Teaching online is very different from teaching in a classroom—but also, in some ways, probably not as different as some people might believe. The increased distance between student and instructor (that computer and internet connection that separate the two), means it can be more difficult to connect with, inspire, and mentor students, and much more difficult to gauge whether or not the class is providing the value and education it is meant to provide.
There is less control, but many students and instructors appreciate the autonomy and feel that when harnessed in the right way, it can add to a student’s education, instead of being an obstacle to it. A large part of whether or not the separation and autonomy that are inherent parts of the online learning model are effective depends on how the class is presented and what teaching methods are used by the instructor. Here are some of the most common instructional strategies and how they can be used to improve online courses.
- Clearly stated outcomes. If you think of a successfully completed class as a goal, it makes sense that each online course should have clearly stated outcomes which a student reads and agrees to at the onset of the course. This provides student and instructor with a gauge against which to measure progress and an end goal in sight. Explicitly stating what is expected of each student when it comes to assignments, engagement, tests, etc. will only improve the likelihood that each student succeeds, as they know exactly what they need to do in order to be successful.
- Recorded lectures. While some courses may prefer and may even be best taught through reading material, many could benefit from an audio-visual component. Having the instructor record himself giving the lecture, whether in a classroom or just in his own office, is a great way to provide students with an engaging way to learn. Many students will miss the classroom setting expressly because they felt they learned best through lecture and having the concepts explained by someone who really knows what they are talking about. Because most course platforms allow the uploading or linking of a video, this is still possible.
- Reading material designed for the online reader. Anyone who has tried to teach millennials has anecdotal evidence of the rising generation’s shortening attention span. The internet has a large deal to do with this, as character limitations train the brain to only accept small snippets of information at a time. Making sure that reading is, first of all, worthwhile to the course outcomes, and second of all, structured in a way that makes it easy for readers to find the information they are looking for, is a great way to make sure that the reading actually gets done.
- Discussion boards. While many students prefer the solitary and self-directed nature of online learning, many will miss the interaction, camaraderie, and knowledge gained from sitting in a classroom with other students. Most learning platforms also allow for discussion boards, where students can interact with other students. These can be used for actually assigned discussions or as a venue for students to help each other with coursework and get to know one another as they would in a traditional classroom setting.
- Video conferencing. Video conferencing is a great way for instructors and students to discuss issues that might have arisen or to check in on individual progress, is the class is more self-directed than prescriptive. It provides a good way for instructors to get to know their students on a personal level, when instructors in online classes can sometimes feel like a nameless, faceless specter that hands out grades.
- Online tests and quizzes. Most platforms also provided for a series of online tests and quizzes, which can be scheduled to open and close on certain dates, allow retakes, or rescores, depending on the needs of the class. Tests and quizzes have always been a good way to gauge student’s progress in a course and many students prefer taking them online, instead of writing them out by hand.
- Valuable feedback. On any assignments or tasks that students complete, it is important to give personalized feedback. Not only do this help to make the instructor feel more present and like a “real person,” instead of that looming, grade-giving specter, feedback has always been one of the best ways for instructors to help students improve. If they fully understand why they got the grade they received or how they can improve, with detailed, personalized feedback, they will know better how to progress towards any learning outcomes.
Most of these methods are used in traditional classrooms, but are heavily altered to make more sense in the online learning environment. Employing some of these teaching methods can improve the success rate of a course.