Effective Online Instruction

I know we are doing a lot more online teaching today than ever before, and you might be teaching by distance for the first time (or second if you count Spring semester).  Today I want to share information that could help in making your instruction as effective as possible.

Quality course design

Course Design Graphic

The syllabus

The syllabus gives students the course description, learning objectives, course schedule, and materials. It is a comprehensive guide to the course that sets expectations as well as requirements for learners. Because the online environment limits the physical communication between instructors and students, students need a clear course syllabus as a roadmap or guide throughout the learning process.

Digestible Content

The course structure plays a crucial role in the effectiveness of online learning. A well-designed course helps learners absorb the ideas quickly, retain the information better, and even enjoy their studying to a greater degree.

A suggestion is to break down the learning content into digestible pieces (chunking). Group the subject matter into modules, then divide those modules into sections. The bite-sized content also allows you to focus on more in-depth topics. This way learners understand the concepts fully before starting on the next subject.

Content that engages

How you format content is a crucial factor in your course design. It may have a great impact on the course’s engagement and learning outcomes. Some instructors might focus on the text and forget that they have an opportunity to have a variety of content types. Here are a few ways you can have content that isn’t just text based:

  • PowerPoint presentations to easily lay out information
  • Short (5 minute maximum) talking head videos to represent lecturers and enhance connection to learners
  • Animated learning videos to explain complicated concepts and improve the graphic experiences
  • Charts and graphs to visualize data
  • Games to increase interaction of learners and attract learners’ interest
  • Interview videos or case-studies to provide best practices and expert advice

Combining all those formats gives learners a broader learning experience.

Be a better learning facilitator and communicator

In many cases face-to-face learning meant students relied on a passive method of taking notes and listening to lectures. In online learning, the instructors become more of a learning facilitator than a lecturer. An effective online instructor must be a part of the learning community, and encourage students to be more involved in the learning process.

Think of yourself as learner

Student seeing his teacher on a laptop

Online learning is much different from the traditional face-to-face education. In online teaching you have availability of teaching time, place, and resources but you are restricted in physical interaction. You may know what works in the classroom, but it may not adapt well to the eLearning environment. Because of this, online educators need the experience of being an online learner to excel. One way to do this is to take an online course. There are various online courses out there for you to choose: credited or non-credited, free or paid. You have so many chances to experience the learning process as a learner. In doing this you gain valuable insights on how to produce an effective course. If you find a good course, you can learn from its structure to apply in your pedagogy. You find a bad one, you also learn what may not work in online classes.

Instructor presence

Getting instructor presence without the physical interaction seems to be a tricky challenge. However, you can use various methods to communicate with learners online. An easy one is just a friendly introduction video. In the intro, give your learners the expectation of what they could gain after finishing the course, or how they could apply the ideas in real life. More importantly, the introduction presents you, so students know who they are learning from. It is important that you create a more humanized environment, so students feel like they are a part of the community, rather than being an outsider watching some videos.

Connected learning community

An active and positive community also dispels the isolation of self-paced learning. You should encourage learners to be active in the conversation. Discussion boards and forums are great ways to generate the interaction from learners to lecturers and peers. Learners are then encouraged to be more involved in the courses by asking questions, sharing their ideas and exploring the subjects themselves.

Timely feedback on these online communication tools is also important. It is not always easy to find time answering questions on forums and replying emails daily. You can announce to students the expectation of how soon you will reply to their questions or concerns. Also, give students a chance to answer each other, but be sure to intervene when students go off track.


Picture showing a feedback graph, going from good (green) to bad (red)

Last but not least, feedback, whether from your students or colleagues, give you new perceptions of how to improve the quality of the course. Formative assessment is a great way to judge if the students are picking up knowledge. It not only helps students gauge how they are doing, but also gives you a chance to reflect on the effectiveness of your course content. Give low stakes quizzes, or quizzes that they can take numerous times until they get all questions correct.

Feedback is also more effective if learners consider you as a member of the learning community rather than the overlord. It’s always best to stay active in the community as the knowledge bearer.

Final Thoughts

Online learning does not mean putting traditional lessons on the Internet. The role of the instructor also changes when you go from being a lecturer into a learning facilitator. Going forward in the online environment means presenting yourself in a way that students know they are supported and encouraged in the learning process.  

How to be an Effective Online Instructor. (2019, August 15). Retrieved September 4, 2020, from https://www.flearningstudio.com/how-to-be-an-effective-online-instructor/

Thanks for reading the Faculty Learning Corner. Have a great Labor Day weekend!!