Simon Barnes, CEO & Founder of TLC LIVE, shares his advice on how to ensure online learning remains engaging and accessible to a wide range of students
While the shift to online learning earlier this year was new for most students, it has long been an effective way to reach those that cannot study in a classroom for personal, physical or mental health reasons. Both online and face to face teaching have a range of advantages and disadvantages, and to reach every student, especially ‘silent’ students, online educators must adapt and make full use of the unique potential of online learning.
Given the government’s welcome investment in subsidising catch-up tutoring under the aegis of the National Tutoring Programme and the risk that localised lockdowns may force schools to close again, online learning has become an integral part of the education system. As such, we must go beyond treating it as a last resort and begin to realise its enormous potential. We must show that when done properly – especially when using qualified teachers – the virtual classroom is an inclusive, comfortable space for all students.
Learning new cues
In a face-to-face setting, it may be considered easier to gauge a student’s attention, frustration, and engagement from their body language and demeanour, but this isn’t always the case. Qualified teachers can pick up many of these cues, and learn a new range of other subtle cues so that they can respond and change tact quickly online. Using qualified teachers who have the training and experience to pick up on these signals is extremely important.
Teachers must increase their focus on digital forms of verbal and nonverbal communication and continually assess the student’s engagement. For instance, if a student is slow to respond verbally or answers in monosyllables but offers fast, detailed responses when typing, the teacher can identify that they are uncomfortable speaking.
While screens make picking up on body language more challenging, screen sharing unlocks new opportunities for teachers to step into the student’s mind. For example, a student that keeps stopping at a particular element of the question, repeatedly changing their answer, or hovering over the help option is clearly struggling. Teachers that monitor these cues and adapt their teaching accordingly will have the most positive, productive interactions with students.
Online tutoring is more effective when the student and teacher share a strong rapport: making the student feel comfortable and confident is a prerequisite for them to do their best learning.
Learning online can be an exciting and stimulating change from face to face teaching, and teachers should begin by establishing a sound relationship with their student. This gets the student used to talking online and establishes common ground such as likes and dislikes or hobbies. For some students, this may take several lessons, but getting the student comfortable with the format and the teacher creates a strong foundation for learning.
For online learning to remain inclusive, teachers must get to know what works for each student. Getting to know the student’s tone and idiosyncrasies also provide a clear baseline against which teachers can determine whether they are struggling. For online learning, it becomes even more crucial to strike a constant balance between challenging and engaging the student to maintain momentum.
Utilising the tech
Teaching online provides a unique set of tools to make learning just as engaging, if not more so. To ensure inclusivity, teachers must leverage these unique strengths of an online environment to serve the individual needs of each student better.
Live chat and interactive whiteboards are vital tools for anxious students or those who don’t feel comfortable speaking aloud. Students feel less pressure, and it allows them to have more control over the communication. At TLC LIVE, we have found that allowing students to communicate through the chat functionality when necessary, has shown significant improvement of attendance – in some cases of up to 100%. Often, students who may start their lessons only wanting to communicate through ‘chat’ do, after time, grow in confidence and begin to speak to the teacher.
To truly make the most of the technology, it is also important that all the relevant materials are available online at the click of a button. It ensures a seamless online experience by keeping the student engaged, removing distractions, and helping the student to get the most from their allotted time.
Making online learning work for everyone
Online learning isn’t a poor imitation of the ‘real’ classroom; rather, it’s an essential option that affords significant benefits to students who may struggle in a typical school environment. To ensure that every student gets the most from online tutoring, we must ensure flexibility for students and provide each learner with an experience personalised to meet their needs. Ultimately, for students to have their voice heard, they must be allowed to communicate in a way that makes them feel comfortable.