How to teach online - the superpowers of teaching online
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How To Teach Online: Tips For Unleashing Your Superpowers

Mattias Andersson
Mattias Andersson

Hello, there! I’m Mattias Andersson, one of the instructors at A Cloud Guru and I’m bringing you tips for creating online content for your students. If you’re just joining our series, you can get more background knowledge in the introduction here.

And if you’ve already seen our earlier episode you’re ready to move forward and build on the context of online teaching, its key differences from in-person teaching, and how to overcome those challenges.

I have a question for you. Do you always know in advance how long each of your lessons will be?  If you’re used to teaching in a classroom, you probably do because your classes are scheduled, right?  But when we Training Architects at A Cloud Guru make our online training videos, we won’t know how long each one will be until it’s done.  But we can say that each lesson will be as long as it needs to be and no longer.

That’s just one of the superpowers of online teaching that we’ll cover today. That’s right…  We’re going to look at the things that make online teaching so special—things you can do so that your students learn even better than they would have in a classroom.

Curious? Let’s dive in!

Teach In Meaningful Segments

Let me start by pointing out that what I’m recommending is not only based on our experiences at A Cloud Guru, but also on the science of learning itself. If you want to look some information up for yourself, I recommend searching for terms like primacy effect, recency effect, chunking, and priming. But the most important topic is called “Distributed Practice” which I’ve linked.

Distributed Practice is where you break your teaching up into lots of smaller bits.  And this is especially powerful when the lessons are prerecorded, instead of live. Now, you might think that that could get annoying for your students—with all the stopping and starting, like that. Or that what you say to tie all of the lessons together—the extra bit of repetition of what was and what will be covered in each lesson—might also be wasting your students’ time. But you’d be wrong.

In fact, the truth is very much the opposite!  The studies show that students learn much more effectively when lessons are kept short and focused on one topic at a time. And this is simply because of the structure, but there are more benefits, too! For example, students will have a much easier time fitting short prerecorded lessons into their busy and sometimes unpredictable schedules than they do with longer ones.

I know that not all of your students will be like ours, at A Cloud Guru, but we have people from all walks of life trying to create a better future for themselves, whenever they can! Whether on their work breaks, before they roll out of bed in the morning, or even standing in line at the store! Those extra minutes can really add up, and we love enabling our students to take advantage of them.

Turn your extra minutes into extra achievements. Begin your journey, free.

Don’t Assume One-Size-Fits-All

So let’s get practical.  What does this mean for you? Well, a good guideline is that you should try to keep each of your lessons between five and ten minutes long. But there are always some valid exceptions, so don’t treat this as a strict rule. Having some particular lesson shorter than five minutes can also really make an impact. Maybe the concept is simple enough—the idea that your teaching just isn’t complicated or confusing enough to require more time. But giving that topic its own lesson makes it stand out—both in your course outline and in your students’ minds.

And the opposite side of the length spectrum can also have an effect! If your lesson really needs to go longer than ten minutes, then you are emphasizing how critically interconnected the parts of that lesson are. But use this technique sparingly, because you are requiring a lot more mental energy from your students—and making it harder for them to find the time for it.

It’s not only that you should just keep your lessons short, either! It’s best when your students don’t go through all of them consecutively, so you should have them do something else in between. This is especially efficient if that ‘something else’ reinforces your syllabus in a different way. Let me explain.

Address Multiple Learning Needs

Have you heard about “learning styles” or “learning modalities”? If you have, then what you believe about them is probably wrong—check out this link—but it’s still fine because the key takeaway is the same. You should try to present material visually, audibly, and with a hands-on component. This combines perfectly with the concept of Distributed Practice. Don’t just send students away between your small lessons. Instead, give them something to do with them.

Have you ever tried to lead a larger group of people through some hands-on activity?  Invariably, some people will blast through it at light speed and finish while others are still on step one, right?  This means that you’ll be forced to sacrifice the faster person’s time and the less speedy person’s learning, as you aim somewhere in the middle of the group. This discourages many teachers from doing these sorts of things, altogether.

But this is another superpower of online teaching: that these valuable hands-on activities can take exactly as long as each student needs! So interweave your lessons with different ways of interacting with the material. It’s great if that includes some combinations of the material you’ve already covered so far—even several lessons back. This will bring the ideas to life and make them stick with your students even better than you expected.

Little Things That Make a Big Difference

The last thing I want to leave you with, in this lesson, ties back to the first question I posed. Do you always know in advance how long each of your lessons will be?

I’ll guarantee you that the amount of time that goes into each video is much longer than the final runtime. So why is that? I’m going to list some of the things that regularly impact runtime, but feel free to think up as many of your own ideas as you can, first. Right now, I mean. How many can you list? There are lots of reasons it could take a while to record a short video.

The first one is messing up what we want to say. Maybe there’s emphasis on the wrong syllable, or we say the wrong word, or feel uncomfortable. Or maybe we forget to smile and engage and so it feels too flat. Another reason could be that we recognize, mid-recording, that there’s some better way to present what we’re covering. So we may stop and tweak it, before continuing.

Noises that might affect the recording might also be a reason to rerecord something. It could be a plane flying by, a siren in the distance, or a loud car on the road. Noises that affect the sound quality are also reason to rerecord. For example, for me, I have to remember to switch off the furnace while I’m recording, because it’s just on the other side of the wall and the noise comes through the vent above me. And in the place I used to record in—which didn’t look like it but was actually our kitchen—I would have to remember to unplug the surprisingly loud refrigerator. Thankfully, I did always remember to plug it back in before any food spoiled.

Choose Value Over Perfection

Finally, I always try to do two full run-through video recordings, to make sure that I have options during video editing. Being able to throw away what’s not as good so that what remains is much better—that is one of the greatest superpowers of online teaching. So don’t feel bad if—or, I should say when—what you record isn’t perfect. Embrace it, instead.

Now we’ve now seen how we can leverage the online medium to make our teaching more effective, but we’re not done, yet!  In the upcoming videos, we’ll continue our exploration of how to teach online by looking at some of the other steps in our breakdown of the mechanics of teaching. And if you aren’t sure what I mean by that, you should probably pop back to the earlier video in this series, where I described it. A helpful suggestion could be thinking back to the most recent thing you’ve taught. How could you have broken that down into smaller pieces? And what hands-on activities could you have suggested for your students to go through between them, to lock things in?

I’ll see you in the next video where we’ll explore even more ways to utilize your new online medium.

From all of us here at A Cloud Guru, stay safe and keep being awesome!

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