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3 Habits of highly effective online teachers

This post has been updated on March 4, 2020.

While face-to-face instruction allows teachers to inject their personality and tone into their lessons, it nonetheless demands that teachers be organised and creative. Online instruction in a K-12 e-learning environment also benefits when teachers are creative, but effective e-learning and e-teaching methods require different and more focused approach.

I’d even go so far as to say that some teachers who have coasted along leveraging their mastery and personality to teach, may find the shift to e-learning an opportunity to reassess their content; bad online instruction design cannot be masked by personality, and the flaws in a lesson plan become blindingly obvious once translated online.

Read more: How to turn your face-to-face class into an online course: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3

3 Habits of highly effective online teachers

With that in mind let’s explore three habits of effective online teachers, we’ll explore a further three in my next post.

  1. Focus on learning objectives

    One of the biggest mistakes teachers make when redesigning lesson plans for the e-learning environment is they forget about the learning objectives, and become consumed with “getting it all online”. Good online course designers and teachers understand that a “copy and paste” process seldom translates into vivid, effective online lessons.

    While this step is certainly the most time consuming, it is essential that you design each online module - not as a replica of the real-world lesson, but as a digital redesign.

    What do I mean?

    Let’s say for example the desired learning outcome for an art lesson is: students will be able to recognize the difference between a lithograph, woodcut and etching, and be able to list the features of each.

    Perhaps your face-to-face lesson included handouts of a number of different prints, as well as a detailed description of the process required to create each one. You may have broken down the class into groups, who then discussed and compared the various prints, you may even have given your class the opportunity to create their own prints as a way of learning the different techniques.

    Transferring your lesson data online via pdf printables, perhaps a video and then some text would not yet capture the discursive, investigative element of the original lesson. By exploring the full suite of options and tools available within the LMS you are using, you could add gaming elements to the lesson, such as a print comparison game, and could also ask students to submit prints they themselves have found or even created, into a gallery where other students comment or even vote for their favorite.

    My point here is that the e-learning environment broadens, not limits, the teaching options - and with a clear focus on the learning objectives, instead of the technology, online lessons can retain the dynamism, collaboration and personality of the original face-to-face class.

  2. Stimulate prior knowledge

    In line with the constructivist approach of most blended and e-learning models, good online teachers explicitly mine for a student's baseline of previous knowledge, and build upon that.

    This highly personalized approach may have been overwhelming, if not impossible, in the large classrooms typical in the face-to-face environment, however using a decent LMS, gearing your content according to the baseline of each student is not that difficult.

    The online learning environment features wonderfully fast and nimble feedback loops. This means that an opening question or quiz can easily guide you on what students already know and which of them have a more advanced understanding and which don’t.

    Once you have established your streams of prior knowledge, you can use branching scenarios (built into most good LMS packages) to take each student on a highly personalized journey, where they build on what they know already - regardless of what that prior knowledge is.

  3. Invite responses

    Great online teachers manage to insert their personality and presence into their online courses, despite the obvious fact they are not physically present. Interactivity is often quoted as being a characteristic of life online, however, when compared with the cut-and-thrust of a physical classroom, online interactivity can be somewhat muted.

    One of the obvious benefits of placing your lessons online is that it automates very many time-consuming processes such as assessments and feedback. It would therefore be counterproductive to expect teachers to man their LMS terminals in order to continuously create a real-world classroom dynamic.

    That is not to say however, that it cannot be created. So, how can teachers insert a degree of personality and fluidity to a learning system that is by-and-large static?

    Naturally, synchronous online learning environments (where learning and teaching happens in real-time) lend themselves more readily to a teacher’s personality. The conversation and interaction is automatically more personable and therefore invites responses more readily.

    But what about the asynchronous environment - where students are accessing content in their own time at their own pace? An opening video, per module, is a great place to start, and will give the course a face and personality. Another trick to employ is chatting.

    Modelling the behavior you want to see is also important here. Invite students to reach out to you, and ensure you have set correct expectations for when you will respond and stick to it. In the interests of remaining personable and approachable, consider perhaps not doing this via email - which can be a bit officious and slow - but through your LMS system’s chat or messenger application. If students feel that you are responsive, they in turn will be responsive when you invite them to offer their opinions, theories or questions.

Keep an eye on the K-20 Blog!

Tune in next time where I’ll explore a further three habits of highly effective online teachers.

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