You can read 1,000 articles about teaching online, and still end up seriously confused about what to expect.
There’s a lot of complicated information out there.
And some of it is plain misleading.
So let’s break things down to the basics.
To master your online teaching environment, there are two things you need to do first and foremost.
- Know the key features of your Learning Management System, and
- Address the lack of face-to-face contact in online learning.
Makes sense, right?
Let’s look at how to do both of these things like a seasoned professional.
1. Know the key features of your Learning Management System (or LMS, as it’s known)
You can learn how your LMS works pretty quickly, and in the privacy of your own office.
Just shut the door, take a deep breath, and spend a little while coming to grips with how everything is laid out.
Many learning organizations post a short video to show students how to navigate the system.
If you take the 5 minute tour yourself, you’ll know the basics, too.
See if your LMS has a quick video tour.
(It’s probably under the Student Resources or Student Support tabs.)
If so, take the tour now, and see how easy it is to get oriented.
If you can’t find a video tour of the LMS, go with Plan B.
Simply devote the next 10 minutes to taking a self-guided whistle-stop tour to the main features you’ll need to use.
A little private orientation now will set you up for the whole semester.
Suddenly you’re not a stranger in a strange land.
You know how to make it back to your cave without getting lost, or eaten by a passing woolly mammoth.
Don’t spend days and days of your life learning the LMS!
You don’t have to read 500 pages of user documentation here.
There’s simply no need to know how every single little feature works.
I’ve been teaching online for 10 years, and I only use a fraction of the features available in my LMS.
Not every feature is relevant to my courses, and I don’t have time to learn them “just in case”.
You’ll likely be in the same boat.
So learn enough to get started, and pick up additional features if and when you need them.
2. Address the lack of face-to-face contact.
The lack of face-to-face contact in the e-learning environment presents special challenges.
Students commonly struggle with the fact that real-time communication is unlikely.
And when students can’t see you, or get an instant response to their questions, they can start feeling lost and isolated.
So you need to take steps to make the learning environment a little more welcoming.
There are specific techniques that can help you to create a warm, engaging online learning space – where both you, and your students feel comfortable.
8 Ways to Set up a Welcoming E-learning Environment
1. Reach out to your students with a welcome email
A welcome email sent to all students at the beginning of the course will help to break the ice.
It shows that there’s a real flesh-and-blood person running things, who’s available to help them.
The welcome email is also a great opportunity to lay some ground rules for the course, so the students know what to expect (and what’s expected of them)!
Writing a welcome email is easy. Here’s a simple template you can customize to suit your needs.
Add it to the Announcements in your LMS and then send it out to students as a bulk message.
Hello, I’m Dr. Liz Hardy and I’m your facilitator for this paper.
Welcome to the course!
This semester runs from xxx to xxx.
All assessment requirements must be completed within this timeframe; due dates can be found under the Calendar link.
Please take a little time to find your way around Blackboard, so that you can begin work as soon as possible.
I answer emails within 24 hours, and will return your graded work to your student email address within 10 working days of submission.
If you have any questions about this paper, please just ask. My email address is: xxxxxx.
All the best with your studies.
2. Ensure navigation is as simple as possible
The labels for the different sections of your course need to be as self-explanatory as you can make them.
In my courses, for example, assessment information is under the Assignments tab.
Course materials and readings are under the Course Materials tab.
Due dates are in the Calendar.
See what I mean? Simple and intuitive is the goal here.
3. Edit instructions for clarity
If a learner is studying alone at 11pm and can’t work out what she’s supposed to do next, then she’s stuck.
If you don’t intend to wait by your keyboard until midnight just in case someone needs help, just do this…
Make your instructions crystal-clear, and students will find it much easier to work independently.
4. Assessment information should be front-and-center
All students are worried about how they’ll be assessed.
Make sure that assignment due dates are easy to find, and that the assessment requirements are simply explained.
5. Make an appearance on the discussion boards
Learning institutions differ widely in their approaches to discussion boards.
Ask your manager if there’s a preferred approach to handling online discussions.
Until you find out, let me tell you what I do.
In the organization I work for, the discussion boards function as virtual tutorials that are mostly for student interaction.
That means I don’t check in every day or answer every comment, but I do pop in now and then to offer guidance and quick feedback.
This adds another touch of humanity to what can be a sterile learning environment.
6. Set up prompts for assignment deadlines
If you set up automatic deadline reminders, you’re effectively helping students in two ways.
Firstly, you’re reaching out directly with a friendly prompt (someone cares!).
And secondly, your gesture will help them get organized to submit their work by the required deadline.
The learning environment suddenly seems like a warmer place, where progress is possible.
It’s really easy to pre-load your assignment reminders as timed Announcements.
i) Open up a new Announcement in your LMS.
ii) Customize this wording:
Don’t forget that Assignment 1 is due next week, 18 July. Please make sure you submit on time, via Blackboard.
iii) Now scroll to the bottom of the screen, click “restricted date,” and input the date for when you want it to go live – around a week before the assignment is due is a good rule of thumb.
7. Let students know about support services
Most organizations have an array of support services available to students – everything from study skills to counselling.
Many students won’t know about this unless you tell them.
In some cases, this information can mean the difference between a learner dropping out, and making it to the finish line.
8. Create a FAQ page
You’ll probably be surprised at the volume of student email you get when you teach online.
Email is usually the main form of communication, so it does make sense.
Here’s a great way to lighten your email workload a little, and make the online environment more user-friendly at the same time.
Set up a Frequently Asked Questions page, where students can answer their own questions.
It’s a virtual information booth in the wilderness.
Learn how to set up a FAQ page right here:
So there you have it…
These are some highly practical ways to tame the wilder elements of your new online learning environment.
Implement these simple changes, and your students will think you’ve been hunting your own food for years.
Next up, we’re going to look at a tool more powerful than even the biggest wooden club…communication!