If you’re an educator exhausted with teaching online, you’re not alone.
Pivoting your skills from in-person to a virtual environment comes with its challenges in any industry. But for training and education, the transition isn’t always straightforward, and the pressure to succeed can be enough to induce burnout.
However, there are many tools that can help educators with confidently teaching online.
In this episode of The Visual Lounge, educator and digital transformation specialist Janet Lee joins Matt Pierce to discuss how educators can confidently create and deliver online learning experiences without burning themselves out.
Janet has developed many tools over her 25 years in education and instructional design. Now, she’s using them to help educators shift from in-person to a virtual workspace. In this post, she shares her tools to help educators successfully bridge the gap.
You can watch the video on this topic at the top of this post, to listen to the podcast episode, hit play below, or read on for more…
How to structure a successful online class
Preparation is often the key to success. Janet believes that by preparing a structured lesson plan, you can be a more confident educator, delivering more effective online learning.
The Madeline Hunter lesson plan is a tried and tested structure that Janet has updated to fit the online educator’s needs. Janet’s Online LIVE Lesson Plan is an eight-part template with simple prompts to help teachers motivate their students to engage and communicate learning points.
Janet’s plan includes a general heading for each section of the class, with idea prompts and a time guide to help educators stay on track. She gave us a quick guide for using this lesson plan for a real-time, synchronous class.
In a physical classroom, you may well have welcomed students in without even thinking about it. But in the virtual space, it can be easy to miss these natural moments of human connection, so make space for welcoming everyone instead of jumping right into to topic.
“You might put a prompt up on the screen. I always had something on the board when students walked into my face-to-face class. So why not do that?”
Janet notes that you can still use this time to establish learning expectations. Use a PowerPoint prompt or, if you share your slides before the class, ask if they’ve looked at the materials already.
Performing a warm-up exercise is a good way to get a read on your learners. How are they feeling today? Are they engaged, or do they need encouragement to focus? This will help you determine your energy levels and be aware of who might require checking in on during the later portions.
You can use any warm-up activity – it doesn’t have to be topic related. Janet suggests using a simple exercise to instigate discussion, like this example:
“If you were weather, what would you be? Are you summer? What about a hurricane? Are you rainy? It’s very simple and kind of sounds elementary, but it really helps. It helps to get the conversation moving.”
Using the tools or interactive features of your chosen virtual learning platform is another fantastic way to get students engaging, especially early in the class. Getting students familiar with using the keyboard in a comfortable situation means they’re much more likely to reach out to you when there’s an issue.
When you’re introducing your topic, take a moment to consider how you can have your students weigh in using the platform’s features. Janet’s favorite exercise is to ask students a quick-fire question about how they feel about the topic and get them to respond through the platform.
“You can launch a poll in your class. And if you can’t figure out how to work a poll, just use the chat, say, ‘Alright, from one to five, how do you feel about this topic?’”
4) Agenda for the session
It’s very important to be crystal clear when teaching online. Things often get lost in translation when education moves from face-to-face to online learning, so it’s crucial that you show your students where they’re going on their journey.
Sharing your agenda for the class might not be something you would do in-person, but for a virtual class, it helps communicate exactly what parts of the topic you’re going to cover and when. With this, students can better understand your expectations for their learning and how you’re going to help them progress from point A to point B.
5) Content slides
This is where you’ll get into the topic and begin sharing knowledge with students when teaching online. But if you’re making your own slides, it’s best to check that they make sense for all learners to use.
Janet’s top tip is to get someone else to review your slides first. Get someone’s opinion to see if the slides are going to help you achieve your goals for that class, or find out what you might need to change in order to make them accessible for everyone.
The other thing to bear in mind is that you have to be realistic about the amount of content that you can squeeze in and how you deliver it. Lecturing via virtual conferencing software gets boring fast, so consider how you can chunk up your content to keep it interesting.
Janet suggests adding short videos, either from YouTube or ones you’ve created. It’s important to direct your learner’s thinking while they engage with these videos so that they don’t switch off from the topic.
“When you put a video in, make sure you frame their thinking before, during and after. So, before you watch this video, I want you to think about our topic. While we watch it, here’s a guide what to look for. And then at the end, here’s how you show me that you can apply this material.”
Showing your learners the purpose of each material can help them stay on track to achieving their learning goals.
6) Three engagement moments
It’s much harder to maintain energy levels and engagement when teaching online versus in-person, so you have to stay on top of students’ attention. Using engagement moments reminds students that your learning experience is a two-way interaction.
“When we lecture constantly, we lose students’ interest and attention. And it’s not embedding the learning in any way. It’s like a one-way transmission. When you allow students to participate back, it’s a big deal… That’s the key here with instructional design, you’re designing something that students can participate in and make meaning from.”
Encouraging them to contribute shows that you value their opinions and emotions. You can ask them to engage and communicate with you by:
- Raising their hands to respond to questions
- Putting a thumb up or down or use icons to show emotion
- Commenting in the chat
Take any opportunities you can to encourage students to respond. A good place to start is getting students to make predictions about the topic, exercise, and so on.
7) Learning evaluation
The final challenge for an educator conducting an online learning experience is knowing whether or not their students really understood the class. Using a tool like Google Jamboard is Janet’s preferred way to take engagement one step further and give students the opportunity to show if they grasped the topic. It’s also how you can get your students to continue self-learning after the online class has ended.
8) Personal reflection
Every educator needs space to consider how the learning experience went. Take a moment after each session to reflect on what you’d like to replicate in the future and what you would change. This will help you feel more confident overall as you’re prepared and more experienced.
Janet’s adapted Madeline Hunter lesson plan is a great workflow for any educator transitioning from in-person to online learning as it draws on many strategies that educators might already use. But what if you’re not working in a live environment?
How to create asynchronous learning materials
If you’re educating in an asynchronous environment, then Janet’s go-to tool is the micro-learning lecture. A micro-learning lecture is a short video focused on one topic. You can create as many of these as you want to support your students, and these can be used in synchronous learning environments too, as you can share them within your slides.
To create a micro-learning lecture, Janet starts with this graphic to help her plan. It’s a simple three step-process from concept to micro-learning lecture completion.
Writing the micro-learning lecture should be very quick. Set a timer for 30 minutes and plan out the following points:
- Focus: what topic are you covering? Make sure it’s “micro”!
- Hook: how can you capture your learners’ interest? What’s fun, interesting, or cool about this topic?
- Supporting points: what essential points do you need to communicate to your learners?
- Call to action: how can your learners show you that they’ve understood? What’s the next step for them to apply their learning?
2) Script and record
If you feel comfortable talking freely about your topic, you can use your graphic notes to record your video. However, if you need more support, then elaborate on the points until you have a video script. You can then put your script into a teleprompter like PromptSmart or CuePrompter and record your video.
You don’t have to use fancy recording equipment. Your webcam and virtual conferencing software or screen recording software like Camtasia are more than enough to create great learning materials.
3) Share your video
However your students consume your materials, make sure that they can access them within their virtual learning environments. It’s also important to communicate with them to ensure that they are getting the most from your materials or if you need to make changes to suit different learning needs.
Creating and delivering learning experiences in these new ways is certainly a challenge, but with planning and research, you can find tools to help. Janet wants to empower everyone to feel confident transitioning to a virtual learning environment and shared her advice for anyone struggling with teaching online.
How to deal with burnout as an educator
It’s important to first recognize that you’re doing an amazing job. Educators are currently under an enormous amount of pressure to successfully switch from classroom to teaching online, regardless of whether you’ve ever had any training or experience in a digital learning environment or not.
Janet’s advice is to have a conversation with your students about how online learning is different, and what this means. Making sure that both educator and learners are clear about their expectations is a fantastic way to prevent anyone from panicking and create a culture of conversation around the change.
You can walk through your virtual learning environment, set new rules (e.g. asking students to send a message in the chat instead of raising their hand), and hold space for students to communicate if or when they’re finding the transition difficult.
If you’re already working with an established group of learners, then you can use your knowledge about who you’re working with and their learning preferences to design an effective class. It can help lead your thinking about which activities might suit them best.
But Janet’s number one tip for any educator is to remember that with an internet connection, most answers are right at your fingertips.
“Take a deep breath and realize you’re not by yourself. The answers you need are in front of you. You can take a moment and search online. I know it sounds so silly and so simple, but Googling your answers is possible. And that’s one of the biggest secrets of instructional designers is that we Google things.”
When you’re feeling anxious, burnt out, or panicked about teaching online, you can always try searching for an answer online. There are many forums where people share problems and answers, online education communities which share free advice, or you can even reach out to colleagues or contacts.
Finally, Janet highlights that preparing for your transition and your classes is one of the best ways to avoid panic. To access downloadable versions of the resources Janet shared in this post, and more, visit her website. For more free resources that can help you create better online learning experiences, including our course ‘Advice For Anyone Creating Training Content’, check out the TechSmith Academy.