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Leveraging the Unique Attributes of Online Learning

Updated: Feb 12, 2022

With the sudden need for many teachers to haphazardly move from an in-person to an online format, online learning is starting to get a bad rap. The online classroom is very different from the physical classroom; no argument there. However, "different" is not inherently less than. Besides possessing its own unique set of challenges, the online classroom also provides many unique opportunities. When we transfer the classes that we have consistently delivered in person to the online classroom with no consideration for the venue change, we are setting ourselves, and our students, up for failure. Adapting our typically in-person classes for online delivery means much more than simply uploading content in an online classroom. While there is so much to learn about online pedagogy, here are three key things to get you started when transferring a course online.

Adaption over replication

Most of us could write a lengthy list of all the things we can do in a physical classroom that we cannot do online. But what if we flipped the script? Consider a list of things that can be done in the online format and not in a physical classroom. What if we leverage the online classroom's strengths to make it a powerful forum for learning, rather than trying to force it into the mold of the physical classroom?

Did you ever notice when you watch a video in class, inevitably, some of your students start to get that glazed over look, or worse, start snoozing? Sometimes online lectures feel a lot like watching a boring video. When we deliver a lecture to our students in person, students feel more like active participants. On the other hand, listening to that same lecture online can feel more detached, making it hard for students to focus. What works well in the physical classroom does not always translate to the online format. Consider how a different vehicle could increase students' engagement with the lesson's content online.

Varied approaches

Instructors can reach more students through varied teaching approaches. There are many different ways of learning. The best way instructors can acknowledge this is to employ diverse teaching methods. One of the great benefits of the online classroom is its conduciveness to implementing various teaching strategies all in the same classroom.

A common criticism from students about online courses is that they feel dull compared to their face-to-face counterparts. A varied approach to delivering course content can help students feel excited about the class. Besides providing diverse learners a range of opportunities to engage with the content (think Universal Design for Learning), the variety keeps students interested.

Solicit and implement feedback

Every class is different, be it online or face-to-face. What works for one class may go over like a lead balloon in another. Student feedback is essential to fine-tuning all of the tremendous work we put into tailoring our classes for online delivery. Student feedback comes in many forms. A student's silence is feedback, just as much as a student offering a specific suggestion. Be sure to explicitly ask for feedback regularly, and don't disregard passive feedback, such as level of engagement. Be transparent with your students about the fact that you are open to feedback and making adjustments to the course to ensure they receive the highest quality of instruction.

Educators are some of the most resilient and creative people I know. These qualities are imperative to successfully navigating online course delivery for the first (or third, or tenth) time. The online classroom will never be the same as an in-person classroom. It's not supposed to be. And that's ok. Don't give up on online learning just because it was unexpectedly foisted upon you under the worst of circumstances. Try to keep an open mind, and keep working at it. By creatively leveraging the unique attributes of the online classroom, we can create a learning space that is great because of what it is, rather than in spite of what it isn't.

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