First-time, online instructors need to know how to be a:
- Learner versus a student
- Facilitator versus a teacher
Online instructors also need to understand the technology and how individuals learn; but most online instructors must continually be willing to learn and to integrate this learning into each online experience.
Be a learner and remove the word “student” from your vocabulary.
An online learner must be someone who is proactive and engaged in his/her learning.
Society has lots of individuals, who are students. These individuals wait to be told what to learn – the online environment requires an inquisitive mind, individuals who are willing to ask questions and who are willing to conduct research to find the answers.
The word “student” reflects a passive approach to learning and the online environment requires a proactive approach.
Take an online class (or two, or three); at the very least, expose yourself to learning in a non-traditional format to better understand what it means to be a learner in a virtual or an online environment. Once you have experienced this non-traditional learning format, you will gain a better understanding of the information needed by participants, the role the instructor/facilitator needs to take on to ensure an engaging and informative learning experience, and how the technology aids and/or hinders the process.
Know your subject matter. You do not need to be an expert, but you must know your subject well enough to discuss it and be open to alternative, creative approaches. Be open to these new ideas, this is how creativity is expressed in an online environment. However, ensure that the ultimate goal of the class is still achieved while asking your participants (learners) to ask questions and think about the topic. Feel free to ask the tough questions to get the learners to understand the topic at a deeper level. You will transition from a teacher to a facilitator.
Ultimately, know how people learn and understand how these learning styles apply to a virtual or online environment. What does a visual learner need? What about an audio learner? You must be able to answer these questions and have strategies in place to address them when creating or designing your own online learning classroom experience.
Be able to relate to people—a critical skill for the online environment because you have no body language to assist your message.
Finally, learn from each learning experience, reflect on what can stay and what needs to be improved upon, and never stop thinking about what else could you have done to make the online learning experience as valuable and relevant as possible.
Author Perspective: Educator