Establishing Successful Online Learning
“Establishing successful online learning environments starts with empathy”
“Online learning environments require steps to be taken before students arrive”
This article offers helpful considerations and small (but significant) steps you can take to create productive and successful online learning environments. It is primarily concerned with the online environment itself, not pedagogies for online instruction.
Now that Covid-19 has moved us all online, many educators are wondering how to create online learning environments that are conducive for effective learning and engagement.
While online instruction and learning is new for some of us, colleagues across the nation have been teaching in online environments for years. Learning and instruction will be different than in person instruction but not to the degree that prevents success. There are still learning outcomes and course objectives, and most of all, you are still the instructor. What has changed is the vehicle and method by which instruction is delivered. Rely on the strengths that already exist, and remember you are not beginning from scratch.
A final consideration before we get into specifics in establishing successful online learning environments, starts with empathy. Although we are not able to teach and learn in person right now, we are still connected by our shared humanity. Students are experiencing circumstances that are changing daily. This is exacerbated by the fact that home life looks different for every student; and, all students do not have homes. The first step in establishing successful online learning environments is to remember that students need real human connection from their professors. They want and need to know that you understand their life is very difficult to navigate, for you and for them. They need to know their lives matter beyond any assessment or assignment.
Just like traditional physical learning environments require steps to be taken before students arrive (proper electrical wiring for the use of lights and other technology, a clean and tidy classroom, etc.), online learning environments require the same. As the meeting host, you can shape the environment using the settings and features at your disposal. Consider the list below:
Ensure your online meeting space is secure. If you are using Zoom, read this article to secure your room. Safety is key.
Consider whether you want to allow students to access the room if you or another instructor/facilitator is not present. This could be the difference between a prompt start time, in case you are running behind, and a late start time.
Utilize the features that are at your disposal. If you are an instructor that prefers to not be disrupted by a question, instruct students to use the “raise hand” feature to get your attention. Set your account to mute participants as soon as they enter the virtual room. These and other features allow you to maintain management of the room before any student arrives.
The focus does not change once students arrive. Consider the following:
Introduce the parameters upfront. Instruct students to keep their devices muted to avoid disruptions.
If you are recording the session (which you should, given that students will miss some class sessions), allow students who are not comfortable being recorded the option to turn their video off or only use the chat to communicate. This empowers students to create the environment that is most beneficial to their success.
Speaking of student empowerment, creating successful online learning environments means allowing everyone involved to share responsibility for the creating and maintaining a space that allows for effective learning and engagement. Create “community norms” that guide and shape behavior in the environment. Some people use the language “community covenants” or “agreements” to capture the fact that each participant is entering into relationship with the others, and that this “covenant” is the contract to which everyone agrees. Once these are created, send a copy to every student and refer to it at the beginning of each session.
Fully utilize any feature that allows you to create small groups for further and deeper engagement. This feature gives you the option to set a time when all participants should be back to the main room without requiring participants to do anything at all.
Let’s end at the beginning. Establishing successful online learning environments requires us to connect differently. It does not prevent effective engagement and learning. Acknowledge the severity of the situation at hand in a way that is not discouraging or demoralizing for students. Utilize the resources at your disposal, including your students. Many of them are experts at the internet and technology. Do not be afraid to ask questions and seek their feedback.
Remember: the problem to be solved is not greater than the solutions that exist.