluate a large number of instructors in a short time. Another task is to then use the completed evaluations to promote professional development. Park University’s College for Distance Learning (CDL) has implemented a Quick Check evaluation mechanism to gauge online instructor facilitation. The Quick Check is an elemental online course facilitation measure that efficiently and objectively evaluates online instructors within their online classroom environment. In this article, the author reviews relevant literature, describes the Quick Check process, and presents research on its effectiveness in increasing facilitation of online courses.”

Additional Organizations to Consult

The Aurora Institute –

From the website: “The Aurora Institute, formerly known as the North American Council for Online Learning (NACOL) (2002–2010) or International Association for K–12 Online Learning (iNACOL) (2010–2019), is an international K–12 nonprofit organization focused on enhancing K–12 online learning quality.”

REL West note: The Aurora Institute has four resources that are relevant to this request:

Davis, N., & Rose, R. (2007). Professional development for virtual schooling and online learning. Vienna, VA: North American Council for Online Learning. Full text available from

North American Council for Online Learning. (2010). National standards for quality online teaching. Vienna, VA: Author. Full text available from

Wicks, M. (2010). A national primer on K–12 online learning version 2. Vienna, VA: International Association for K–12 Online Learning. Full text available from

Wortmann, K., Cavanaugh, C., Kennedy, K., Beldarrain, Y., Letourneau, T., & Zygouris-Coe, V. (2008). Online teacher support programs: Mentoring and coaching models. Vienna, VA: North American Council for Online Learning. Full text available from

Florida Virtual School (FLVS) –

From the website: “Florida Virtual School (FLVS) is an established leader in developing and providing virtual K–12 education solutions to students all over Florida, the U.S. and the world. A nationally recognized e-Learning model and recipient of numerous awards, FLVS was founded in 1997 and was the country’s first, state-wide Internet-based public high school. Today, FLVS serves students in grades K–12 and provides a variety of custom solutions for schools and districts to meet student needs.”

REL West note: FLVS has one resource that is relevant to this request:

Florida Virtual School. (2018). Florida Virtual School instructional personnel evaluation system. Orlando, FL: Author. Full text available from

International Society of Technology in Education (ISTE) –

From the website: “The International Society of Technology in Education (ISTE) is a nonprofit organization with more than 85,000 members. ISTE provides services, including evaluation, to improve teaching, learning, and school leadership through the use of technology.”

REL West note: The ISTE has one resource that is relevant to this request:

Lowes, S. (2007). Professional development for online teachers. In C. Cavanaugh & R. Blomeyer (Eds.), What works in K–12 online learning. Full text available from

Southern Regional Education Board (SREB) –

From the website: “The Southern Regional Education Board works with states to improve public education at every level, from early childhood through doctoral education. We help policymakers make informed decisions by providing independent, accurate data and recommendations. We help educators strengthen student learning with professional development, proven practices and curricula. And we help policymakers, institutions and educators share scarce resources to accomplish more together than they could alone.”

REL West note: The SREB has two resources that are relevant to this request:

Southern Regional Education Board. (2006a). Online teaching evaluation for state virtual schools. Atlanta, GA: Author. Full text available from

Southern Regional Education Board. (2006b). Standards for quality online teaching. Atlanta, GA: Author. Full text available from


Keywords and Search Strings

[Research AND (coach OR mentor) AND (“virtual school” OR “online learning” OR “distance learning” OR “online synchronous discussion”) AND (observation OR measure OR protocol)]

Databases and Resources

We searched Google Scholar and ERIC for relevant resources. ERIC is a free online library of over 1.6 million citations of education research sponsored by the Institute of Education Sciences.

Reference Search and Selection Criteria

When searching and selecting resources to include, we consider the criteria listed below.

  • Date of the Publication: References and resources published within 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 and/or reviewed by IES and other federal or federally funded organizations and academic databases. Priority is also given to sources that provide free access to the full article.
  • Methodology: Priority is given to the most rigorous study designs, such as randomized controlled trials and quasi-experimental designs, and we may also include descriptive data analyses, survey results, mixed-methods studies, literature reviews, or meta-analyses. Other considerations include the target population and sample, including their relevance to the question, generalizability, and general quality. Priority is given to publications that are peer-reviewed journal articles or reports reviewed by IES and other federal or federally funded organizations. If there are many research reports available, we select those with the strongest methodology, or the most recent of similar reports. When there are fewer resources available, we may include a broader range of information. References are listed in alphabetical order, not necessarily in order of relevance.

In response to COVID-19, the 10 Regional Educational Laboratories (RELs) have collaborated to produce a series of evidence-based resources and guidance about teaching and learning in a remote environment, as well as other considerations brought by the pandemic. To access a full list of these resources, visit

This memorandum is one in a series of quick-turnaround responses to specific questions posed by educational stakeholders in the West Region (Arizona, California, Nevada, Utah), which is served by the Regional Educational Laboratory West at WestEd. This memorandum was prepared by REL West under a contract with the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES), Contract ED-IES-17-C-0012, administered by WestEd. 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.