What online learning taught me about being an online teacher

My Online IT Classroom
My Online IT Classroom

I have to say. I thought I knew it all- well not all, but most things when teaching in an online environment. That was until I became an online student in earnest. Now I have taken online courses before, a few certificates and MOOCs, but none with the high stakes of my newest course of study.

I am pursued my Doctorate in Technology Entrepreneurship primarily online- and it was no easy task. Let me strip away the level of difficulty of a doctoral degree and look at five lessons being an online student has taught me about being an online teacher.

  1. Learners must be motivated and disciplined – yes, it is true. Although the literature and best practices speak often of student engagement. The truth is that much of the motivation must come from the learner. Why? Well it is easy to simply NOT log on, fall behind, become discouraged and give up. The learner is the one who has to motivated to achieve the goal, be disciplined to complete assignments. My take-away as an online teacher – not every learner is a good candidate for an online student – no matter how great the teacher.

2. Multimedia is king/queen of the online classroom. It is just you and your computer. No peers, no friends – and really no sound UNLESS you use appropriateĀ  multimedia to engage learners. Now as a trained educator I already know that there are different types of learners – auditory, visual and so on. However, this becomes increasingly important when using an online modality – because staring at a screen full of text is boring, and leads to higher attrition. Learners stop coming to class online because, they are BORED. My take-away is – use the wonderful world of the Web to liven up your classes by choosing multimedia elements that support the pedagogy, and improve learning and retention.

3. Clear instructions – in an online setting immediate feedback often does not exist. This means that learners do not often have the opportunity to clarify instructions. They feel bewildered and that means they will stuff your inbox or online forum with questions, or even worse simply not complete an assignment. What to do as an online educator? Ensure your instructions are as clear as spring water. Provide instructions in numbered or bullet point steps so students know exactly what they have to accomplish. If the assignment is a little more complex, then add a voice note, diagram, screencast or video to aid in understanding. My take-away – what is obvious to you is not always obvious to the learner. Make instructions unambiguous.

4.EngagementĀ – now I know my first point was about learner motivation but teachers need to be motivated too. The online classroom can feel lonely. So interaction with students and feedback on performance is important. Teaching is a dance between two people. So send out weekly emails, ensure students get feedback. Post interesting and new enrichment material. Seem present. My take-away – if your classroom is busy and engaged, learners are more likely to visit the online classroom, to see what is new, what materials have been posted to aid them. They are more likely to stay engaged.

5. Face to Face – I know you are thinking it is online learning, why face to face? Well online learning does not mean that you cannot engage your students face to face – but online! I often have web conferencing using Zoom with my students. In my experience as an online learner there was a conference call with the Doctoral Study Mentor. Pros – I felt connected, I was able to learn from the questions of others and I was able to get questions of my own answered. My take-away – use technology. Let students see/or hear you and know your human!

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