The promise of education in the 21st century is for no child to be left behind. Although the Act of Congress bearing that name hasn’t necessarily lived up to its promise, there are still many initiatives available to institutions right now that can help to make sure education is available for every child, no matter their circumstances or handicaps.

In particular, resources for teaching online can and should be deployed to make sure that education materials reach every child, especially those that would not otherwise be included in mainstream classrooms.

What kinds of students are being left behind in classrooms?

The traditional model of teaching — bringing students together in a classroom for instruction — has been the bread and butter of teaching for many years. However, not every student can be reached through this model, which is most useful for students who can be reasonably expected to show up and thrive at a given location, five days a week, and for the better part of a year.

This works well for suburban students, who live close to their schools, but it’s not as good for rural students, who can live many miles from their public schools or from colleges that they may want to attend in the future. Only 59 percent of rural students go to college. That’s fewer than suburban or urban students, even though rural students often have a similar academic performance to their peers.

Distance is one factor that can lead to students being excluded, but there are many students who are near to a school but still unable to fully participate in their education. Students with disabilities don’t have the same kind of access to classrooms as their able-bodied peers. This includes students with physical disabilities — who can have difficulty making it to and navigating the school building — and students with learning disabilities, who don’t necessarily learn in the same ways or at the same rate as their peers.

How online teaching improves inclusivity

Online teaching involves using the internet as a means of getting educational material to students. Online teaching can be a standalone class, with all relevant learning materials accessible online, or it can work in conjunction with in-class teaching to solidify concepts and create additional opportunities for struggling students to approach the material.

The SAMR model describes several different ways in which education technology can be implemented in the classroom. They are:

  • Substitution: Using new technology in place of an old one. For example, teaching a lesson over a webcam in place of in-class teaching.
  • Augmentation: Using new technology in addition to old education techniques. For example, encouraging students to find sources for a research paper online as well as in print.
  • Modification: Using technology to modify the ways in which students learn, opening up opportunities that wouldn’t have been available with older learning technology. For example, taking tests online for immediate feedback.
  • Redefinition: Using technology for new ways of learning that would not have been available with older technology. For example, learning about a foreign country by having a video call with someone from that country.

Read more: Integrating ed-tech in the classroom one step at a time with the SAMR Model


Different parts of the model have different implications for helping students who have previously been excluded from classrooms. Substitution allows colleges and even secondary schools to reach students who have been excluded by distance. When you can teach a class from thousands of miles away, an internet connection becomes the only barrier to education.

Other parts of the model, such as augmentation, modification, and redefinition, can help to make learning more inclusive for students who learn at different rates and in different ways to the typical child. For example, students who have attention disorders can benefit from learning tools that help them organize their education more explicitly and allows them to access class materials at any time online.

In fact, any student who is being left behind by the typical pace of classroom work can benefit from having class resources available online. Examples of the kinds of resources teachers can put online include:

  • Lecture notes
  • Assignment criteria
  • Sample essays
  • Videos of in-class teaching

Challenges of online teaching

By far, the most critical component of online teaching is for students to have a reliable internet connection. Simply put, students need internet access in this day and age. Without it, they will fall behind their peers and students in other regions and countries.

Students who are unable to access the internet from home may have the opportunity to reach online class resources from a local library or from a computer at school. However, programs to give every student a laptop are based on this idea that online teaching will create more opportunities for students to learn.

Wrapping up

Some students have been left behind by the traditional model of teaching in the classroom. By moving parts of a class or entire classes online, teachers can ensure that every student is being reached.

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