Ten rules for supporting a temporary move to teaching and learning at a distance – messages from a recent journal paper.

Adjustments as a response to Covid-19 have required staff in Higher Education Institutions to deliver programmes on-line that were not originally designed to be delivered in this mode. Whilst blended learning approaches were becoming  more familiar, staff and learners have been required to adapt quickly to ways of teaching and learning that may be unfamiliar and to adapt a mode of delivery not built into the original curriculum design

A group of academics from several universities have drawn up a set of 10 Rules for managing this ‘pivot’, (Nordmann et al 2020) as a framework for discussion at a local level in individual institutions. This blog sets out their 10 rules and further blogs will share some of the tips and checklists that Nordmann et al (2020) set out, with links to some BU resources.

You can access the full paper with this link


Rule 1: This is not very short term emergency on-line delivery nor is it a specialised on-line programme.

 Responses to Covid-19 are not short term, ie a matter of a few weeks, they have become a more sustained approach, with more opportunities to consider pedagogy, practicalities and work load balance. Few institutions have expertise in distance learning undergraduate programmes with the exception of the Open University but we are all developing new skills rapidly in order to deliver good quality teaching and learning.

Rule 2: Provide asynchronous content

As an approach to address inevitable inequalities of imposed distance learning, content that is pre-recorded offers more opportunities for learners to engage flexibly. This recognises that some students will have limited access to quiet working spaces; reliable internet access or the skills to make the adjustment to independent online study. Some students will have carer responsibilities, be ‘home-schooling’, have relocated to different time zones and be experiencing anxiety and other mental health concerns.

Rule 3:  Provide both synchronous and asynchronous contact and communication

 Developing and sustaining communities and relationships is one of the challenges of moving teaching and learning online. Multiple opportunities for both forms of communication should be offered, with clear instructions for the rationale for each.  

Rule 4: Set and communicate clear expectations about engagement

This is likely to be a new experience for students and staff and clear communication of expectations is essential from the start to avoid unrealistic expectations on both sides.

Rule 5: Design appropriate assessments and communicate expectations clearly

We know that assessment and feedback are important aspects of student learning and are learning experiences in their own right. Being unable to do things that we might think of as ‘traditional’ offers an opportunity to be creative in authentic, student-centred  assessment design.

Rule 6:  Monitor and support engagement

Student engagement has been recognised as important to student learning. Flexible learning is not the same as unsupervised learning and communicated to students that you will, for example,  monitor participation and attendance  in order to identify potential barriers to learning that students may be experiencing and offer tutorials and/or signpost to appropriate services.

Rule 7: Review the use and format of recorded content

 Previously used material may be appropriate for using in an online learning scenario but may have shortcomings if the content refers to assignments that have changed, resources that have since been updated, and activities that are no longer possible. This may seem minor but incongruities can be frustrating for learners and can lead to increased email traffic reporting these and asking for clarification.

Rule 8: Focus on achievable learning outcomes for online fieldwork, clinical and laboratory work.

 Simulations, virtual labs or videos can be used to develop understanding of processes that underpin practical work.

It may be more realistic to plan the academic year 2020-2021 by frontloading the programmes with theory, followed by practical  later, though this has the potential for the integration of theory and practice to be more difficult.

Rule 9:  Ensure that course content is available, accessible and signposted

Check that reading lists do not require students to access physical resources from the library. Reading lists may need to be updated with alternative sources that can be accessed electronically.

Rule 10:  Create a community for staff and students

The ‘campus imaginary’ can help students feel part of a community during times when they cannot access campus. Techniques to support this include welcome videos from staff, Q and A sessions and daily updates.

Nordmann E, Horlin C, Hutchison J, Murray J-A, Robson L, Seery MK, and MacKay JRD. 2020. 10 simple rules for supporting a temporary online pivot in higher education. PsyArXiv Preprints.


Anne Quinney, Principal Lecturer, Centre for Fusion Learning, Innovation and Excellence.



2 Responses to “Ten rules for supporting a temporary move to teaching and learning at a distance – messages from a recent journal paper.”

  1. Anne Mills's avatar Anne Mills

    Thanks for posting this information Anne; the article encompasses some valuable principles.


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