The COVID-19 pandemic has triggered an unprecedented acceleration in online training, also for teachers. However, with little or no personalized support, learners with low self-regulated learning competence, little experience in online learning, or limited digital competences can be easily overwhelmed by the scale, diversity and flexibility offered by online training. All this easily translates into the low completion rates that are typically observed in scalable online courses like MOOCs as well as in closed online courses delivered by postsecondary education institutions.
While there is a large consensus about the need to improve the instructional design and the support mechanisms in online courses, robust evidence on what works is limited and is not specifically focused on teachers.
The TeachUP policy experimentation developed and tested a personalized support mechanism, which was aimed to help professional and student teachers succeed in online training.
The impact of the tested personalized support on teachers’ participation and completion of online courses is evaluated through a randomized controlled trial, which involved 3,777 professional teachers and student teachers in lower secondary education from nine European Member States (Austria, Estonia, Spain, Greece, Hungary, Lithuania, Malta, Portugal, and Slovakia) and one neighboring country (Turkey).
TEACHUP is funded by the Education, Audiovisual & Culture Executive Agency of the European Union through the Erasmus plus Programme Key action 3: Initiatives for policy innovation – European policy experimentations (EACEA/34/2015). TEACHUP involves 17 partners in 11 countries; FBK-IRVAPP (the evaluation organization; Italy); EUN Partnership (project coordinator).
Sending teachers personalized support messages is a promising solution to significantly raise their chances to successfully complete online training courses. However, the experimental findings suggest that this kind of support may not work for everyone and in all contexts. The TeachUP results indicate positive and significant effects for professional teachers in European Union Member States (who show a 10 percentage points higher completion rate when they receive a support), but no effects for student teachers nor in Turkey.
Policy makers looking for effective ways to harness the potential of online courses for teacher training should consider two main recommendations. First, reach out to teachers who enroll in a course but do not start it in time. Second, reach out to teachers with poor online training experience as previous experience of online learning is a determining factor in non-completion.