Surviving online learning handbook: what does COVID teach us about online learning in high schools?


Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title



Unlike many disaster scenarios, there was no guidebook for school communities to consult as they wrestled with the ensuing fallout of a global pandemic. This emergency offered educational policy makers a rare opportunity to not only evaluate current attitudes towards online learning, but also discuss the realities and impacts of large-scale educational transitions from traditional classrooms to fully online environments—particularly in K-12 environments. The purpose of this research is to explore the perceptions of online learning within a high school learning community in response to their district’s implementation of online learning following the outbreak of COV-19 to help better inform and shape the future development and implementation of online learning opportunities.

This research is designed around a collective case study framework using semi-structured interviews and surveys of students, parents, teachers, and administrators in a midwestern suburban high school starting during the 4th quarter of the 2019-20 school year through the first semester of the 2020-21 school year. Data from these methods was compared and contrasted between cases and emergent themes were then interpreted alongside evidenced trends in recent research in online learning and concepts related to forced second-order change spurred by the COVID-19 pandemic. These shared findings were then organized into suggested survival tips for schools to consider during future implementations of online learning.

Experiences from interviews and perceptions from surveys reveal a number of shared feelings in the learning community related to certain advantages and disadvantages of online environments, perceived higher workloads and anxiety, potential factors that help and inhibit success in online environments, and obstacles for students who rely on extra support services. All interest groups agreed that some students thrived in online environments, though many did not. Ultimately, all interest groups largely agreed their overall perceptions of online learning improved over the course of implementation, and a majority of the school community wanted more online opportunities offered to students even when school returned back to normal. Hopefully these findings convince educational leaders to reconsider the promising potential roles of online learning in K-12 settings as school communities inevitably transition back into classroom environments.



Online learning, K-12, Change theory, COVID-19, Remote learning

Graduation Month



Doctor of Education


Department of Curriculum and Instruction

Major Professor

J. Spencer Clark