effective online instructor

6 Tips to Become an Effective Online Instructor

Teaching Trends and Best Practices

Whether you’re a college professor preparing to teach your first online class, a company trainer looking to increase the effectiveness of your online training programs, or anyone who wants to blend digital —the fact remains that being an online instructor is a lot different than teaching in a face-to-face setting.

In order to run a successful course, you’ll need to be able to adapt to new technologies and approaches to learning. Fortunately for you, we’ve got some simple yet effective tips to help increase your effectiveness as an online facilitator and ensure a more enjoyable learning environment for all involved.

6 Simple Tips to Become an Effective Online Instructor

1. Discuss, Don’t Lecture

When you’re facilitating an online course, you cannot simply upload an hour-long recording of the same lecture you’d give in a face-to-face setting. It’s unrealistic to expect online learners to sit through a long lecture—let alone take anything valuable away from it. There are simply too many distractions in this kind of a passive learning scenario. Instead, you’ll be better off encouraging them to get into a discussion about the subject matter. You can do this by holding discussion forums; it’s perfectly appropriate (and recommended) to frame the discussion by asking guided questions that will keep the comments on-topic.

  • This, in addition to providing some relevant assigned reading/viewing materials, is a great way to get learners truly engaged. These materials can include textbook chapters, online videos, clips of previous or next lecture and/or PDF.
  • In terms of your own contributions to the discussion, remember that you don’t need to answer every single question or settle every disputed point. Remain involved in the discussion, but don’t become so involved that your learners aren’t doing any of the critical thinking on their own.
2. Promote Collaboration

Learning in an online environment can sometimes seem like a very lonely and solitary task. Aside from cases of hybrid classes that meet both in-person/offline and online, the majority of your learners are probably completing the entire class/training module alone in front of a computer screen. Herein lies one of the potential weaknesses of an online course; learners simply don’t get to enjoy the opportunities for collaboration and group work as they would in a face-to-face class.

However, this doesn’t mean there aren’t ways to promote collaboration in an online setting. In fact, you can:

  • Assign a group-project that allows your learners to collaborate, share ideas, and ultimately turn in a co-authored assignment.
  • Use breakout room feature to foster collaboration and group discussion during the class.
  • Use chat features to encourage learners to ask questions
3. Provide Bite-Sized Information

Let’s face it: human attention spans are shortening. And ironically enough, many studies have found technology to be partially to blame for this. When you’re facilitating an online class, then, it’s important that you provide content that will hold the attention of your learners. For example, while there’s nothing wrong with requiring learners to watch an hour-long video now and then if it’s relevant to the subject matter, this is generally not the kind of material you’ll want to be assigning on a daily basis.

Instead, provide students with bite-sized information that’s easily digestible. Infographics, short video clips, online news articles, and the like are all viable forms of media that your learners will both relate to and remain engaged by. So, when you deliver small bites, you can expect big results, in terms of engagement, learning and performance.

4. Include Real-Life Examples

Lessons are generally much easier to understand when they’re directly relatable to your learners. So when introducing a broad concept or theory, try to come up with at least one (and preferably several) real-life examples that you can use to demonstrate it. Think back to when you first learned addition or multiplication in grade school, and your teacher had counting blocks or other learning tools to help you visualize your equations. The same concept can be applied to just about any concept you’re trying to teach. And if you can’t come up with any real-life examples, you can always make up “hypothetical” situations to help demonstrate the concept to your learners.

  • Storytelling is a great way to drive your point home. Choose your characters carefully. Learn more on how to introduce storytelling in eLearning.
  • Use statistics and research reports in order to show facts and make a solid base to your presentation.
  • Including case studies is a good idea to show how a product/concept works in a particular situation.
5. Be a Guide-By-the-Side

When working as an online instructor or training facilitator, it can be easy to overdo it in terms of your involvement. For example, you may find yourself feeling obligated to comment on every single discussion comment or answer every single question that comes your way. If you do this, however, you’ll literally be working around-the-clock. The idea of an online course is that it’s supposed to give your learners a little bit of freedom in terms of deciding what they want to get out of it. If you’re constantly hi-jacking your learners’ discussions with your own comments and opinions, they’re eventually going to feel uncomfortable sharing their ideas.

The idea of being a training facilitator is that you facilitate the learning; you provide the tools and resources your learners need to take what they need to from the course. It’s a little bit different from teaching in a face-to-face setting in this regard, and that’s something that can be difficult for many to get used to.

6. Introduce Critical Thinking

Last, but certainly not least, make sure you’re taking measures to really get your learners thinking critically about the subject matter. This is sometimes more challenging to do in an online setting as opposed to a face-to-face setting, especially considering you’re generally unable to speak much with each student individually.

However, crafting assignments or asking questions that get learners to go beyond surface-level information and think critically will result in a much more effective learning experience.

  • Reflection activities and even structured debates can be a great way to get learners thinking more deeply. For instance, consider assigning groups of students with different viewpoints on a certain subject matter, and then having each group discuss or defend that viewpoint to the rest of the learners in the course.
  • Craft assignments in such a way that encourages students to go beyond textbooks and explore other resources and think out-of-the-box.

Overall, working as an online instructor can be a challenge—especially when it’s something you’ve never done before. even if you’ve been doing it for years, you need to adapt to the latest eLearning techniques and ways. However, by keeping these basic tips in mind, you’ll likely find that you’re able to lead truly stimulating and engaging discussions, and that your learners walk away from your online course or training module with an enriched understanding of the subject matter.

Amanjot Kaur

A marketer by profession and an explorer by nature. I love to read, learn, travel, experiment with new music and food, and have a good laugh.

10 thoughts on “6 Tips to Become an Effective Online Instructor

  1. Nice article and ideas
    I am currently working as an online IT trainer and these tips are so useful there.

  2. Great Amanjot, I follow your posts regularly. Your tips are invaluable.I just wanted to add my bit as an online Physics teacher, specially after what Sivaprasad and Santosh has commented.My experience tells me that in online education one size does not fit all. One has to be careful to adapt to the requirement of the course, type of learners and way of learning. For example my approach for an Indian student will be quite different from that for an Australian or American student . For Science teachers use of Powerpoint should be as minimum as possible.At each step one has to also devise some way to ensure that the learner is engaged.It comes with practice and experience.

    1. Absolutely. I concur 🙂 Each individual has different needs and learns in a different manner. There’s nothing one-size-that-fits-all. Let alone online education. Teachers need to really understand the specific requirements of their students and devise specific ways to fulfill them.

  3. Madam, l am SIVAPRASAD, free Lance trainer,chemistry subject,i want to become an online instructor,please guide me.
    With best regards

  4. Pretty useful tips, even the content per slide is equally important- loading it with heavy content with tiny font size is a common error which reduces the effectiveness .

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