Online Teaching System

Ten Characteristics Of A Highly Effective Online Teaching System


I must create a system or be enslaved by another man’s; I will not reason and compare: my business is to create.

William Blake


When we talk about establishing effective online teaching systems, we are really talking about facilitating flexible learning dynamics within a structured, sometimes private, yet always open environment. As online teachers I believe that we can most succeed when we understand the nature of group dynamics when utilising multi-media, discussion threads and asynchronous communication networks.

Creating one’s online teaching system can be both exciting and daunting. The exciting part lies in the freedom to shape and grow classroom dynamics with students all over the world, and the daunting part is the fear of too many bells and whistles creating an online Tinsel Town – superficial, glamorous, but without substance.

The good news is that we can harness the richness of educational technology within simple frameworks.

This brings me to the first characteristic of highly effective online teaching systems.

1) Simple & Streamlined

The system must serve you, rather than you serve the system. Therefore you need to be very clear about what you want from the system, what you want to be able to do in your course, and how you’re going to do it.

 Most courses will require virtual classrooms, class recordings, a content-library- where educators can store course material (documents, spreadsheets, presentations, multimedia files and much more) and a discussion thread – a place to engage learners.


2) User-friendly

A user-friendly system makes makes everything intuitive, efficient, pleasurable and painless.

Have you ever been promised the sun, moon and stars from a highly advanced learning management system, only to be stopped in your tracks with bugs and technical glitches that can only be solved through coding or finding and paying technical managers to manage your system for you?


No time to reason,

nor fix bugs to start your day

Systems must obey;)

Inspired by Haiku master Rakesh Bhanot.

3) Attractive Interface

If you want to enjoy teaching online and you want your students to enjoy learning online, then you need an attractive environment in which they can work and in which they can play a role in transforming and evolving the learning space as they grow in confidence throughout the course.

What this really entails is an implicit understanding of simple, social learning. A simple text-based framework that serves only to store word documents, spreadsheets, presentations and .pdf files will defeat the purpose of interactivity. However, a simple framework that allows students to link and embed their own creations onto your system will help your students create their own digital footprints in the collaborative learning space.

Therefore,  a streamlined system which encourages use of third party multimedia creations while hosting the works of students all in one place, without becoming ugly or unwieldy, is attractive and interactive.

4) Compelling course pages

This is the home page of your course. Potential and existing students will need to see a clear course description, list of learning objectives and a video of you presenting the course description, either via camera or image & voice-over. Sometimes we can combine all of these elements in a streamlined effect.

Here’s an example of an embeddable video I created for the professional development course I developed with Jason R. Levine called  “Build Your Teaching Business Online”.

Although this course is officially over, this video and the following links will give you a picture of what I mean. Even when courses finish online, the message and medium of the experience can be shared as a showcase of your experience.

5) Embeddable

In order to achieve the above, you must make sure that your course page has embeddable features. The one thing you need to transform your flat course into an interactive one, is, of course, the use of embed codes to transform your course description into an animated page.

“Unflattening” is a brilliant term coined by academic cartoonist Nick Sousanis to describe the life of a lesson. Check this concept out on his website or in his book of the same name.

6) Easy to flip

To make the most of your teaching system and to accommodate time zones all over the world, you need to be able to manipulate communication dynamics. This means that sometimes a course may revolve fully around the virtual classroom, but at other times you may wish to have students study some video lessons you have prepared, do some web-questing, or in various other ways prepare for the lesson before the actual lesson itself takes place. In that way,  the live-online class becomes a time for sharing, interacting, giving feedback and facilitating.

We call this flipping the classroom. Flipping has made online teaching very practical and flexible for those who know how to plan asynchronous challenges for their students.

A system that allows you to facilitate “while not in the room 24/7”, is one that can encourage autonomy, creativity and time-saving, whilst allowing students to transform their own learning environment via social learning challenges which are managed via forum threads and multimedia project work.

7) Time-zone friendly

Coordinating time zones can be very tricky with international students and colleagues. Therefore, it’s important to make sure that your simple learning space can translate directly into the time zone of each student automatically on their learner profile pages. All students should have to do is go to their personalized pages, select their own time zones, and voila – time zone confusion down to zero!

8) Socially-driven

Online learning by its very nature must be highly socialized in order to engage learners. Whatever may be missing from face-to-face communication can, in fact, be bypassed and even superseded in surprising ways as long as the teacher values the social/humanistic side of communication via communicative technology.

A social-savvy teacher can seamlessly integrate social networking into courses and onto a fully-integrated online teaching system.

9) A fully-integrated online school

Online teaching can become fragmented and confusing, especially for students who are new to online learning unless you keep everything in one learning space.

You need a virtual classroom software, a virtual content library, lots of space for uploading text and multimedia files, and a space for asynchronous communication via forum threads.

10) Social sharing capabilities

Now that you have a fully-integrated online academy, who’s going to know about it?

What if you could embed your courses onto your blogs, websites, and onto social media feeds?
What if class recordings could be embedded across various, open multimedia sites, not only for your students to access what they may have missed, perhaps via blog review & video, but also for  potential students to have a look at the kinds of course you run?

Online courses must speak to the world in order to remain relevant, alive, and contagious.

Do you have a sharing system?

Sharing systems can be both public and private. Students must sign onto your courses, just as they would subscribe to a blog or a news feed. However, you can decide which aspects of your work to advertise publicly on you Tube, on blogs etc. Yet, by keeping your system centralized via sign-ups and then allowing your influence to radiate from the centre, you get to protect your students and the integrity of your courses, whilst simultaneously engaging your wider world of students and colleagues.

Sylvia Guinan

is an online English teacher, writer and blogger who facilitates professional development online. She uses brain-friendly techniques to help students and teachers around the world. She designs educational materials, develops courses, writes resource papers and publishes ebooks. Her work is the result of much research into the psychology of learning, as well as hands-on experience with multi-media technology.

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