Personally, I think the success of an online course is thanks to both the well-designed content and the instructors! Yes, there are lots of eLearning courses out there that include presentation slides without the presence of the lecturers. However, I could not bring myself to finish a course with just words. Reading a slide is fine, but studying a whole course for hours is not the case. In fact, I feel more connected in courses with talking head videos. Good video quality is a must, however, the connection to the lecturers is another crucial factor of the learning satisfaction.
How to be an Effective Online Instructor
As mentioned above, I believe 2 determining factors in a successful online course is the knowledge and how we deliver that knowledge to the students. Before we move on to how to be an effective communicator in the virtual environment, let’s make sure that the instructional materials are in top quality.
Quality course design
The syllabus tells the course description, learning objectives, course schedule, and materials. It is a comprehensive guide to the eLearning program that set expectations as well as requirements for learners. Some instructional designers miss the syllabus in their instructional design. The traditional classrooms have less a need of documenting the syllabus. The lecturers have many chances to discuss face-to-face with the students about their expectations of the class. Otherwise, the eLearning environment limits the physical communication between instructors and students. Then the instructors would need a clear course syllabus as a roadmap to guide learners throughout the learning process.
The course structure does play a crucial role in the effectiveness of online learning. A well-designed course would help learners absorb the ideas quickly, retain the information better, and indeed enjoy their studying much better. The best suggestion would be to break down the learning content into digestible pieces and set them up intelligently. Group the subject matters into modules, then divide those modules into sections. These bite-sized content also allows you to focus on more in-depth topics. Then learners would understand the concepts fully before jumping off to the next subject.
Content formats that engage
I think the format is a crucial factor in your instructional design. It may have a great impact on the course’s engagement and learning outcomes. Some instructional designers just focus on the texts and forget that we have a variety of content types.
You can use the following learning material formats:
- PowerPoint presentations to easily lay out the information
- Talking head videos to represent lecturers and enhance their connection to learners
- Animated learning videos to explain complicated concepts and improve the graphic experiences
- Charts and graphs to visualize the data
- Games to increase interaction of learners and attract learners’ interest
- Interview videos or case-studies to provide best practices and expert advice
I think it is best to combine all those formats so learners would have broader experiences. You could combine animations and live-action videos or include gamification in the presentation slides. It depends on your learning objectives and your audiences.
Be a better learning facilitator and communicator
Before, students relied much on the passive method of learning when they take note and listen to the lecturers. However, transiting to online learning, the instructors would become more a learning facilitator than a teacher. They must be a part of the learning community, and encourage students to be more involved in the learning process.
Think of yourself as learner
Online learning is much different from the traditional class education. You are granted with the massive availability of teaching time, place, and resources but you are restricted in physical interaction. You may know what works in the classroom, but it may not adapt well to the eLearning environment. Hence I think educators need the experience as online learners to excel in their career.
Easy way: Just take an online course. There are various online courses out there for you to choose: credited or non-credited, free or paid. You have so many chances to experience the learning process as a learner. Then you would gain valuable insights on how to produce an effective course. If you find a good course, you can learn from its structure to apply in your pedagogy. You find a bad one, you also learn what may not work in online classes.
The lecturer presence without the physical interaction seems to be a tricky challenge. However, we could use various methods to communicate with learners online.
An easy one is just revealing yourself. You could put up a quick profile on the learning system, or use a friendly introduction video. The intro gives online learners the expectation of what they could gain after finishing the course, or how they could apply the ideas in real life. More importantly, it presents you, the lecturers so that students know who they are learning from.
You could do a whole video-based course instead of just one welcoming video. Talking head-video is a great format to present yourself and connect with online learners. This type of videos has proved its positive impact on education by the rocketing development of MOOCs. However, sometimes we forget that online learning is not just putting printed materials on the web with life-less lecture videos. A talking-head video is cost-effective and cost-efficient only if you put much effort in it. I think it is always best to put more of your personality in the videos. The lecturers could try connecting to the students by setting the tone of the course with humor or encouraging conversations with questions. We need to create a more humanized environment when students feel like they are a part of the community other than an outsider watching some videos.
Connected learning community
An active and positive community could dispel the isolation of self-paced learning. The instructor then should encourage learners to be active more in the conversation and interaction.
Discussion boards and forums are great ways to generate the interaction from learners to lecturers and peers. Learners are then encouraged to be more involved in the courses by asking questions, sharing their ideas and exploring the subjects themselves. Timely feedback on these online communication tools is also important. It is not always easy to find time answering questions on forums and replying emails daily. You can announce students a fixed time that you are available to reply their concerns. This act would set an expectation of the time learners receive your answers. You can also choose to address the main matters only. It reduces your workload and helps learners identify the main points.
After all, I think the best way is asking the questions yourself. As mentioned above, your questions would enhance your relationship with learners and guide them in the right direction. Besides, you would have great insights of their perception and materials to evaluate the learning outcomes.
Last but not least, feedbacks, whether from your students or colleagues, give you new perceptions of how to improve the quality of the course. There is an interesting idea that you should not start with a completed course. This is what we always do. Sometimes you do not know if students like the learning material format. Then if you only give them the first section of the class, they could give you valuable insights to go on producing the right content. One more thing is feedbacks are more effective if learners consider you as a member of the community. It would always be best to stay active in the community.
Online learning does not mean putting the traditional lessons on the Internet. The role of the instructor also changes massively from being a lecturer into a learning facilitator. I think it is essential to present yourself properly in the online environment so that students would know they are supported and encouraged in the learning process.