What Online Learning Tools Have Taught Me

Perspective from a fourth-grade language arts and social studies teacher.

GUEST COLUMN | by Chelisa Lacy

CREDIT Studies WeeklyOnline learning tools and education technology solutions have a bit of a checkered past amongst educators. For many years, the technology and value of the products lagged behind what was promised by vendors. Particularly as an elementary school teacher, many of the online tools we sought to implement were simply poorly disguised video games.

There is no substitute for a great teacher, and even the best learning technology will fail without an instructor that is dedicated to helping their students grow.

Over the past several years, some of the tools have improved significantly and there are several ways in which I’ve successfully deployed online learning resources in the classroom. My students have embraced these learning solutions and they’ve allowed my classroom to become a more efficient learning environment, while still allowing me to teach effectively.

There are a few areas to consider when looking at products and how they can be deployed in your classroom.

Why Putting the Teacher First Matters

Most products on the market focus on ways that students will benefit. What gets lost in this is how critical the teacher is in the process of implementing and successfully leveraging any learning resource.

Great online learning tools help teachers do their jobs more effectively by acting as both a valuable resource and as an extension of the teacher. Many so-called “solutions” fail to give the teacher control and the ability to monitor how students are doing and where they can most use assistance.

There is no substitute for a great teacher, and even the best learning technology will fail without an instructor that is dedicated to helping their students grow. The best online learning tools understand this and make it easy for a teacher to connect with students through technology without taking over the teaching process or limiting what a teacher can teach.

Tools like Reading A-Z and Raz-Kids are two examples of online learning tools that put the teacher first – allowing them to control the content and effectively be in more than one place at one time.

What to Know Before Implementation

While having four teachers in one classroom would be ideal, online learning tools can work as an extension of the teacher to better reach students who are absent or at a different level than the rest of the class.

In order to make that happen, research and understanding of the capabilities of any tool is the first major hurdle. It’s impossible to help your students learn without clear comprehension of the capabilities of the product and how you plan to deploy it in your classroom. Take the time to use the product yourself and be sure that it makes sense for your students’ needs.

Top-tier administrative teams and schools will provide detailed recommendations and training for their teachers. For my classroom, this was extremely helpful as it’s hard to find the time to teach, let alone test online learning tools in my free time.

Where These Tools Can Help

The best part of the learning tools we’ve implemented is that our students are eager to work with them. We’ve used online learning tools and resources in several areas of our classroom including reading (Reading A-Z, Raz-Kids), spelling (Spelling City), social studies (Studies Weekly) and for behavior (LiveSchool). Students have had the most success in my classroom through leveled reading programs. These tools are effective for homework exercises and an excellent way to monitor the progress of my students and see where they are struggling. It’s a tool for me to understand where and how I should be focusing my teaching time with each student, and helps me excel as a teacher.

Chelisa Lacy is a 4th grade Language Arts and Social Studies teacher at Weber Elementary in Houston, TX.


  1. Thanks for this reasonable article, Chelisa! You’re right about the power of dedication to teaching – it could be really amazing and sometimes works better than online learning tools. Students like to see their teacher as a model for their behavior. That’s why personal approach is still important. But there are situations when online tools could simplify teacher’s routine. e.g. using an online plagiarism checker saves a lot of time in checking essays.

    Anyway, I believe that teacher should inspire his/her students never stop learning – and elementary school teachers do this important job.

  2. Chelisa, I was reading this article thinking that I should comment to say that our solution (I’m the founder and president of VocabularySpellingCity) focuses on giving teachers control of the students’ activities and direct access to the student data. We were design based largely input from teachers.
    To my joy, you do cite us near the end as an example of giving control to teachers. Thanks. However, let me point out that we now offer much more than just spelling, we have materials for phonological awareness / phonics, writing practice with words, and vocabulary building.

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