Skip to content

Emergency Remote Teaching Vs. Online Learning: A Comparison


The world is undergoing so many changes at the hands of the novel coronavirus. One of the biggest global changes that have come from this pandemic is emergency remote teaching. While a lot of people, including teachers and students, are saying that they are now practicing online learning, this isn’t entirely accurate. In fact, there’s a big difference between emergency remote teaching and online learning.

As a 100% online university that grants online learning opportunities for higher education degree seekers, we feel this is the perfect moment to bring the differences between ERT and online learning to light. In an effort to better understand what emergency remote teaching is versus online learning, we will break it all down here. Additionally, we will share some best practices for distance learning, regardless of the reason you’re taking part in it.

Student learning on a computer
Photo by Frank Romero on Unsplash

What Is Emergency Remote Teaching?

Emergency remote teaching (ERT) is meant to be a temporary shift from the normal modes of teaching. It happens when teaching becomes remote (or distant). This takes what would have otherwise been face-to-face or hybrid teaching and transforms it to become digital education.

When a crisis occurs that necessitates schools to shut down, emergency remote learning may be in the form of online lessons, radio, or blended learning solutions.

In current times, most of the world finds itself dealing with emergency remote teaching because of the coronavirus pandemic. This rapid implementation has its fair share of challenges.

Unlike online learning, emergency remote teaching is meant to be temporary. However, both ERT and online learning should be properly designed and well thought out before beginning.

What Is Online Learning?

Online learning is a method of instruction that takes place over the internet. Sometimes called “e-learning,” it’s a form of education that happens at a distance rather than within a classroom setting.

Online learning was created to leverage technology and provide students with the opportunity to earn degrees and/or attend school without having to be in an academic setting.

There are many ways in which online learning can benefit one seeking to attend, including:

  • Career advancement
  • A flexible schedule and environment
  • Lower costs compared to traditional schools
  • Potentially more choices when it comes to course selection
  • Increased level of responsibility and time management
  • Personal satisfaction

At the University of the People, we created online higher education opportunities to support education as a human right. People from all over the world have the chance to obtain their degrees across four disciplines — Health Science, Education, Business Administration, and Computer Science.

What’s The Difference?

While it may seem like semantics at first, it’s crucial to recognize the difference between emergency remote teaching and online learning. Here’s some of the main differences:

Online Learning

  • Designed purposely to be remote and distant
  • Regarded as a main mode of education (not an exception)
  • Accessible and voluntary
  • Meant to be a long-term solution
  • Not urgent
  • All resources are accessible
  • Has full faculty support
  • Students are voluntarily enlisting

Online learning can be designed in a variety of ways. There are many considerations when planning how to conduct online learning, including:

  • Modality
  • Instructor’s role
  • Pacing
  • Student’s role
  • Student-to-teacher ratio
  • Pedagogy
  • Sources of feedback
  • Role of online assessments

Emergency Remote Teaching

  • Activated in response to a crisis or something beyond human control
  • Meant to be temporary
  • May lack resources
  • May not have full faculty support
  • Students may not have a choice

Evaluating Emergency Remote Teaching

While the current status of ERT is hopefully not going to last too long, it has raised many questions for institutions, education departments, students, faculty, and teachers. There are ongoing evaluations of how successful it has and has not been.

For many, ERT happens without warning, but that’s why it’s important to have a contingency plan in advance of a crisis to be prepared. Here are some things to be sure to evaluate as an educational provider to better prepare ERT should it be needed again:

  • Choose how to define “success” for ERT: Define success from every shareholder’s point of view (faculty and students, for example)
  • How much extra time was required of teachers?
  • How were learners able to access material and courses?
  • If someone didn’t have internet access, are there other solutions for learning?
  • How is data and privacy secured during sessions?

Remote Instruction Readiness Checklist

For extra preparedness, here’s a checklist to review for remote instruction:

Technical Considerations And Capabilities

  • Access to Word Processors and Spreadsheets
  • Understanding of file management
  • Email access
  • Internet browsers
  • Access to WiFi

For Teachers

  • I am comfortable with using Powerpoint and digital whiteboards to teach
  • I am comfortable teaching over video instruction (i.e. Zoom)
  • I can use media tools and record videos
  • I can record student’s grades online
  • I can grade and give feedback digitally
Empty classroom as emergency remote teaching is enforced
Photo by Bima Rahmanda on Unsplash

How To Make ERT Work

School leaders and teachers take on extra responsibility when shifting to emergency remote teaching. Although it could feel burdensome, it’s important to realize that students are also facing a dramatically different setup to what they are used to.

Consider these 9 best practices and tips when you have to adjust to ERT:

1. Communicate Frequently

Above all, communication is going to be key in any type of remote setting, be it work or education. Be sure to allow students and their family to ask questions. Let students know how to best communicate with you outside of teaching hours (i.e. phone calls, emails, school forum boards, etc.)

2. Prioritize Needs

ERT can happen at any time, which means you’ll likely be in the middle of teaching something and have plans for what you want to accomplish. As such, it’s a good idea to prioritize what has to be done versus what can be let go of under the new circumstances.

3. Be Flexible

Most school policies are designed for the traditional setting. When you have to remotely teach, it helps to be flexible and creative with instruction and processes.

4. Establish Routines

Try to stick to a regular routine as much as possible. Have class time at the same time every day and hold meetings regularly.

5. Collaborate

Work together with school faculty and staff to learn from one another. This may even mean that schools across borders are sharing ideas that work.

6. Engage The School’s Community

If you lead a school, it’s important to have buy-in when deciding new practices. Get feedback from parents and teachers before enacting big changes.

7. Develop Contingency Plans

Technology may not work and things will likely not always go as planned. Have back up plans for when things fail.

8. Practice And Promote Well-Being

Shifting to an online environment from face-to-face teaching can be stress inducing. Remember to take breaks and give yourself time to adjust. Practice self-compassion and patience.

9. Learn

Take time to take a step back from all the commotion of what’s going on when ERT comes into play. You can evaluate what works and doesn’t work and learn from each experience every day to get better over time!

Solving For Online Learning Challenges

When going online to learn — whether planned or because of an emergency — there are challenges that come with it. Online learning requires time, dedication, effort, and creative problem-solving that doesn’t happen overnight. That’s why it’s important for school faculty, staff, parents and students to work together.

School leaders and the government need to take the reins on creating plans in advance of ERT. As a teacher or student, it helps to vocalize concerns to solve for challenges, too.

For example, some students during this pandemic don’t have access to the internet. School districts were able to send out school buses equipped with WiFi to help grant accessibility to education.

Many online universities have already chartered this previously unknown territory. At the University of the People, our team of professors from around the world are trained and prepared to teach digitally. In effect, students have the opportunity to receive high quality education at a fraction of the cost because of the online nature of the programs. If you’re interested in becoming a student, follow these steps to join our education revolution.