Students don’t go to school just to learn long division and the purpose of mitochondria —they also learn vital soft skills that serve them well as adults for the rest of their lives. However, teaching soft skills to online students is often challenging, as they don’t have as many opportunities to practice as their in-person peers do.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that remote learners will become poorly adjusted members of society, but as a teacher, you should be mindful of the differences in learning conditions.
How to teach soft skills to online students
Fortunately, there are still plenty of ways to teach soft skills that help students get on with their peers and find success in life. Here are some good examples:
1. Critical thinking
Today’s schoolchildren are entering a world where information and opinion are constantly available. This makes it easier for them to research and learn independently, but it also puts them at risk of encountering “fake news,” harmful content, and ill-informed opinions.
As a teacher, you can’t tell your students what to think. However, you can give them the critical thinking skills they need to negotiate today’s tempestuous political climate. Start by teaching your students to spot fake news online. Common signs of fake news usually include:
- A lack of credible sources;
- Clear author biases;
- Posted to disreputable news outlets.
Once your students have learned to identify misinformation, you can have them create their own fake news stories and see if their peers can distinguish fact from fiction.
2. AR conversations
Most remote teachers love the fact that online classes aren’t interrupted by gossip and note-passing. However, chatting between classes gives students a great opportunity to practice their conversational skills. Online students don’t always have time to converse with their peers, meaning you have to build it into your lesson plan.
You can facilitate communication while teaching tech skills by hosting conversation forums with augmented reality (AR) programs. AR is changing lives by allowing students to bring their virtual peers into the physical room with them. AR works by adding a virtual overlay to interactions like conducting meetings and playing games. This can replicate real-life interactions and gives your students a chance to practice conversing with their peers.
AR can also be used in your lesson plan to change how your students consume learning materials and media. Students who overlay their real-life learning space with AR software can “see” their peers react to movies and videos, which creates a feeling of community and togetherness in your virtual classroom. These students will also be able to manipulate digital assets to better facilitate their learning experience.
If you choose to use AR in your classroom, remember that you still need to set clear expectations and boundaries. Learning with AR should be an active experience where technology facilitates learning. Your students should have meaningful experiences with one another and be deeply engaged with the AR app or software they are using. You can even consider group projects using AR technology, as employers around the world are keen to find sociable, digitally literate employees.
3. Digital group projects
Group projects are a great way to develop job skills like collaboration, adaptability, and problem-solving. When working in a team, your students will have to navigate a range of personalities, interests, and expertise. This sounds like the ideal learning scenario until you notice that some students are doing all the work while others sit back and remain unengaged.
As an educator, you can give each student their own digital sub-task to complete. For example, if you are asking your groups to present the literary tradition of modernism, you could give each student roles like:
- Researcher: Find five credible sources that discuss the history of modernism;
- Analyzer: Dig deeper into the sources. Which are most effective? Choose three to present on;
- Speech Writer: Research the most effective speech writing practices. Using these insights, write a five-minute presentation;
- Orator: Analyze the performance of three great public speakers. Adapt their technique and use them in your speech.
A group project like this gives online students a chance to develop key digital literacy skills and ensures that the balance of work is fair.
4. Give effective feedback
Giving effective feedback is an underrated skill in education and beyond. Students who can provide their peers with meaningful feedback will develop stronger relationships and learn employable skills that will serve them well in the future.
Teaching online can help you facilitate positive feedback practice. Programs like Google Docs, Word, and Prezi allow your students to leave comments for their peers. Students are less likely to become distracted when giving feedback online, as they don’t have the opportunity to start chatting.
However, before you set your students loose on each other's work, give them a few feedback methods to use. There is no “right” way to give online feedback, but all peer-to-peer feedback should be formative and overwhelmingly positive. Encourage students to identify things that their peers do well and ask them to pose issues that they find as questions rather than definitive statements.
5. Going the extra step
When teaching, you’ll likely identify a few students who are struggling to connect with their peers and develop soft skills. You can do your best to support these students by strategically planning break-out rooms and giving them activities they might like. However, at some point, you may need to seek extra help.
If you notice a student is falling behind on their soft skills, you can host a private, tactful conversation with the child’s parents. Depending on the conversation you have, you may suggest some form of therapy for the student.
There are plenty of different types of therapy, and not all methods are right for students. However, common practices like cognitive behavioral therapy and narrative therapy can be ideal for children who are experiencing some amount of anxiety or depression.
Even if therapy isn’t the right answer for a student, just showing up for your learners and advocating for them can be a great way to model positive social behavior. Most parents will be receptive to hearing about any concerns you may have and will do their bit to help their children develop the soft skills they need.
Teach soft skills to online students
Soft skills are an important part of every student’s development. As a teacher, you can encourage children to develop critical thinking and a collaborative mindset through augmented reality programs and group projects. Be sure to reach out to the parents of any children who seem to be struggling with soft skills, as parental engagement is key to ensuring students have a positive learning experience.