Tips for Successful Teaching and Learning Online

Monty King, Learning Designer at FutureLearn, shares insights from the free online course ‘How To Teach Online: Providing Continuity for Students’, and offers some tips if you’re new to online learning.

Teaching Online
How to Teach Online: Providing Continuity for Students was built in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and has been designed to provide support, guidance and expertise to teachers who do not know where to start with online learning. It was also conceptualised as a space for teachers to connect at this difficult time, in a motivating, engaging and supportive community of practice and, connect they did - the first run had over 45,000 enrolments, with educators from around the world teaching in every educational setting imaginable. We upheld FutureLearn’s Social Learning pedagogy by actively encouraging learners to share resources, reflect on their experiences and support each other as they move to online teaching and learning. For the full benefit of joining a conversation with a global Community of Practice we’d recommend you sign up to the course, but for now, here are some of the guiding principles we factored into the course development.

Start small, try it out, iterate
Moving to a new method of design and delivery is daunting. There are many fantastic products and platforms out there but try to resist the urge to overwhelm yourself and your students by jumping on every new resource or technological tool without good reason. Instead, go back to the basics of good lesson planning by identifying (with your students where appropriate) what learning outcomes need to be met and then figuring out how best to support your students in achieving these. Then, start with something you or your students are more comfortable with; try it out, and take it from there. Next week or next month you can reuse and iterate on this early foundation.

Curate, don’t create: and if you can, collaborate
The internet is full of teaching resources but it can be difficult to know what to use or where to start. By connecting with educators working in similar contexts you can save time by sharing resources and expertise. We saw this happening to brilliant effect in the How to Teach Online course with learners sharing everything from lesson plans to and strategies to engage their students.

Put students at the centre of decisions
The current pandemic is affecting everyone in different ways and has had a massive impact on what, when and how students learn. Taking a student-centred approach to design and delivery helps ensure your teaching and learning experiences are relevant, and accessible. At FutureLearn we believe asynchronous teaching can support students in diverse situations; it’s more flexible, more accessible, and puts less pressure on having to be in a certain place at a certain time.

Take time to foster relationships
Planning non-coursework activities and interactions is a way of checking in, injecting fun, and reminding everyone that they’re not working alone. Judicious use of synchronous technology for more informal relationship-building can be much more effective than trying to deliver all your content live. Innovative ideas suggested by course participants in How to Teach Online include weekly social hours on Zoom, sending quizzes by email, or running photo competitions in Whatsapp.

Be kind to yourself, your students, and their parents or carers
The experience of teaching a class remotely is new to both staff and students and more time is needed to plan effective online learning. However, overplanning or setting too much work will likely put extra stress on everyone. This applies to both your students (and their parents or carers) who feel they have to meet deadlines in and around their other life commitments, and yourself as you struggle to find new content, give feedback and mark student’s work. Try giving your students and yourselves a little extra time to get on top of everything (including navigating and understanding new technologies), and manage expectations by setting out clearly when and how feedback will be delivered.

Learning online
For those of you new to online learning, it can seem a little daunting at first, but there are strategies that can help you get the most out of platforms like FutureLearn.

Set regular times for learning
Online learning is a great way to develop new skills for professional development as well as a way to pick up new hobbies and interests. Now more than ever, it is the perfect way to keep your brain active and remain engaged and creative during lockdown. If you’re busy juggling work, life and study, try to set aside a dedicated time each week to focus on online study. It might be first thing in the morning while you’re fresh, it might be before a meal or after the rest of the family have gone to bed. If your employer allows it, look to block out time in your calendar dedicated to study. This can help add structure to your learning, while also setting an allocated time to stimulate the brain or pursue a hobby.

Work with friends and peers
Online learning can be quite a lonely experience, so it can help to enrol on the same course with a group of friends or work colleagues and work through the content together. You can connect as you would in person, by meeting remotely once a week, to discuss ideas presented through the course and apply them to your personal context. Studying as a group can be a great motivator, not unlike group exercise sessions.

Make the most of social learning
Some online learning platforms such as FutureLearn encourage learners to start conversations based on different course topics, which can help you apply new concepts and share insights with others. It’s important to remember that your fellow learners might have different life and educational experiences. Individuals will approach problems in different ways, so keeping an open mind and being considerate of other perspectives in discussions is a great way to deepen your understanding.

Take time to reflect
Apart from the time spent on the course and doing supplementary study, it’s good to spend time thinking about what you have achieved, reflecting on how you might apply your learning, and setting goals for the future. You can keep a learning journal either in a notebook or on a device, to record achievements and motivate yourself to learn more.

Teaching and learning online can be a rich and rewarding experience. Teachers who have faced the sudden pivot to online learning as a result of the coronavirus outbreak are building their confidence with education technology and realising the value it can add. Post COVID-19, we believe educators will embrace the opportunities and positives online learning brings, once schools and campuses reopen. Similarly, more than ever people are discovering the potential of online learning - you are a member of a self-selecting community, finding out more about a topic area of your choice with other learners from another part of your city, country, or even another part of the world. The opportunities for sharing ideas, reflecting on your current understanding and engaging in social learning are waiting for you, so if you’re ready for a challenge, why not start by visiting FutureLearn, and sign up for a course?

The second run of FutureLearn’s course ‘How to Teach Online: Providing Continuity for Students is currently open for enrolment, to begin learning on 27 April. It is free to join, with permanent access and a digital certificate available on completion.


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