Tips for New Online Instructors and Virtual Presenters

Right now, someone you know (maybe you!) is bummed because the conference (workshop or course) they were hoping to attend has been canceled. Many associations are salvaging their in-person programs by converting them to virtual events.

This shift to virtual is usually done with some reluctance but it has benefits you might not expect. Because virtual events attract a more diverse group of people who normally can’t or won’t attend in-person events, going virtual expands your potential audience.

However, virtual is an entirely different experience for instructors and presenters. Academics call this rush to going virtual, “emergency remote teaching.” The learning experience falls short if instructors don’t adjust their teaching method. In truth, in-person learning experiences may also be sub-par, but when shifted online, the delivery method often takes the blame.

These may not be the ideal conditions for ramping up your virtual programs, but it’s a good opportunity to demonstrate the benefits of online learning for members and customers as well as its sustainability and profit potential for your association.

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Prepare new online instructors for their virtual “classroom”

First, don’t feel obliged to include all your original presenters in virtual events. Cull the ones who don’t pass muster even after training. But make sure you give instructors the support they need to shift their program from in-person to virtual. Don’t make them MacGyver the situation.

Review their program design and content and make strong suggestions for adapting it for the optimal online learning experience.

•    Chunk content into smaller pieces.
•    Space out (repeat) the most important information so learners have a chance to repeatedly recall and apply it.
•    Add variety, when appropriate, by including a mix of media and voices.
•    Include three types of interaction: instructor-to-learners, learners-to-learners, and learners-to-content.

Ask instructors to watch a “train the trainer” video or video series. NIGP requires its instructors to watch an on-demand course for teaching online. Be clear about technology requirements, for example, type of microphone.

Make sure every instructor understands how to engage online learners—we’ve written several posts on this topic:

•    How to convince reluctant instructors and SMEs to give e-learning a chance
•    9 ways to increase online student engagement
•    8 new ideas for engaging online students
•    10 secrets of online course design from award-winning MOOCs
•    How to get useful student feedback on online courses

Establish a buddy system that pairs experienced online instructors with newbies. You could also assign a back channel assistant, like a TA, who handles technical issues, attendance, and chat moderation for the instructor.

Discuss teaching to the camera

The oddest thing about online instruction is teaching to a camera instead of a group of faces, unless you’re using a web-conferencing platform like Zoom. You can’t read the room as easily so you must anticipate trouble spots and check in with learners regularly.

Learners no longer have a live whole person in front of them, only a static face. You have to put extra effort into being real. Pretend you’re having a conversation with one person, not lecturing a class.

Because it’s easier for a learner to get distracted while online, you need to give a high-energy performance to hold their attention. “Lecture with a level of enthusiasm that would be embarrassing if someone saw you in real life. Anything less reads as flat flat flat on camera,” said Dr. Paige Harden in a useful Twitter strand of advice about teaching online.

Dr. Harden said, “One of the best investments you can make is a proper microphone—look at a few reviews online—it makes all the difference to the quality of online lectures.”

Get attendees ready for the online learning experience

Earlier this year, we wrote about teaching members and customers how to succeed as an online learner. You could create a checklist from the points in that post and share it with new online learners.

Make your expectations clear. Webcam on or off? Microphone muted or not? Discussion participation required or not, and how frequently? Make sure the online syllabus has links to everything they need. Anticipate places where they might be confused or unsure. Answer those unasked questions in a program FAQ.  

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Keep learners interested and involved

How do you think learners will feel staring at a static face for 45 minutes? Instructors can’t just lecture to the camera. Everyone will get restless and start multi-tasking—and yes, that’s the instructor’s fault, not the learner’s fault.

Mix up the format with interviews, demos, videos from elsewhere, and short guest lecture videos. A conversation with another person or among a panel is more interesting to watch than a monologue. It also gives you the opportunity to role play or do a point/counterpoint discussion.

Definitely get learners involved by encouraging discussions, live chats, quick quizzes along the way (so they can recall and apply), polls and surveys. Share responses when appropriate. If you’re using Zoom, take advantage of its breakrooms for small group discussions.

Special considerations for online courses

On-demand (asynchronous) courses are popular because learners can proceed at their own pace. But considering the increased desire for connection, be sure to offer live (synchronous) courses too so a group of learners can get to know each other.

Two-week virtual courses work well for NIGP. These courses include two live instructor-led sessions. The learner works the rest of the time on course materials in the LMS and participates in online discussion forums with their classmates.

Keep in touch with learners in between live sessions. Upload short videos to make announcements, answer questions, explain assignments, or provide a quick take on a timely piece of news or article related to the course.

Establish regular office hours so you can provide coaching and support to those who need it. Request and listen to feedback about what’s not clear, what could be better, and what’s missing.

Address everyone’s shared challenges during this prolonged crisis: isolation, overwhelm, and uncertainty and anxiety about the future. Make a pact to support each other, share resources, be kind, and be patient. You don’t know what kind of issues everyone is dealing with.

Make extra efforts to encourage connections between learners. Support and community are so important now—and are benefits of learning alongside peers. Think about what happens at an in-person educational program. Attendees have many opportunities to talk with each other about professional and personal topics, get to know each other, and exchange contact info. You want the same thing to happen online.

Instructors may not have wanted to go virtual but it’s a good opportunity for them to stretch their comfort zone and experiment with new ways of teaching and engaging learners. What instructors learn themselves during this experiment will also improve the effectiveness of their in-person teaching too.

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