Lucy Parr, Managing Director of First Intuition and a member of the ICAEW Academia & Education Community advisory group, shares her experience and knowledge of how to facilitate effective online learning.
It is nearly a whole year now since many higher education establishments pushed in the chairs, cleared the desks, and locked classrooms and lecture theatres as the United Kingdom went into National Lockdown for the first time.
The need however to continue to support students and ensure that they could still progress with their studies, course work and exams was of utmost importance, so the move to online delivery began.
For some, this was a move into the unknown and adapting delivery style, teaching methods and ‘classroom’ environments was a significant change and indeed a challenge.
Fortunately, I had personally had previous experience of this type of delivery. Having worked in Professional Education for nearly 20 years, Online Live delivery has become increasingly popular, especially for students who struggle in terms of timings and location to attend face-to-face, in centre classes.
For me, it is so much nicer to be in the classroom with my learners and to be able see the penny drop for a difficult area or to see the confusion on their face which allows you to pause and revisit areas where needed. The conversation is much easier face to face and the ability for an individual learner to grab you for a few moments at the start or end of a session allows even the quietest and less confident members of a group the opportunity to ask questions or confirm understanding.
The lockdown however, left us with no alternative, and we extended the online delivery to those that would ordinarily have been joining their peers and using the experience not only for educational purposes but also for personal and social development.
Online delivery can be (and indeed has been) extremely successful and can achieve the same outcomes as face-to-face delivery, we just have to employ different techniques and tools to achieve the desired levels of engagement.
With it looking likely that ‘normal’ face-to-face delivery will not be possible for at least another few months, here are some tips for making online delivery as effective as possible:
- Your own set up prior to the delivery of a session is just as important as the session itself. Do not forget to consider your camera angle and background, clothing, Wi-Fi connection and who else is sharing your space. You do not want the attendees to be distracted by what is behind you, what you are wearing or the fact that the camera is pointing up your nose! You may need to consider noise cancelling headphones and additional microphones to ensure the best sound quality for your audience, and of course being confident that your Wi-Fi connection will be stable throughout the session is also key.
- Regular engagement with your audience is essential. Making more of an effort than normal to ask questions, ask for input or even just a response will hopefully ensure they are still following your session even if you cannot see them.
- Try to encourage ‘cameras on’ as being the norm rather than cameras off. If you can get half of the class to have their cameras on, then others will hopefully follow. I have found myself delivering into the darkness outside my office window at home on evening sessions where no one wanted to leave the camera on. Having cameras on, makes a better learning experience as you can see if someone is maybe struggling or if they are still working on an example or writing something down, and your teaching can be adjusted accordingly.
- Allow participants to be able to unmute. Of course, being muted should be the default to avoid background noise but encouraging questions to be asked rather than typed makes it quicker and easier for all. Again, regular pauses and interactions to encourage this will help.
- Trying to involve everyone can be difficult, even in a face-to-face session, but, depending on the size of the group, questions can be directed to individuals. This may also prevent the more confident, quicker learners from dominating a session.
- One way to get everyone involved is using polls. These can be set up in advance through Zoom or other poll formats such as Google forms. Online questionnaires and quizzes using Mentimeter or Kahoot can also make sessions more fun and interactive. Of course, these can take a while to set up and prepare in advance so wherever possible try and share resources with colleagues.
- A white board function is available with some online delivery software. This allows participants to type ideas and answers onto a shared screen.
- We often find that there are learners within a group that can answer questions quicker than others. This can firstly prevent others from trying as an answer has already been provided to the tutor or can mean that some learners may just copy that answer themselves without attempting it. One suggestion here would be to tell the learners to type in their answer but not to press enter until you give them the nod. This way, more participants will hopefully have time to attempt the question and submit an answer.
- Some learners are reluctant to type in answers through fear of being incorrect. One way to overcome this is to suggest that answers are sent privately to the host rather than using the send to everyone chat option.
- Break out rooms are another good tool that can be used to encourage discussion between smaller groups within the session. As the host you can then visit the rooms individually to join their discussions and ensure that the required tasks are being undertaken. This does need to be well directed and can be particularly difficult with larger groups for the host to be able to visit all break out rooms.
- Most online delivery platforms also have emoticons available for the participants, which are a great tool for engagement and allow for a simple tick or cross, thumbs up or wave and even a coffee break symbol so you can see if someone has had to temporarily leave their screen