Making the Switch

By April 9, 2020 No Comments

Written by: Rich Lewis, Client Training Coordinator

Educators have been leveraging technology to deliver educational content to distributed learners for years. Take for example the following milestones: 

  • If we’re talking about the ability to capture the written word on paper along with the means of transporting that paper across distances, then the earliest record of this is one Caleb Phillips who in 1728 began advertising private mail-based correspondence courses in the Boston Gazette newspaper.  
  • Once technology allowed for the recording of audio, the University of Wisconsin–Madison began sending course materials and lectures on phonograph records to distance learners in 1906. 
  • As for real-time instruction, in 1922 Pennsylvania State University was the first college or university to broadcast courses over the radio. 
  • Adding images to the mix, in 1953 the University of Houston began offering course credit for television correspondence courses.
  • …. And then came the Internet and the rest is history.

Certainly, the last two decades have witnessed significant growth in online learning opportunities for learners of all types and ages. But it’s also safe to say that direct instruction in the classroom environment has remained the predominant means of educating others…well, at least until our current world situation brought all things “face-to-face” to a screeching halt

While we all sincerely hope that our having to avoid gathering in groups is short-lived, the reality is that we don’t know how long this will last. What we do know is that it is not in our best interest to collectively pause our systems of education. As such, many institutions and organizations, both large and small, are hastily transitioning from the face-to-face classes that were being conducted just a month ago to a fully online learning environment. 

So, what if you’re an instructor who finds yourself in this position? Perhaps you have never even taken an online course, much less been responsible for ensuring your learners absorb, process, and are able to demonstrate the concepts of your course. The transition from teaching face-to-face to overseeing a fully online learning environment can be daunting, but it can be done! 

First, consider your instructional materials. Here, you’re probably in luck! Practically every text-based material used in classrooms has a digital source. In addition, most video/media content has a digital version (unless your class still uses celluloid film strips!). Even classroom manipulatives often have online equivalents. Being able to share your instructional material with your learners in an online class shouldn’t be a problem. Couple this material with tools to record audio and webcam video and it is very possible to effectively simulate a lesson of readings, video content, and guidance/wisdom from the instructor.

Be aware though, that’s a one-way street. Whether you’re a proponent of social constructivism learning theory or not, it is difficult to argue that learners benefit significantly from both student-to-instructor and student-to-student interaction. Take advantage of the discussion forums, chat activities, and messaging systems offered by most LMSs early and often to help build your online learning community. Remember, your learners may be new at online learning as well! The more support that can be provided to help everyone feel less isolated in their learning environment, the better. And remember that it is important that you, as the leader of the class, are an active participant in these communication channels and that you make your presence felt!

Naturally, the time will quickly come when learners need to demonstrate their learning back to you. Once again, this is where your LMS can shine! It is easy to create assignments and quiz activities that allow students to demonstrate their learning in a variety of ways, whether via the written word, digital project uploads, recorded video, etc. Just remember two things: 

First, be explicit in your instructions and expectations, including how you’ll be assessing the work learners submit. Second – and this is often overlooked – don’t assume your learners know all the clicks required to submit their response. Guide, guide, guide! The little extra time taken in providing detailed instructions will pay you back many times over by not having to deal with repeated questions and misunderstandings.

Finally, in the rush to upload your instructional materials and construct the activities that learners will complete, don’t overlook the human factors that can impact engagement. Online courses need to be more than a conduit for information that flows back and forth between the instructor and the student. Rather, there is an opportunity to make your online course a destination for learning. As such, when building your course try to establish a sense of “place”. Consider the physicality of the online environment and how it contributes to the usability of the materials and activities. This can be as simple as applying a more usable course format, including completion tracking, or implementing a consistent lesson structure in the course. A well-organized course that is easily navigable can increase learner engagement with the material and other students, leading to a richer learning experience.

Hopefully, some of these suggestions help those new to online instruction get off on the right foot! If you’re interested in learning more, you may be interested in registering for our Making the Switch: Take Your Face-to-Face Course Online webinar on April 15th.

Please feel free to reach out if you think Remote Learner might be able to help.