As the closure of universities and schools becomes the norm, teachers and students accustomed to traditional classroom environments are figuring out how best to adapt to virtual classrooms.

While this change has certainly disrupted the curriculum, there are many ways you can create engaging courses for their students.

At Udacity, we’ve been perfecting this model for nearly a decade and are excited to share some of our go-to teaching practices.

1. Adapt to Your Environment 

To teach students effectively, we need to consider the environment in which they’re learning and how they’re absorbing information.

“The most important thing to remember when creating a successful online course is understanding that you are not teaching a room of people –– online education is most often experienced as an individual, either at their own computer or mobile device,” Kirk Werner, Udacity’s VP of Content, says.

Being mindful of what information is presented is just as important as the way it’s presented. “The tone should be as a trusted mentor or friend, rather than a professor’s lecture,” says Werner.

This approach can amount to a powerful difference in the way you present material, create lesson plans, and structure your syllabus.

2. Plan and Practice

Think of lecturing as putting on a performance. If you know your lines, and how you’re going to deliver them, the audience is going to be more engaged and absorb the information better. Teaching online is the same way. 

“Even if it’s pre-recorded and edited in post, the best online courses are produced by educators that have pre-built their content, practiced their words, and pre-staged their visual choreography so that everything is expected and flows smoothly,” Werner explains. 

3. Take Advantage of Asynchronous and Synchronous Time

The flexibility of asynchronous education gives students the opportunity to learn when they want, for as long as they want, where they want. This can be game-changing for many students, especially now, since their study conditions and routines might be less than ideal.

Most online education is asynchronous, which means that synchronous time is even more precious. Werner says, “Synchronous learning time should be spent providing direct instruction specialized for the individual or cohort learning. Group discussion, questions, and answers, or troubleshooting are best done with the individual (or group) and the instructor together.”

4. Focus on Interactive Elements

While the structure of online education can enhance learning, it can also be challenging to stay engaged outside the classroom. One of the best ways to encourage active participation is to provide interactive elements throughout the lesson, instead of just at the end. “Small activities, closed or open-ended questions, and practical projects sprinkled throughout the lessons will encourage students to be more engaged with their own learning and will provide more positive outcomes,” says Werner.

Werner stresses the importance of building critical thinking skills, which can be easily done with a little preparation. “To encourage participation with online groups, I would bring in small, quick surveys and thought-provoking questions that don’t necessarily have correct answers. They build critical thinking skills that can be applied to any number of situations throughout the learning experience.”

5. Implement Feedback

One of the most beneficial tools for improving courses and enriching the learning experience is feedback. An educator can elicit feedback from students with simple smile sheets (Positive – Neutral – Negative) or quick surveys. Then, immediately incorporate findings into the next session. The ability to alter the course based on real-time feedback can ensure students are getting the most out of lesson plans. “Educators must be nimble in their approach to allow for changes between one session and another, especially if they are losing students along the way,” says Werner.

At Udacity, we’ve learned that learning by doing is the most effective way to teach. Don’t just show students what to do and how to do it, but have them actually do it themselves.

Udacity students practice this through project-based learning as they complete exercises, assessments, and full multi-hour projects, demonstrating that they understand the content and can apply it to actual work scenarios. “For our industry customers and learners, this demonstration of qualification leads directly to new skill achievement, career development, and advancement. Udacity graduates are part of every major technology industry and have provided value to their employers at every level of their organization,” Werner says.

We hope these five tips help you improve lesson plans and create courses that will enrich student learning.

Explore Udacity’s online learning hub to learn the latest tips for working or learning from home and making the most of your downtime.

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