How to be an Effective Online Teacher

Person using a laptop

Good teachers enhance learning be it online or face-to-face. But what is it that you need to consider to be effective in the online environment? Here are our top tips to being that great online teacher.

1 Be there

Yes we’ve all taken those courses where you never hear from the teacher. Suck doesn’t it. So unless you are running a completely self guided course you need to make your presence felt. Discussion forums, weekly emails, Facebook groups, Twitter hashtags, announcements are all ways you can communicate with learners; just make sure at the outset of the course that students know how you’ll be communicating with them and how you expect them to communicate with you and each other.

2 Be Upfront

Right from the get go lay out your expectations; what can learners expect of you and what do you expect of them. How much work is involved? How many hours commitment is it? When are the assignment dates? What activities in the course are required which are suggested. What needs to be completed for credit / certificate of completion? These are the housekeeping things we’ve traditionally done on day one of a face-to-face course so don’t neglect them in your online courses.

3 Engagement Engagement Engagement

We all know the old idea – students learn 10% of what they read, 20% of what they watch and 80% of what they do etc. So having activities for learners is important. After all who wants to take a course where all you do it sit like a sponge absorbing stuff? Take advantage of the interactive facets of your LMS or look for add-ons; there are plenty of value added activities you can use – one I came across recently was pose a question and get students to post resources they find on the web. What resources are you using?

4 Use the Resources You Have to their Fullest

Most of us have resources at our disposal and are not using them to their fullest. For example I used to say to learners “Got a question? Ask in the discussion forum”. Needless to say most learners move quickly on to the next page and never ask that question. So search the web for better ways to use the resources you do have at your disposal. Don’t just throw out that “Got any questions?” Facilitate their thinking by asking a relevant question to spark discussion.

5 Feedback

Don’t leave feedback until the end of the course. Unless it’s a graded course you will find students don’t complete anyway. So about half way through ask how things are going. If you can automate this do so but make sure the request still feels personal and that you value the learners opinion. And of course, take the feedback and do something with it. Look for trends in the data. Are lots of students saying xyz? Then change it. The outliers you can probably ignore.

6 Provide Variety

Mix up the learning opportunities. If you mapped out your course before you began creating it (which I recommend) then you should have a column for “What is the student doing?” That way you can see if you have too much “watching video”, “reading”, or “listening”. Now there is nothing wrong with these per se, but they are all a bit passive, mix in activities where learners actively do something.

7 Be Mobile Ready

Many learners today will access some or all of their course via a mobile device, so make sure your LMS can handle this. A big PDF to download and access on a phone is painful and cumbersome. If you can, break it into relevant chunks for each section. Use online resources as much as possible. Try out your course, with a dummy learner login, on your phone and see how you get on.

8 Close off the Course

For students doing the course for credit the obvious close off is the final assessment. Make sure this truly reflects the learning that has taken place whilst challenging the students the apply what they have learnt in authentic situations. For non-credit students have a formative quiz or other final activity which equally gives them the opportunity to reflect on what they have learnt.

What’s your top tip for being an effective online teacher?