Remote learning entails more than delivering the same instructional materials online as you would in a classroom setting. Besides adapting to a different professor-student dynamic, instructors need to overcome various challenges to create an impactful and engaging remote learning experience.
Before we get started, it is important to acknowledge that the current situation that professors find themselves in can be quite hard. The demand on instructors these days can be overwhelming, especially considering that they need to concentrate on more than teaching and classwork. However, with the right software, tools and a bit of organization, these tips can help.
A cohesive and highly-effective remote learning curriculum should leverage the latest technologies and learner-centered teaching techniques. While you can repurpose in-person course materials as a starting point, you should enhance the remote learning experience with these instructional design best practices and strategies:
Promote Active Learning
Remote learning requires students to self-pace and self-direct. An active learning experience can help them stay focused and motivated by “turning on” different parts of the brain to better engage with the course materials, apply the knowledge, and connect the dots.
Active learning goes beyond the mere transfer of information. You should incorporate interactivity into the instructional materials (e.g., drag-and-drop activities and simulations,) connect lessons to relevant and relatable real-world scenarios, facilitate collaboration among students, and encourage discussions through forums or message boards.
Balance Structure, Flexibility, and Choice
While following a structure is essential to any curriculum, educators should address challenges faced by some students, such as limited access to devices and the internet. You should offer flexible times to participate in activities so students don’t feel unnecessary pressure.
In addition, consider building more choices into the curriculum and assume that students will have minimal supervision or guidance to complete their assignments. This can help reduce instances of students feeling overwhelmed, disinterested, and frustrated.
Pace Course Content Strategically
When using video presentations in a lesson, keep each segment focused and concise (e.g., under 15 minutes) to prevent students from getting distracted. However, avoid cramming too much information into one video as it could cause “data fatigue.”
Orchestrate your course content and build in break times strategically. Meanwhile, you can use a “chunking strategy” to divide information into smaller sections based on similar patterns so it’s easier to digest. This can also help you introduce more flexibility into the course structure so students can learn at a pace that works for them.
Facilitate Student Collaboration
Interactions and collaboration among students are often taken for granted in classroom settings but could be overlooked in remote learning environments. Design simple group projects that will enable students to collaborate and connect with each other multiple times each week. This will help support not only their academic growth but also social development.
Facilitate these collaboration opportunities with the right technologies. You can use various online learning tools and unified communications platforms to deliver interactive learning in real-time. Besides video conferencing, students can use messaging, file-sharing, and screen-sharing functions to enhance the experience.
Design Questions with Intention
The journey of discovering a solution is often more rewarding than simply being told the facts. You can enhance your students’ learning journey by asking the right questions to stimulate their curiosity, critical thinking, and imagination.
You can design questions differently to achieve various goals. For example, use open-ended questions to stimulate interest while helping you understand students’ thought processes; design thought-provoking questions to challenge students’ points of view; ask “what if” questions to help students develop problem-solving skills.
At Ment.io, we encourage professors to keep it short and clear. Ideally, ask a question that invites competing answers, so the students will want to respond for and against. We believe that’s how knowledge is created – by agreeing and disagreeing and articulating why.
Prioritize Course Content and Provide Just-in-Time Support
Professors can evaluate students’ progress in real-time, adapt the course materials as needed, and offer just-in-time support in a classroom setting. It’s important to incorporate these elements into your remote learning curriculum.
Many online learning platforms offer assessment tools to help professors evaluate a student’s progress so they can address any gap before it can derail a lesson. Based on these insights, you can offer targeted support or revisit prior coursework as needed to help students progress more effectively.
Focus on Connections and Communications
Universities are hubs where students build their network, connect with professors and form a community, which plays a significant role in building their soft skills and preparing for their future careers. This element often gets lost in remote learning, causing psychological impacts that could diminish students’ learning experience.
To sustain a sense of community, build in regular and predictable opportunities for students to connect with their professors and peers. A variety of synchronous and asynchronous communication methods should be used, such as video conferencing, forums, and (of course) online discussion boards like ment.io.
Address Social and Emotional Growth
Colleges not only provide academic instruction but also offer a safe environment in which students can grow socially and emotionally. However, it’s harder to support students in these aspects without the aid of body language and real-time interactions.
Educators should pay more attention to students’ facial expressions over video calls and read between the lines to identify issues that could be brewing. These challenges may not be directly related to their classwork but will eventually impact their academic performance if not addressed.
Provide Feedback on Student Work
While providing and receiving feedback is part of the classroom learning experience, it may not come as naturally in a remote learning setting for both professors and students. Yet, the process has a powerful impact on a student’s learning journey and motivation so it’s important to build it into the curriculum.
For example, you can create structured checkpoints — such as 1:1 meetings and a professor comment section for each assignment — to ensure that students are getting timely feedback to guide their progress.
Nurture Relationships With Students
Familiarity, rapport, and trust are key to establishing a fruitful professor-student relationship that not only enhances the learning experience but also creates a connection between the students and the university.
Make yourself available for questions, discussions, and feedback. If you use an online learning platform that offers features such as forums and message boards, encourage students to use them. Monitor and participate in the discussions yourself and step in to clarify any issue whenever necessary.
Balance a Hybrid Curriculum
For educators teaching both in-person and remote students simultaneously, the challenge is to keep students progressing at the same pace. You can keep the experience cohesive by using the same course materials and curricular progression for both settings.
Since a remote learning curriculum requires additional collaboration and interactions, you should take a “remote-first” approach to instructional planning. This can help such hybrid schedules run more smoothly and ensure that all students are getting the attention they need.
Leverage the Latest Online Learning Technologies
Many curriculum publishers have updated their offerings and technology platforms to better support distance and hybrid instruction with digital classwork, recorded lessons, as well as advanced online discussion boards.
Many of these platforms, like Ment.io, also offer LMS integrations so you can consolidate different subjects into one interface. This will make it easier for students to access their learning materials and minimize frustrations.
Just like in a classroom setting, remote learning should go beyond academic course work. A well-rounded remote learning curriculum considers the social and emotional support that students need to thrive so they can receive a whole-person education that’ll help them grow in all aspects of their lives.