How to Make a Real Difference Teaching Online Courses
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E-learning has made great strides in recent years with more instructors and thought leaders than ever creating online courses. But there’s been an admitted lapse in actual content integration. EdSurge reported that only between 5 and 15 percent of students who start online courses end up finishing. That should be disheartening to course owners, not because of the money — courses are usually pay-to-access — but because what you teach online can really make a difference.
There are adjustments online teachers can make to amplify the e-learning process, making it transformative for every student, even if they never meet face-to-face. At the heart of it, online instructors should want to make these changes, simply to make a difference in the lives of their students — which could lead to word-of-mouth referrals and other business advantages.
1. Seek to understand the learner’s language, and offer options for every type of learner.
Not everyone learns using the same method. In fact, there are seven different types of learning styles — visual, aural, verbal, physical, social, logical and solitary. Many course creators and instructors simply make their course based on the way they like to learn, or the way they’ve seen information presented in the past, which can exclude a large group of students. I have taken courses that have been hard for me to connect to off the bat, and Blandine Carsalade, author and founder of an online learning platform for children, Book Prunelle, says dismissing all the different learning styles is the wrong way to do things.
“Everyone has a different way of understanding things, and no one is the same,” she observed. “Some need to hear it, some need to read it, and some need a story around it in order to understand. A teacher must understand the way the learner understands the world, then understand their language,” she said. Make sure to go beyond your natural way of learning and teaching when creating the course. That may entail asking a friend with a different learning style to take the course and be brutally honest about where they were mentally disengaging.
2. Provide feedback when there’s time to make an adjustment.
In addition to providing multiple mediums for learning, check to see how your students are doing halfway through the course. Employ team members or invest the time yourself to review a short "assignment" to make sure they’re understanding the material and that they can get real-time feedback. If your course is on utilizing Facebook ads, have them create a mini one and give them feedback on how they selected their audience.
Flower Darby posited in The Chronicle: “Have your students had the opportunity to build — step by step, like they would in an in-person classroom — the knowledge and skills they will need to do well?” Shaping your online course to incorporate these step-by-step, “scaffolding”-like assessments will help students feel like they’re making real progress, and make the process of integrating their learning full time after the course less daunting.
3. Offer real mentorship beyond the course.
Many online instructors begin by recording the content to a beta group live, then packaging these videos for future students. The beta students, who got to learn in real time as the instructor was teaching, tend to get far more from the experience than the future students, simply because they’re interacting with a real person who can answer their questions. It’s easier to check out mentally when there’s no one actually physically there, holding the student accountable.
Marc Angelo Coppola, the founder of Superhero Academy, encourages course teachers to think differently about their role. “People aren't looking for knowledge — that's what Google and YouTube are for — they are looking for a role model they can actually interface with,” he shared. “They need real mentorship from a mentor who actually cares and sees a ton of utility in passing on their genius to the next generation.” Think about the best class you ever took in high school or college. You likely had a professor who saw something unique in you and took the time to foster this spark.
This has far-reaching implications. Coppola went on, “If young entrepreneurs can accelerate their learning curves through powerful mentorship, they can more quickly get to the phase of financial success, network and life that so many turn to philanthropy and actually merge the two into what I call being a philanthropreneur.”
This is how online courses can create a real difference in the world: by enabling their students to go out and make a difference with what they learn. But that can’t be done by haphazardly putting a course together. It can only be done through real mentorship, the integration of different learning styles and offering step-by-step “homework” to ensure the student is learning as they go.