I’m Mattias Andersson, one of the instructors at A Cloud Guru. We've realized that many of you out there, right now, are going through the same journey that we ourselves have gone through—figuring out how to effectively train people online instead of in-person. We want to help you learn from our past and avoid making the mistakes we once did. And don’t worry if you haven’t done a lot of online teaching before; we were all new to this at one point.
Congrats! You're An Online Teacher
As our world rapidly adjusts to a new teaching dynamic, many teachers are suddenly asked to become online teachers. And while we don't doubt that you've got some serious teaching chops, the world of online learning can be complex. From new technology systems to teaching through a recording with no learner feedback, it's a big adjustment for most. My role is to help you navigate these new waters with the grace and precision of a determined swan. So first, let's start with the fundamentals.
Understanding Online Teaching
I have to start with an apology--and not just because I’m Canadian, eh? I'm sorry because the title of seems misleading. Because the "best" or "number 1" tip for online teaching is simply: teach. Remember that teaching online is still, at its core, teaching. It's important that you continue to be yourself and ignore the fact that it’s all happening online. Well, as much as you can anyway. And a number of our following tips will help you get past those distractions and blockers.
The fundamental goal of teaching is still the same, regardless of whether it’s online. You want to to put some idea from your head into someone else's head. And notice that I used “idea” and not “words” or “information”, right? Teaching is really about helping students understand, not just listen or watch.
And this is good news! Because it means that you're probably further along than you think. There are definitely some important differences, and we’ll help you overcome those, but the basic mechanics are something you already understand. Translated: you've got this.
Online Teaching Mechanics
So, I think it’s helpful, now, to break things down. Let’s look at the mechanics behind the goal. You, as the one doing the teaching start with the idea in your head. Next, you figure out how to represent and demonstrate that idea with spoken words and visual representations. You then communicate that to your students, which they receive through their eyes and ears. Finally, they process what they’ve seen and heard with their brains—making sense of it. We know we have been successful when this final idea becomes their own. This describes teaching, both in-person and online.
But the fundamental difference is that in online teaching, we change the communication part in the middle. If you’re teaching a single person, face-to-face, then you simply talk with them, like we’ve done for decades. And even if your class size grows, you can still engage students directly by looking at them when you speak. But online teaching changes this.
Especially if you’re recording your lessons in advance, it becomes a completely one-sided communication. You lose body language feedback that would happen in person with live teaching. You don’t see anyone’s confused or potentially bored looks. And sadly, you also miss out on what we love the most: when students’ eyes light up with those “Aha!” moments. And even if your class is connected via webcam, the communication is still quite different from in-person. You can’t look at anyone, specifically to get their attention, or to reassure them that it’s okay to ask their question. And because the students are usually muted, you have a much harder time “working the room”, so to speak, getting the whole group excited, together.
Laughter is contagious, but not when no one else hears it, right? So please realize that online teaching generally involves speaking to an audience of one, even when you’re teaching many people at the same time.
Conquering Online Obstacles
Now, that all might sound discouraging, but don’t worry! Understanding the issues is the first step to overcoming them; and there’s a lot we can do.
Even online, you need to focus on engaging and inspiring your students to learn the ideas you’re communicating. And not having in-person feedback means that you should be asking more questions, both before and during lessons. When you’re designing your lessons, ask yourself, “How could this be misunderstood?” and “Will Chris and Lisa, (or whoever’s taking the class) understand this?” When you put yourself into your students’ shoes, you can anticipate the concerns or struggles they might have.
Then you can address those issues before they even happen. You can tweak your presentation to avoid potential confusion or add a little extra explanation to clarify some sticking point. All of your students will benefit from having a teacher that does their homework.
Asking The Right Questions
When you’re delivering your lesson, ask your students, “Do you see what I mean, here?” or “Do you remember when I mentioned *previous topic* in an earlier lesson?” Not only do these questions help you, but they also make you appear relatable and caring to your students. You are encouraging students to self-assess and pause the playback or review previous lessons. This ensures that they continue learning, not just listening.
In the end, online teaching hasn't changed, but the way you communicate has. So don’t be afraid of the change or of this opportunity to try new things to see what works. You can do it!
And since we could all use even more positivity throughout this new experience, we want to encourage you to share your own story of why you got into teaching! Tag us in your stories on social media and please share these tips with other teachers and colleagues. Thank you for lending your talents to future learners, we’ll see you in the next edition.
Until then, from all of us here at A Cloud Guru,
Stay safe, and keep being awesome!