Online learning is certainly one of the great trends of 2020; its rise requires instructors to learn how to communicate with others effectively.
Way before the pandemic necessitated schools and universities to move their classes online, e-learning was already on the rise. Whether it’s yoga or gardening, mathematics, or philosophy, anyone wanting to increase their knowledge in virtually any area would be able to find a multitude of choices online.
Now with social distancing recommended by experts around the world, it’s clear that e-learning will be going mainstream. However, it is not without its own issues.
But if you prefer to watch a video instead, click here:
The problem with e-learning
Clearly, there are many advantages to e-learning, the first being that you can do this anytime, anywhere there’s a stable internet connection. Some classes can even be downloaded to revisit later, which makes e-learning very convenient. An online course also costs less and certifications are increasingly recognized.
However, it’s also a very different experience than a face-to-face course. The lack of face-to-face means that students may feel isolated, unmotivated, and unsupported. The convenience factor can backfire; students who join anytime anywhere can also quit anytime, anywhere. Many courses, especially academic courses, are still designed based on the traditional classroom model which may not resonate in a world where people prefer consuming content on their mobiles. People have way shorter attention spans; if it’s not fun to sit in a lecture in a university auditorium, it’s definitely not fun to do it in front of the computer.
Hence, learner completion rates are often low- as little as 10%. People who complete a course don’t enjoy the experience enough to come back for more. Instructors, therefore, have plenty of motivation to find ways to create a better experience, and they may be able to do this by fostering a community and communicating better.
How to Communicate with Others More Effectively
The instructor is the leader of the class, therefore it is their duty to communicate as well as they can. While it would be nice if every student could calmly explain and clearly identify their troubles with the course, this is unfortunately not the reality for e-learners, many who are tired and busy and stressed with managing other parts of their lives.
So whether you’re a newbie moving to the digital space, or a veteran online teacher, you should always be actively trying to improve communications with your students.
Here are a few tips to keep students from switching off:
Keep it short
Everyone in this world is short on time and constantly bombarded by distraction. Assume that while your students want to learn, they also won’t have much time for you. It will work in your favor to keep your communications short and sweet. You’d be aiming to communicate your points effectively, hitting all the key points without droning on and on. This is a good principle in general; train yourself to really focus on what’s important, and trim the fat.
It might be good to break up your visuals and emphasize your main points with aids like images, tables, or charts. As mentioned above, people do tend to have really short attention spans. It’s easy to lapse off when you’re just staring at your instructor talking.
Students feel more supported and find more satisfaction when they are confident they can access their instructors to help with learning challenges. A personal touch is important to help students finish, and return for more. Ideally, you should not be too difficult to reach. If you have a preferred method of contact, make sure to highlight it.
You’ll also want to be upfront about how long people might have to wait to get a reply from you. This will help manage expectations, so you don’t get spammed by panicky students who think you’re ignoring them because they haven’t yet heard back from you. You could avoid this by simply stating that students can expect you to reply within 24 hours.
In fact, it might even be helpful to offer designated hours where you will be available for a quick chat. Publish something like your online office hours in a calendar and let students sign up for meeting sessions. When people are isolated, even something like a quick live conversation could do plenty to help.
It’s easy to forget that discussion forums are in fact another means for instructors to communicate with their students. After all, discussion forums are most commonly the purview of the learning community, and the students can pretty much keep the forum lively without instructor involvement.
However, it can be a great help if instructors get involved. Students may work harder to contribute to discussions more thoughtfully if they know their instructor is involved in the forum. It’s a good place for instructors to interact with students in a less formal setting. You could even give students a peek at your personality.
So don’t neglect the community – forming connections could help bring your course material to life!
Everyone wants to know that somebody cares. And e-learning, while convenient for both student and instructor, can feel extremely impersonal. Giving thoughtful feedback can help mitigate this. It can be very discouraging for students to feel as if their work is never reviewed by a living, breathing human being.
So while obviously some work, like quizzes or single-answer questions, can be automatically reviewed, it would be good to take the time to provide detailed feedback with something like an essay. It might be more tedious and time-time-consuming, but your students will appreciate it, which is good for you in the long term.
Proof-read for clarity
Proof-read and check your spelling and grammar – this goes a long way to ensure you look and sound professional. It’s important to always convey respect in your communications, so don’t send any post or video out in haste. You might even want to let someone else read or view your material prior to posting as they may point out areas that are difficult to understand or poorly explained.
Recognize that an online course is not a classroom
Nuance does not translate well online, so etiquette may be tricky. When you’re communicating with students, remember that it’s difficult for them to interpret your tone, and you theirs. A quick and formal response may feel cold or annoyed. A humorous comment might seem snappy or rude if they don’t pick up that it was made in jest.
It will pay off to be concise and clear, leaving no room for confusion. You should also reread your communications so that it sounds the way you intended. To avoid misunderstandings, invite your students to ask you questions if some things aren’t clear to them.
It would also be best to not use acronyms or slang terms unless you’re positive everyone will get what you’re referring to.
Try some motivation
You might want to take some tips from online fitness instructors for this one! This might be a tad cheesy, but it does help students when their instructor believes in their ability. This is especially true when the instructor and student do not share a physical space. In real life, an instructor can communicate warmth and encouragement via body language and facial expressions. This is missing online; an instructor will need to be very clear in what they say to get the message across. This may be as easy as a “This may seem complicated now, but if you can keep at it you’ll soon get the hang of it”.
You’d want to think of ways to make your students feel as supported as possible. This could mean opening up different channels for communication. How about social media? A study found that students who used Twitter to communicate with classmates and instructors were more engaged and ultimately even received higher grades. Again, this is where the community factor comes into play – people like to feel like they are a part of an engaged community of like-minded folk.
You may also consider using automated e-mails to remind students that you’re available to offer support. Program these e-mails to respond to certain triggers, like if they fail a quiz or have not logged in for a few days. You can then offer a targeted response, like a short video for absent learners to reconnect. Or an offer for a personal meeting for students who are struggling.
What can you do beyond the realm of the course?
If many of your students are having issues with the same things, this is known as a sticking point. You may be able to address those sticking points as part of your content marketing.
Think of it as an opportunity for you to further market your services. You may want to write detailed blog posts on certain issues, which you could send to students. This method also keeps you from having to repeat yourself over and over again, which can be frustrating.
You could even create an extra module in your course and market it to people who are having lots of trouble grasping the concept.
If many people are having trouble with the same thing, this is your chance to improve. It may be time to simplify or to find another way to explain the same concept.
It’s all up to your mindset. If people are struggling, don’t automatically assume it’s because they are lazy or bad students. Effective e-learning is not actually an easy process; and the best thing you can do is to see obstacles as opportunities to do better.
In conclusion, e-learning is booming so it’s important for instructors to be able to communicate effectively with their students to improve outcomes for both parties. E-learning has many advantages but instructors have to grapple with the fact that the fact of face-to-face contact can hamper learning efforts. Some ways they can communicate more effectively is by optimizing course material to be compact, informative, and interesting. They should endeavor to be contactable and participate in discussion forums if possible. Thorough feedback is appreciated, as well as support through other means like social media and e-mails. Instructors should always remember that the online course is not the classroom; they will be speaking to a diverse range of students so they should always be respectful with communications. Finally, a little motivation can go a long way!