It may seem that online learning should be (or could be) just as effective as traditional classroom learning. In almost every online class, resources and materials are made available to students, there are asynchronous (and occasionally synchronous) discussions, and then assessments are conducted to determine if progress has been made toward meeting required learning outcomes. Students do not have to sit through a lecture and can instead study at their leisure. In a virtual classroom, however, important elements are missing, such as B. face-to-face interactions that provide visual and verbal cues, and this makes the distance factor a significant challenge.
So what can an instructor do to ensure that learning takes place in a virtual environment? Most online courses contain a fairly standardized structure, even with different learning management systems, and many online schools offer pre-programmed courses for teachers that are designed with set learning objectives, course materials, and a variety of learning activities. However, creating a course and adding content does not automatically guarantee that students will be engaged and will learn something as a result of their participation. Learning is influenced by the conditions a teacher creates and the interactions they have with their students. Most experienced online teachers know that learning is a process that needs nurturing, not just a function that needs to be completed.
Students and a virtual classroom
Consider the students’ experience when they enter a virtual classroom for the first time. You must navigate the classroom, find the materials required, and be highly motivated to keep up with the discussions and assignments. Most learning management systems have evolved over time to simplify the user experience, but a student’s ability to learn in this environment requires more than just the ability to use the technology tools. Students must be able to feel connected to the class, believe the course meets their specific academic and/or professional needs, receive support when needed, and form meaningful relationships with their teachers. What can hinder this process and reduce learning potential is reliance on written words as the primary form of communication. The classroom can then become almost mechanical for students, preventing them from fully engaging and working towards peak performance.
Teachers and a virtual classroom
Instructors have many responsibilities that start with knowing the material they need to teach and then they need to manage the teaching efficiently and effectively. This includes fulfilling necessary moderation duties, participating in discussions, providing feedback, and managing relationships. But one of the most important tasks is to create an environment conducive to learning. There are factors that can work against the instructor, from a poorly designed course to a lack of engaging resources that cannot be easily corrected. Even if the classroom is built to perfection, a teacher still needs to be actively present and work proactively to create a positive experience for the students. It’s easy for students to disengage from an online class, and unless the teacher closely monitors conditions and notices a student withdrawing, it may be too late to bring them back into class. This speaks to the type of learning that can be easy for some students and challenging for others – especially if they lack basic academic skills.
5 strategies to create optimal conditions
I have been actively involved in the development of online educators and have found that the majority of educators can effectively manage their instruction and meet the required expectations. What I’ve also found is that about 25% of the instructors I’ve worked with go beyond the minimum requirements, as as an online teacher I have always tried to exceed the minimum requirements and create an engaging environment. While it may seem that these strategies should be used by all educators, some prefer to do only what is required and while acceptable, it does not result in an optimal learning experience.
#1. Develop engaging discussion posts:
Most online courses have some form of discussion, usually every week of the course. Instructor requirements usually include a certain number of days in which to respond to students, and the quality of these posts may or may not be specifically stated in their contract. An instructor’s discussion response can engage students in the topic, expand on what is written, encourage critical thinking and a deeper understanding of course topics, and help students connect the topics to real-world situations and problems. The challenge is taking the time to craft responses that achieve those goals, and it requires being able to post more than a quick reactive response. It’s helpful to acknowledge something each student has written, build on it, and end with a question that piques their intellectual curiosity. If a contribution is substantive and engaging, the dialogue with students is likely to continue.
#2. Be a facilitator, educator and teacher:
The work of an online teacher has been referred to by many names, including facilitator, educator, and teacher. While some online schools prefer the word facilitator, the job of an instructor involves much more than facilitating a process. A teacher is someone who can help students acquire the necessary academic skills and has the patience to guide and guide them as they work toward improving their developmental needs. An educator is someone who understands the basics of adult education and knows some of the theories that can influence their work. When trainers develop their knowledge base about adult learning, they become educators. Some instructors are hired for their expertise, but that doesn’t automatically guarantee they can be effective trainers. When an educator is able to facilitate, educate and teach, their effectiveness in the classroom shows in all aspects of their work.
#3. Provide thought-provoking feedback:
Educators know that students need more than a grade to fuel their continued development and this fits the premise of self-directed adult learners who want to be involved in the learning process. Students want to know why they deserve the grade they received. When using grades as their primary source of motivation, it’s important to teach them to focus on more than their grades and instead understand the meaning of those grades and what can be learned from them. To do this, the feedback must address the content of the writing, as well as the mechanics, and be done in a way that encourages their progress. What some instructors rely on, typically when time is short, are canned comments or quick-written comments. Feedback is most effective when it gets students interested in the topic and, more importantly, when it gets them thinking about their work and academic progress. When students are involved in the feedback process, they are more likely to respond to and learn from what their teacher provides.
#4. Be Actively Present and Engaged:
There is a misconception that a teacher cannot help students if they cannot see them. But a teacher can bridge the distance and create conditions conducive to learning. What I’ve learned through my online teaching experience and background working with faculty is that students can easily disengage from class and if it’s not noticed right away, it may be too late to bring them back in. There are many reasons why students withdraw and it may not be easy to know exactly why when working in a virtual classroom. For example, when students are frustrated or losing motivation, they may begin to slowly withdraw, and if a teacher is actively present, they will notice the absence of those students. What I have also observed is that student performance is often directly impacted by teacher engagement. An instructor’s virtual presence is also a social presence that builds a sense of community among students that helps keep them engaged and interested in class.
#5. Develop effective communication techniques:
The primary form of communication in an online classroom consists of written contributions and messages. Interactions and relationships in a virtual class are also based on written words. A challenge this presents is that messages and posts are then subject to interpretation, along with a perceived tone and intent of the message posted. Since messages are sent asynchronously, this means the instructor is not present to ensure the message has been correctly interpreted. While written words are not the most effective method of communication, it is still possible for students to develop a perception of the teacher’s willingness to help them.
This means that anything an Instructor decides to post must be done from a position of caring and concern, and not out of frustration or an emotional reaction or response. It can be helpful to create posts first, perhaps in a Word document, and this will help manage the mechanics and tone of the writing. If there is a negative emotional reaction to something a student has posted, it would be better to delay any form of reaction until it can be addressed from a logical and rational perspective. This helps build productive working relationships and model effective communication for students to follow.
Teach students the potential of distance learning
When faculty are actively present and involved in their online courses, it helps bridge the distance with their students and it can also teach them the powerful potential of distance learning and the value of education. An instructor’s involvement, that is, their active online presence, influences how students respond to the virtual classroom environment, how well they perform, engage in class, and stay motivated. Online teaching isn’t just a function and checking off responsibilities on a list. The work that a trainer does as educator, teacher and facilitator also determines how effective the learning process is and the development of conducive conditions must be nurtured from week to week until the lesson is completed. Once a new class begins, the need to develop the same type of environment begins again. Just as learning is never a one-time event, so is the art and skill of teaching online. Students learn best when they are in an environment that encourages them and is under the direct control of their teachers.
Thanks to Dr. Bruce A. Johnson | #Strategies #Create #Conditions #Promote #Online #Learning