My learnings from teaching online

At Skein Company we offer marketing training programmes for specialist profiles such as engineers, scientists and medical trained personnel. With our marketing framework, we help participants to better understand market and customer dynamics so they can capture help the company maximize its market share. 

The world-wide Corona crisis has urged Skein Company to move our learning journey completely on-line. With a combination of live on-line training and e-learning modules, we now help our remote students to become marketers.

After my first 2 weeks of teaching online, I want to share my findings with you. In the 'live' classroom I have a quite active teaching style where I stimulate discussion with the audience. I'm always standing up and use the full space of the classroom. So adapting to the on-line experience was a challenge for me. Don’t consider this as a top list of things to do, because it’s not. These are simply the observation of someone who, after more than 20 years of teaching, has swapped the physical classroom for a digital one:

• Invest even more in connecting with your students. Acknowledge that everyone is working from home. Especially with groups that don't know each other, I need more time to 'break the ice' in the group. I try to relate to their home situation: family, pets, children, dogs barking in the background... You can gently relate to the setting of each of the participants. Some will talk about their home setting or the pictures on the wall.

• Bring a co-host to the training. When you are the host, you are focused on delivering your content. You need to think of the timing, the progress of your content and the interaction with your audience. The co-host is your observer and sees things that you are not able to pick up. A co-host can join the live discussion with observations and examples. I debrief daily with my co-host on what worked and how to improve the on-line experience.

• Plan for free time: The remote student’s home is a busy place, with many more distractions than a classroom. Some have kids, others have pets or live together with a group of other people... It’s important to make sure that your students can attend to their children, go to the grocery store and have time for some me-time as well. We mix live on-line training blocks with off-line exercises that participants can organize how they want.

• Traditional learning methods still apply: 'Online learning technology alone is not the magic answer, but designed and implemented well, it has the potential to enhance, simplify, support and scale a number of teaching and learning activities' (Belenky, 2020). Build in a number of repetitions in your training program to beat the forgetting curve (Ebbinghaus, 1885/1964). Link theory with reality, let participants apply new knowledge to their business environment... 

• Span of attention is on-line is shorter: Let’s face it, combining a computer screen with a headset is only entertaining when you’re playing a videogame. And even the best games become frustrating if you have a faible internet connection. As a teacher you have to really invest in offering visual and auditive variation. Very much as TV maker do. Engage your audience better by switching often between different teaching aids such as slides, videos, polls, lecture, reflection activities etc.

• Stimulate group work: Just as in real classrooms, big groups of people that don’t know each other, are intimidating for most. Working with small online break-out groups stimulate students to get to know each other better and improve the level of discussion.

• Reduce the amount of learning material: Online you miss a lot of interaction between students and there is very little non-verbal communication you can catch. All these are important for learning. As so much of this interaction disappears, students miss out on part of the learning experience and this results in less material you can cover. And that's fine. Student have access to a learning platform where they can learn at their own pace.

All participants over the last few days regretted that we did not have time for casual conversation. On-line we are losing the hallway, the coffee break and evening dinner discussions. You now realize the importance of those interactions to your overall experience. Those conversations have a direct impact on participation and on students’ sense of connection with you and each other, perhaps some of you have an idea how to tackle this.

I hope my experiences were of some use to you. If you want to exchange ideas or experiences with online teaching, just leave a comment or send me a message. Glad to discuss.

Erwin Knuyt - trainer, consultant, visiting professor

Recommended readings

  • "10 Ways to Help Your Students Cope with the Transition to Virtual Learning, It’s About Much More Than Just the Technology" by Tsedal Neeley Harvard Business Publishing, March 20, 2020.
  • "Beyond the hype, digital learning based on learning science" by Dan Benelky, Director on the science of Teaching and Learning at Pearson,
  • "Understanding how we learn, a visual guide" by Yana Weinstein and Megan Sumeracki, Routledge, 2019
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