Teaching during times of disruption requires a pinch of creativity, a spoon of flexibility, a glass of trial runs and a pitcher of patience. It is to be expected that in these challenging times, teachers might feel overwhelmed, lost or frustrated. Most have had to abruptly change the teaching environment and make a swift change to digital when Covid-19 hit. In order to make all efforts, less time-consuming and more efficient for this school year ahead, it remains vital to focus on ensuring that your students are comfortable and that you are meeting the required learning outcomes with your online course plan.
Even if you might not be able to teach the way you would like to, focusing on the learning objectives means that you are always keeping the results in mind. Online teaching requires even more focus on the student. This overview lists some simple tips and recommendations to assist teachers in providing a successful student-centered learning experience.
10 Student-centered e-learning tips
1. Draw attention to the subject & create personal connections.
In an online environment, personal connections quickly get lost. Make an extra effort to get to know your students at the beginning of each new course. Create a personal, group environment with a convivial starter activity where students set off with an introductory question or quiz related to themselves and the subject. Include interaction, reflection, opinions via activities related to the topic that stimulate thought and curiosity.
2. Emphasize learning outcomes and overall benefits.
Help students see the bigger picture. Better learning happens when scenarios are linked to the students' own environment or when creating a bridge to new ideas. Let students explore from the start the impact that mastering this course could have on their lives and future professions.
3. Introduce flexibility in peer evaluation.
In an online teaching environment, avoid one-way communication. Students feel more engaged if they asked to self-assess and participate in the evaluation process. Why should the teacher be the only one to determine scores and success? Students can be invited to contribute to the steering of the course direction, get more involved in group work and evaluate each other's performances.
4. Make students proactive participants.
Make the students actively responsible for contributing to the online class content. Similar to point 3, create learning options for students to choose from, ask for ideas and input by stimulating discussions, group work and peer support. Do not make everything static. In an “open environment”, there is more room for flexibility, creativity and exchange. A positive atmosphere enhances student experience and learning outcomes.
5. Respect different learning pathways and rhythms.
Cement the learning acquisition of all class levels before introducing new content. Even more so online, it is important that learning outcomes are consecutive and repeated throughout the course. Quick tests and formative questions in between topics help to cement the knowledge acquired. Take the slower students by the hand through the course storyline so that they understand at which hurdle they have stumbled. Make sure that the fast learners have some flexibility to skip content that is already acquired and let them suggest alternative creative concepts, as well as ask them to help other students.
6. Check in and be a coach.
Be wary of overly strict structures. Avoid fixed commands such as “Today we have to achieve this; tomorrow by nine you need to have completed that”. Encourage some flexibility and options that create a margin of possibility for the students. It is better to work with weekly or biweekly goals, incorporating some understanding checkpoints along the way. Check in with your students using various techniques (a quick quiz, a Q&A session, a connect check) so that you don't lose them along the remote teaching journey.
7. Become interactive & maintain focus.
Create better engagement and learning outcomes by selecting and varying multimedia components. Rotating multimedia components can be done by asking students to come up with new content (they usually have very good IT skills and resources). Allow for unexpected turns in the course's storyline by changing roles and the way information is both sourced and presented. Introduce an industry expert or reputable figure who can add new flavor to the course content and review the class input.
8. Integrate consecutive evolvement in assignments.
Structure the assignments in a way that involves teaching from previous lessons. Create learning continuity with assignments that need input from multiple (new and old) chapters and knowledge from previous weeks. This requires the students to constantly review and repurpose what they have learnt, and is especially useful for those who may benefit from going over certain chapters again.
9. Change traditional ways of assessing work.
New teaching methods also require new grading methods. The online teaching environment has created new, creative ways of looking at assessment and the traditional exam system. Why not grade learners according to alternative forms of participation? For example: concept mapping, workshops, case studies, changing roles, peer instruction, presentations and self assessment. An engaging option is to let students grade themselves based on how they see their class contribution, or let them evaluate and critique their own assignments.
10. Create a student-centered and friendly course design.
Create a course format that is easy to understand, simple to use and fast to navigate. After the basics on how to create student-centered experience, it is important to embed this in the design of your online environment. The look, feel and navigation of the course design can have a significant impact on your teaching and your students’ success.
Whichever LMS learning software you are using, a logical structure and clear navigation within the course is essential. Keep in mind it is not per-se needed to create a thing of beauty, (especially if this is not your area of expertise), just make sure the structure is immediately applicable and useful.
If the structure, navigation and embedded technology distracts us from the essential, it can quickly become annoying and even more confusing. On the other hand, if your design is easy, pretty, maybe funny, or comforting it might indirectly lead to enhancement of concentration and engagement - which is exactly what's needed for an online course. The overall rule should be: keep it simple (unless you outsource the course design).
10 Tips for good design structure
Here are some very basic rules on your design structure.
- Start with a brief introduction. Yourself and all the class members.
- Show the course delivery-method. Make clear which elements are online vs. offline in your course (in case you teach blended), and which elements of your lessons are asynchronous or synchronous connect sessions. Add, where possible, links to the external communication software.
- Add (virtual) office hours. If you teach remotely, it's important that the student know how to contact you during fixed hours.
- Give a course overview. Communicate all the details of the course for students to use as a reference point. Include and link to your entire planning with a calendar overview that states all-important dates for connect sessions, assignments, assessment deadlines etc.
- Include learning outcomes and objectives. Explain to students what they are going to learn and how this is applicable to them on a large scale. Show clearly how they can succeed and how they are being assessed by including a grading structure.
- Present your online rules of behavior. This may sound strange but in an online environment it is important to set a way of communication, follow the time structures, deadlines, assignments, referencing rules, etc. Explain how you prefer student and peers to address each other.
- Include a social section. Create a virtual place where students can connect or post appropriate but informal content. This promotes healthy socialization among students, and can also lead to new input and ideas for the course.
- Create a clear and logical course storyline. Lay out a logical course overview with introduction, middle and end. Use different tabs, colors, recognizable icons or subtitles. Scaffold the content by including learning outcomes that you want to achieve in each section.
- Include some formative tests. Check knowledge acquisition in between sub topics. Test to see if your students are still following and are progressing before moving onto new course themes.
- Avoid content overkill. Try to cluster content or link to alternative pages for further reading (if needed). Avoid endless scrolling and info overkill on the first introduction page. Too much text is like a monologue in class and really demotivates the online setting. Rather, refer to other content, includes a video, a podcast or let students do some content research themselves.
Creating a perfect online course: there is no singular formula
We have not found significant outcomes of right or wrong course design. There is no singular formula for creating the perfect online lesson. However, it is very important that students begin their remote education with a positive experience. A negative impact will have a significant influence on the learning outcomes, the motivation and retention of your students. Keep them engaged, encouraged, curious and motivated with constant human exchange that they can relate to and feel part of.