Whether you are new to online teaching or have extensive experience, your continued growth is essential to remaining successful. There are measurements of your effectiveness, such as end-of-course student evaluations. You’re also evaluated through classroom observation and how well you complete the required duties, which typically includes participation in class discussions and feedback for learning activities. Both of these assessments indicate how you connected with students or performed for a specific point in time. If you want to continue to learn, grow, and further develop your skills, then you need a set of strategies to bring out the best in your performance.

To help you achieve your best, as an online educator, there are essential best practices you can implement to ensure you are effectively and substantively engaged in your classes. These are the product of my work as an online educator, along with my work in faculty development, having been reviewed by the strictest of standards and applying these standards to faculty I’ve reviewed. You can use these best practices as a checklist for the development of your own online teaching practice, regardless of how long you’ve taught online classes.

Online Instructor Essentials

How you manage your time and the weekly schedule you create will ultimately determine how successful you are as an online educator. The two tasks which are going to take the most amount of time are class discussions and feedback. If you do not allow enough time for these tasks, and you fall behind, you are going to feel rushed when trying to complete what is required of you.

The ultimate result is either going to be minimal participation, minimal feedback, or both. A feeling of being rushed may also show up in your disposition as well, if you become agitated when there is not enough time to complete the required tasks or deadlines are nearing. Your students will sense this, even within an online environment, as there are subtle cues which show up in the word choices used in online posts and messages.

Something else to consider is the contract you agree to when you become a faculty member and accept a class commitment. You need to take the time to review the faculty expectations, especially if you are new to the school, to make certain you know all details about performance requirements. Should you have any questions, it is best to contact your Department Chair or supervisor. The most critical timeline requirements involve responding to learner questions, regardless of how those are posted or sent. You will likely receive audits and/or performance reviews, and when you do, use these tools as a means of self-development to help you to continue to learn and grow.

When You’re New to Online Teaching

For those who teach in a traditional classroom and now teach online, there will be a learning curve which will occur. The first adaptation is becoming used to the technology platform or LMS, and discovering the technological tools which can enhance the learning experience. The most significant challenge for traditional educators, who are not used to teaching online, is interacting with learners who are not visibly present.

The lack of visual cues can be overcome at times if a webinar is integrated into the class program. However, for most of the term, it is functioning without a live class and visual or verbal cues. Now the words posted become the primary form of communication and this makes it much more challenging to assess the intent or meaning of what is being stated, especially if a learner has challenges with academic writing.

What an online educator must eventually learn, often through time and practice, is they are the one who must keep the class engaged, not the course materials. If a learner is not actively participating or is not present in class, it is the instructor who must work to re-engage the learner, and do so within a timely manner, as a disengaged learner may soon become dropped from the course.

This means learners are looking for, and often expecting, their instructors to be highly engaged and present in the course, and responsive to their needs. An instructor cannot log onto their class once or twice a week and hope this is sufficient. There must be ongoing and active involvement to sustain an online class, and work on the developmental of the needs of all learners.

6 Best Practices to Achieve Your Best in Online Teaching

What follows are best practices you can implement now, regardless of the length of time you’ve taught online. If you have implemented some or all of them already, you can use it as a checklist to remind yourself of what’s important for your work as an educator.

Best Practice #1. Be Supportive of Your Learners

When learners enroll in a class, they are likely aware of their deficits already. When you begin the process of feedback and note those deficiencies, it may only serve to further confirm they are not capable of succeeding in their academic studies. This is why you must take a supportive approach to your feedback and the instructional approach used as you interact with your learners.

Consider as well you and your learners are separated by distance, or as I call it, the distance factor. Your learners are going to read what you post and share before you ever have an opportunity to explain it, which means everything you write needs to have a supportive tone to it. How you write, along with what you write, can and will determine the future of the learner, and the effort he or she will continue to make in your class. Find whatever way you can to be supportive by taking time to read what they post and write, and acknowledge them as learners.

Best Practice #2. Develop a Positive Mindset

You have likely read about nurturing a growth mindset in students in primary education. This can even apply to adult learners, especially when the conditions of the online class are conducive to do so. This is not just a result of a beautiful LMS or technological tools, it occurs when an instructor has a disposition and mindset which encourages positivity. This means you have become focused on your learners and you implement strategies to encourage and uplift them.

There will be times when you feel challenged, especially when a learner sends an email and vents their frustration in an unpleasant manner. The most effective strategy to take when you have a negative reaction is to write in a Word document, then step away for a few minutes to regain your balance. When you return, you will likely be able to focus once again and better assist the learner. When you create an environment which feels positive, from the perspective of the learner, you have managed to accomplish another important goal: You have helped humanize the learning experience. This also helps to take the distance factor out of distance learning.

Best Practice #3. Be a Leader in Academic Writing

Many educators are not hired because they are professional writers. Regardless of the academic writing skill level you possess, consider this to be an ongoing area of development. For example, I use a Word document to develop my discussion posts, to help ensure I’ve managed the mechanics. I have grown as a writer over the years, especially since completion of my doctorate degree, as I started writing online posts. This helped me continue to develop how and what I write. While I’m not perfect by any definition of professional writing, I continue to evolve. What you want to remember is your learners are watching what you post in discussions and write as you provide feedback.

If there are numerous academic writing errors, this may send a mixed message if your feedback points out academic writing errors the learner has made. If your school offers resources within an online writing center, this may be of benefit for you and any learner who needs further development. If these resources are not immediately available for you, there are many online resources you can find. You want to lead the way with academic writing and show your learners you take it just as seriously as you enforce it when feedback is provided to them.

Best Practice #4. Learn to Master Your Course Materials

What I’ve learned over time about course preparation is the need to learn my course materials. When a course is pre-developed for you, it may seem all is needed is to join the discussions and participate, and then provide feedback based upon the written rubric. However, this is far from what is required for course preparation.

Every instructor must review the course materials thoroughly and completely, just as a starting point, in order to be able to participate in class discussions in a meaningful manner and provide substantive feedback. More importantly, ongoing development means reading and finding resources related to the course topics, as the use of supplemental sources will help provide context for your discussion posts and the feedback you develop. When you become the master of your course materials, you are creating additional learning opportunities for your learners.

Best Practice #5. Engage in Lifelong Learning

As you are interacting with your learners, and you remember why you love to teach, you are encouraging them to develop a love of learning. If you want to become even more effective in this approach, you can continue to cultivate your own determination to become a lifelong learner. While you may not be a learner now, you can find professional development opportunities of your own.

Many academic institutions encourage or require educators to publish, and this presents a very good opportunity to conduct research into areas you are interested in studying. There are many affiliations you can also join and likely find webinars to attend. What I’ve done as a Modern Educator is to write online articles and blog posts, as a means of continuing my research and writing, even if I’m not publishing in an official academic capacity. It still allows me to share my knowledge and expertise, while connecting with other educators, sharing ideas, information, and strategies.

Best Practice #6. Determine to Achieve Your Very Best

Over time you will evaluate and refine your online instructional practice. It will be the result of what has been successful, the strategies which have not served you well, lessons you have learned (some the right way and others by mistake), and most important of all, feedback you received from learners in many different forms. Typically, the feedback I learn most from occurs within the classroom, as I try new strategies and receive replies in response.

There is a high standard I established for myself. At the beginning of my work as an educator I was very hard on myself when I made mistakes. But now with time and practice under my belt, I know both successes and mistakes have served me well. It is not possible to achieve your best without having taught for some time and even then, you still must be open to learning and development, just as learner needs evolve. I can state with certainty the needs of learners today are different than they were 17 years ago when I first started teaching online. But having a sense of accountability to myself makes me certain I am working to the best of my abilities.

Online Teaching Can Be Rewarding

I well understand there are many inherent challenges associated with online teaching, and most are related to time and a lack of direct contact with learners. Yet I’ve found it can be a very rewarding experience because I am able to get to know my learners better than I ever could in a traditional classroom. This may sound unusual to someone who has never taught online, who sees learners face-to-face, but my perspective comes from being able to interact with each and every one of them in a discussion, getting to know them through weekly learning activities, and engaging with them through direct communication. While I am separated from my learners, I have found tools to bridge this gap and replace the distance with a virtual presence. Now with these six best practices, I can further assure learners I am there to support them and their progress in a nurturing, positive, and supportive manner. If you can take this approach as well, perhaps you and your learners will find online learning to be transformative and rewarding.

About Dr. Johnson

Dr. Bruce A. Johnson has 35 years of experience teaching and training adults. The first half of his career was spent in the field of Corporate Training and Development, with his last role as Manager of Training and Development. Then in 2005, he made a transition into the field of distance learning. Over the past 17 years, he has been an online instructor, Faculty Development Specialist, Faculty Director, Faculty Development Manager, and Dissertation Chair.

Dr. J holds a MBA, MS in Adult Education, Ph.D. in Postsecondary and Adult Education, and Certificate in Training and Performance Improvement. He is an avid writer, having authored two eBooks about distance learning, and a book of tools and techniques for traditional business instructors. In addition, Dr. J frequently authors articles which are posted on LinkedIn, related to distance learning and online teaching, along with inspirational quotes which he’s been sharing both there and with his students.

Come join Dr. J’s new group, Motivation for Transformation: Motivation for Transformation

Please visit the Books page and Store page for transformative resources: Dr. J’s Books

You can also find Dr. J on the following social media sites:  Instagram

       

When someone decides to pursue their academic goals, the role of an online educator becomes more important than ever. A student needs more than a well-developed set of academic skills to sustain their progress. They could benefit from a well-defined set of beliefs about their ability to succeed. It is their instructor, the one who interacts with them through discussions, feedback, and classroom messages, who can help develop and nurture those beliefs.

To help your students develop a positive belief system, you must first understand your own beliefs about them. This means you must become aware of your own biases and anything which may interfere with the interactions you have with them. Then you must be willing to become neutral, despite any inclination you may have towards one particular view or another, and remain bias-free within the classroom. This will allow you to engage with your students about their academic progress, ascertain how you can provide guidance, and offer supportive direction which helps them develop positive beliefs. This is more challenging than it sounds, and definitely needed for students.

What an Instructor Believes About Students

It is likely you have beliefs now about the events which occurred throughout the past two years, and possibly very strong emotional feelings related to those beliefs. You may not realize how those beliefs have created biases or influenced your worldview. What matters most is your internalized belief system about students who are assigned to your classes. The following are a list of questions I use as a means of self-assessment at the start of a new class. Perhaps this will be a helpful resource for you as well.

What do I assume about students and their level of academic preparedness at the beginning of class?

What do I assume about students and their level of self-motivation at the beginning of class?

What do I assume about students and their ability to manage time at the beginning of class?

Do I hold any biases about students at the start of class, based upon their names, photos, or descriptions within their written introduction?

What an Instructor Perceives About Students

The belief system of an instructor extends beyond a worldview and biases. It also includes any perceptions and reactions you may hold and feel about learners and their requests. This is especially important as I’m finding learners are questioning their ability to succeed more than ever now, and I have to be able to understand my perceptions about their abilities. I also need to understand how I’m going to react when learners approach me with their emotional requests. The following questions are those I use to help myself better prepare for class, and perhaps this will help you as well.

Do I perceive students to be self-sufficient when they ask for help, and have valid reasons for needing my assistance, or do I perceive a request for help as something they should work out on their own?

Do I believe I can help my students by offering my time, or do I believe this is unnecessary hand-holding?

How am I prepared to address a student who feels overwhelmed, exhausted, and/or ready to give up, or do I believe this is beyond the scope of my job duties?

Do I have the disposition necessary to interact with those students who are feeling emotional?

What you believe about your students comes through with every interaction, whether it is a discussion post, feedback, email, or classroom message. There is a perceived tone which is evident in the word choice, whether or not you are aware of it. Consider the following question as a means of assessing how you view the potential of your students.

What words would you use as a general description of your students, from your observation of their ability to be successful in your class?

The answer you write will provide clues as to what you believe about your students.

There is no question every instructor is going to have a class with students who are struggling, along with students who are excelling. However, the word choice used for the question above will be in direct relation to your belief system. For example, I use words in my answer which include potential, capacity, capability, resilience, determination, and hopeful. I have learned how powerful my thoughts become when I am thinking about the students in my class, and I want to always use positive words to describe them, no matter how challenged I may feel at times to assist them.

What an Instructor Believes About Their Role

The final element of your belief system I would like for you to consider has to do with your role and how you view your tasks as an instructor. This is an extremely important element of your belief system, as it can have a positive or negative impact on all aspects of how you think and feel about your students. The following questions are those I ask of myself, especially during a busy class term, when there are many tasks I must complete. Perhaps these questions will help you as well with your own self-assessment.

What words do you use to describe your role as an instructor in the class? For example, are you a teacher who dispenses information, a facilitator who grades papers, an instructor who completes required tasks, or an educator who has many more duties?

Do you approach your instruction with ease each day you are in the classroom, or do you always feel a sense of anxiety because of never seeming to have enough time and too many requests from your students?

Here’s How to Help Students Believe They Can Succeed

This is what I ask of all educators, and it includes myself, during a time of strong emotional reactions and fears which can undermine the belief systems our students need to become successful and complete the course requirements. We, as educators, are uniquely positioned to pay attention to how our students are adapting to the classroom environment and meeting the weekly requirements, or we can simply check in and complete our weekly tasks, hoping our students somehow get through it.

As educators, we must be a source of strength and inspiration, setting aside any sense of affiliation, bias, or other preconceived ideals we hold, and create a safe space for learning to occur. When this happens within a classroom, when we are engaged in a manner which prompts learning and supports students during times when they are struggling, the result is transformative for them and for us. The following are strategies you can use to help nurture positive beliefs within your students.

Become a Champion Influencer: The length of a term may not provide enough time for you to get to know your students and the beliefs they hold to any significant extent. However, there will be clues which will become evident as you interact with them. For example, I can pick up on certain words used in their messages to me, along with the tone of their messages. It doesn’t take much to develop a sense about the student when they send a message and state they are uncertain about completing the required assignment that week, or details about their life and the challenges faced.

You are not required to offer personal advice, or take the role of a professional counselor. But what you can do is to reply and interject positive words, or words which help to influence them in a manner which supports their ongoing development and belief system. You may be the only one who interacts with them and gives them something supportive to hear or read, which makes you their champion influencer. When you can instill this sense of hope within your students, you help uplift their sense of self-motivation. This may be all they need to persist, as they continue to work on the next class assignment or task.

Teach Your Learners About Self-Development: For many students, especially non-traditional online learners, they hold negative beliefs about their ability to learn. Perhaps they waited several years between degrees before going back to school, they feel age is working against them, they perceive writing to be a significant deficit which can never be overcome, or any other number of negative beliefs. When I pick up on clues related to any of these negative beliefs, I attempt to engage these students in a conversation about self-development, and the potential or capacity for learning at any age.

What I’ve discovered is the beliefs I’ve shared above are typically related to self-limiting fears. How I help students overcome these types of beliefs is through the use of encouraging feedback. After an attempt to conduct an initial conversation with a student who I believe has this belief, I will be certain to note in the feedback each week how much progress has been made, to reinforce the message learning can and does occur. Whatever you can do to support your students, and teach them about their ability to learn, will help to support the development of a positive belief system. This can be accomplished through the words you use, whether in your communication, discussions, or feedback.

Try to See Your Learners as Individuals: As an online educator, I know it can become easy to “see” a class as a collective, rather than from an individual perspective. For example, you may tell a colleague you have a class full of challenging students. In contrast, it may become easy to judge students strictly by their names and photos, if they have elected to include one in their online profile. This is the primary manner in which you get to know your students as you log onto the classroom. Yet this is only a surface-level perspective and one which can create unintentional biases. This is also why it is important to examine what you believe and become an educator who gets to know students as individuals.

When you “see” or get to know your students as individuals, you then are better positioned to work with their developmental needs. You will have established a mindset focused on what they need to become successful, rather than viewing the class as a group to be managed. From an individualized perspective you can now watch their progress, from week to week, and gradually come to know what is working well for them, and what resources you can recommend to help support their developmental needs. You will also be establishing a productive working relationship with your students, and by doing so, you can encourage them to continue to try, learn, improve, and nurture their growth mindset.

What Learners Believe Matters

When students join your class, they each have a belief structure in place. What they believe may be effectively supporting them and their efforts in class, or it may be undermining their best intentions. You may not know until they have been making an attempt to complete course requirements and begun to interact with you through discussions and messages. No matter what your students believe, it matters as these are unspoken but well-grounded principles which are not easily changed. The belief systems each student establishes is usually the product of time and a result of many life experiences, and you may never know the origins of these beliefs either. But the impact will be felt on every attempt made and with the attitude, disposition, and actions taken.

Even a student with the most supportive set of beliefs may be challenged because of what they read or hear in the daily news, and allow negative language or thought patterns to filter into their mindset. This is where we, as educators, have an ability to help them overcome any doubts, fears, or questions they may have as they attempt to complete their academic goals. I want for us, as educators, to be more aware than ever of the need to create a nurturing and supportive environment for students, and be understanding of what they are experiencing. If we can teach them the power of their capacity to learn and grow, even during a time when life seems to be the most challenging, then they will realize more than ever the transformative power of education. When we are able to uplift our students, and teach them how to sustain positive beliefs, we are helping to instill a sense of hope within them.

About Dr. Johnson

Dr. Bruce A. Johnson has been working in the field of higher education and distance learning since 2005, with roles including Doctoral Chair and Committee Member, Faculty Development Manager, Core Faculty, and Faculty Development Specialist. Dr. J’s background also includes work as a Human Performance Improvement Consultant, and prior to 2005, he was a Manager of Training and Development.

Dr. Johnson is an inspirational author, writer, and educator. His life mission to teach, mentor, write, and inspire others. He has earned a PhD in Postsecondary and Adult Education, a Certificate in Training and Performance Improvement (TPI), a Master’s in Adult Education, and a Master of Business Administration (MBA).

As a scholar practitioner, Dr. J was published in a scholarly journal and he has been a featured presenter at an international distance learning conference. He has published three books related to higher education, including two about online teaching.  Dr. J has also published over 230 online articles about adult learning, higher education, distance learning, online teaching, and mindset development.

Come join Dr. J’s new group, Motivation for Transformation:

Any time of the day, visit this group to find your source of motivation, to be inspired and more importantly, have your mindset transformed: https://www.linkedin.com/groups/9108352/

Dr. J offers transformative resources

Please visit the Books page and Store page for more details.

You can also find Dr. J on the following social media sites:

Instagram

       

Does every class run perfectly and without a problem? In a traditional classroom an instructor is able to visually assess how students are performing and responding to the demands made of them. However, with this visual element missing in an online class, it becomes much more challenging to “read” or get a feel for the pulse or mood of the class, especially when the class is not meeting at a scheduled time.

There is an aspect of online teaching which seems inevitable for educators and is likely to occur with every online class. It involves students who either remain distant from you as their instructor or they simply refuse to cooperate with you. Students who have this disposition may make demands about their grades or outcomes, resist viewing and utilizing feedback, or not accept constructive criticism in an objective manner.

Some students may be open to receiving constructive criticism and coaching, while others will require time before they will begin to interact directly with you. There will be other students who are going to be challenging simply because they have established patterns of thought or negative beliefs about instructors in general. There is also a trend now where students feel empowered with anonymity to freely speak their mind, without concern for respect or consequences when a lack of basic professionalism is maintained.

A perfect class would be easy to teach as every student would be responsive to your communication and feedback. But that isn’t always the case and it will help your work as an educator to have strategies available which can be used as part of your teaching style or practice when students become uncooperative.

Always Maintain Communication Attempts

Have you ever talked to a student and you knew from the moment the conversation began nothing you could say would change their attitude or disposition? They already established a closed mindset and it could be based upon perceptions or experience they’ve had with other instructors or the school.

Working with online students poses a unique challenge. You can be open to working with them and request a conversation by phone only to discover students simply do not respond to you. I know from my experience as an educator some students are either not conditioned to personalized interactions or they want to retain their anonymity. Trying to break through this type of mindset barrier can be challenging, even with the best of intentions.

My philosophy as an online educator is to respond to student emails within a matter of just a few hours on weekdays. On the weekend I will watch for emails and answer any pressing issues or concerns. While it establishes a level of responsiveness on my part, students may still not respond to those attempts to interact personally with them.

You should develop your own strategy. The time an uncooperative attitude comes into play is when you want to communicate with students about their progress and they simply ignore your attempt, or worse, they respond in a hostile manner or the tone of their communication is aggressive. When students maintain a disposition like that it can be difficult to gain their cooperation.

A Student’s Perspective

When students are non-responsive, or they do respond and seem to be uncooperative, it is often done so from a reactive state of mind. From my experience, there have been times when a student has viewed their cumulative grade or feedback for an assignment and had a reactive response. They may have believed the grade was unjust, they “worked hard” on an assignment and deserved a perfect score, or there can be any other number of reasons. Those students will either remain silent, finally reaching out when their frustration has built up, or eventually disengage from the class.

Those reactions may be tied to beliefs which were built upon unrealistic expectations. For example, a student may believe any amount of effort exerted on their part should equate to a certain grade. It is certainly understandable students may have a reaction and possibly with strong emotions; however, it is not acceptable to respond back to them with an aggressive demeanor. It serves no purpose and works against the development of a productive working relationship as they will resist any further attempts to provide helpful feedback and constructive criticism. 

Different Forms of Uncooperative Students

There are different types of uncooperative students. There is the shy student who may feel intimidated by their instructor, there may be a type a student who feels fully in charge of their education and doesn’t prefer any other interactions with their instructor, and then there are students who believe they know what is best for their development and won’t communicate unless their instructor is able to persuade them to change their perspective.

There are other forms of uncooperative students and due to the nature of an online class you may not get to know what their mindset is until you communicate with them. Consider this example: You have an uncooperative student who contacts you but they will not listen to you. You can either try to find common ground and discuss their progress or request another time to talk so they can regain their emotional balance.

While it is not pleasant working with students who are not responsive or uncooperative, or they are difficult to communicate with, it can help you learn more about yourself as an educator and prompt a time of professional self-evaluation. This is a time to ask yourself what can be learned so you are able to either reaffirm your teaching method is on target or make self-corrections as needed.

Five Strategies Every Educator Needs for Uncooperative Students

There are strategies that I have used and taught online faculty to use, which you may also find helpful as well.

#1. Be Proactive When Working with Students

The first step an online instructor can take is to be proactive in their approach to working with students. Encourage open communication through scheduled office hours, with availability for one-on-one communication (such as class messages or telephone appointments), and include notations in your feedback that encourages students to ask questions. For example, I always end my written feedback with a notation that asks students to contact me with any questions about their feedback or progress in class.

#2. Make Outreach Attempts with Students

A challenge for online teaching is the possibility students may slowly disengage from their class. When students are not communicative it can either mean they are not cooperating or they are in the process of withdrawing from the class. You may not know the reason why until you talk to the students, so make every effort to reach them. One of the clues available to me are missed deadlines for discussions and assignments. I’ll send a message and ask the student if they need assistance or have questions. This doesn’t mean I will change the late policy rules, but it does demonstrate I care about the student.

#3. Keep the Momentum Going

Once you are able to gain cooperation with your students, and you have established a productive working relationship them, don’t assume it is set and complete for the duration of your class. Maintain your efforts to keep them engaged and continue to offer personalized assistance throughout the duration of the class. If a student was uncooperative once, they may still have a negative belief about instructors and/or learning, which means it will take more than one positive interaction to overcome their doubts.

#4. Address an Uncooperative Mindset

When a student does not contact you, and they have an uncooperative mindset, it means there is an underlying need or negative perspective that may or may not be easily changed. In your outreach attempts you can offer to discuss the specifics about their progress in class and then decide upon an action plan. If you are able to speak with the student by phone and they become aggressive or threatening, it may be time to discontinue the call and talk with them during a less emotional time. Whatever you do, when you try to address a student with an uncooperative mindset, demonstrate empathy for them. There is something unresolved and through your tolerance, patience, and willingness to assist, you may be able to gain a breakthrough with them.

#5. Teach with Compassion

The best advice for working with any student, cooperative or uncooperative, is to always have their best interests in mind and address their academic needs. It may be challenging at times, especially if they are utilizing inappropriate communication. You may not always handle every situation perfectly because you can still experience natural human emotions; however, if you teach with a caring mindset, students will likely respond in a favorable manner.

Maintaining Open Communication

For online classes, communication in the form of online posts, messages, and emails may feel impersonal. This can be overcome by being highly self-conscious of the tone used and how it may be interpreted. As to working with online students, make it your goal to always maintain open communication.

What does this mean? It is a mindset of welcoming your students’ attempts to communicate directly with you, whether by email, phone, or other methods that you have established for them to use. When they send you an email or message, demonstrate through your reply you are glad they have reached out to you and do your best to welcome future communication.

As an educator, be the one who demonstrates a cooperative demeanor as a means of modeling it for your students. For those students who resist your attempts, or they simply won’t respond to you, they might not ever change their approach. Be sure to make outreach attempts to demonstrate consistency and a caring attitude at all times.

Becoming an effective educator is an ongoing process of learning through trial and practice, and error at times, attempting to gain cooperation and responsiveness from your students. Make it your goal to do what you can to be open and responsive to all students – even those who challenge you. When you turn a lack of cooperation into collaboration, you have successfully harnessed the transformative power of education.

About Dr. Johnson

Dr. Bruce A. Johnson has been working in the field of higher education and distance learning since 2005, with roles including Doctoral Chair and Committee Member, Faculty Development Manager, Core Faculty, and Faculty Development Specialist. Dr. J’s background also includes work as a Human Performance Improvement Consultant, and prior to 2005, he was a Manager of Training and Development.

Dr. Johnson is an inspirational author, writer, and educator. His life mission to teach, mentor, write, and inspire others. He has earned a PhD in Postsecondary and Adult Education, a Certificate in Training and Performance Improvement (TPI), a Master’s in Adult Education, and a Master of Business Administration (MBA).

As a scholar practitioner, Dr. J was published in a scholarly journal and he has been a featured presenter at an international distance learning conference. He has published three books related to higher education, including two about online teaching.  Dr. J has also published over 230 online articles about adult learning, higher education, distance learning, online teaching, and mindset development.

Come join Dr. J’s new group, Motivation for Transformation:

Any time of the day, visit this group to find your source of motivation, to be inspired and more importantly, have your mindset transformed: https://www.linkedin.com/groups/9108352/

Dr. J offers transformative resources

Please visit the Books page and Store page for more details.

You can also find Dr. J on the following social media sites:

Instagram

       

It is always much easier to question ourselves, doubt our abilities, and give into fears, than begin a day with self-talk about the best of who we are and all we have accomplished. Why does negativity occur so naturally, to the point it is a natural or default setting for so many?

I make these observations based upon my work as an educator, career coach, and mindset development coach. I also know how hard I worked to maintain a positive mindset after a job has been cut, due to declining enrollment, which has been a common theme throughout my career within the field of distance learning. What has sustained me: A belief in myself, knowing I am capable, qualified, and someone who cares deeply about this profession. In other words, I never gave up on myself.

The same applies for my students. One of the most gratifying moments for me occurs when I work with a student to overcome doubts about their ability, capability, and/or capacity, and they become successful. It never takes a great deal of effort on my part to help students in a virtual environment, as long as I am actively engaged in the course. If I pay attention to students, use encouraging words, maintain a responsive attitude, and a helpful disposition, students are likely to connect with me. It is then I can support them as they learn.

What I’ve learned, and teach, applies to students and anyone else for that matter. The manner in which you begin your day, as to the mindset you cultivate, ultimately shapes how the rest of your day continues. You have likely experienced this before, especially if you woke up in a bad mood, and the rest of the day didn’t seem to progress any better. Your mindset also has a direct bearing upon what you think about your capabilities. If you are in a negative frame of mind, you are more likely to allow negative thoughts to continue.

What I want to share with you are four belief strategies that will help you whenever you want to teach students about developing a positive belief system for themselves.

Beliefs and How they Begin

There is a basic set of beliefs we hold that been formed earlier in our life, while we were impressionable children. We learned from our parents, authority figures, and so on. As we matured, and learned about the world ourselves, it is possible we may have rejected some of those earlier beliefs, and created our own. Those are the beliefs held subconsciously.

The beliefs we develop as adults are those based upon experience. For example, if a student has a negative interaction with an instructor, they may believe all instructors will be the same. What is the essence of a belief? It’s a thought you continue to sustain by thinking it repeatedly, and begin to search for evidence it is true. We will hold onto beliefs like that unless they are questioned.

4 Strategies to Help Teach Students to Believe in Themselves

Your students are likely enrolled in a degree program because at some point they did not want to state, or perhaps they were beginning to believe: “This is it. This is the best I’ll ever become. I can never grow any further as a person, or within my career. I have learned everything I can possibly learn.”

I have never met anyone who has reached the limit of their full potential. It doesn’t matter what your background, age, health, social status, history, or any other condition may be, everyone has a potential to be or become more than they are right now. I know from my work as an educator, it all comes down to a matter of what a person believes about themselves, along with their capability, as to how much of their potential they will discover and apply.

The following four strategies are those I have used for myself, and I have shared with students. Perhaps you will resonate with one or all of them, to help your students begin to change or improve what they believe.

Strategy #1: Review Your Basic Beliefs

You or your students are not likely accustomed to thinking about your basic beliefs on a regular basis. This first strategy will help you recognize and evaluate what those beliefs are, to determine what areas can be adjusted or modified as needed. Perhaps you can ask your students these questions, or you can incorporate them as affirmative statements.

Use the following statements to ascertain what your basic beliefs are:

When I think about my capacity to learn, I believe:

[Or change this to an affirmative statement: You have a capacity to learn.]

When I think about my ability to take on a new project, such as a written assignment, I believe:

When I think about my capability to adapt to changes, such as learning academic writing, I believe:

When I think about my future potential, I believe:

When I think about my ability to complete my goals, I believe:

[Or change this to an affirmative statement: You have an ability to complete your goals.]

Strategy #2: Choose Your Words Carefully

What I noticed is the ease with which most people will use derogatory words about themselves, for even the slightest of mistakes. Let’s take a very basic example to illustrate this point. A person missed the mark on a written assignment. Their immediate reaction is to use self-talk and state: “Oh you are so stupid”. Now at first it may seem as if this was done in jest and might be funny. Yet those words, if used repeatedly and over time, can be harmful.

What happens is it establishes a pattern of negativity, reaffirming to this person they are prone to making mistakes. What this person doesn’t realize is the harm they are intentionally, and subconsciously, doing to themselves. It would even be better to state something such as “I can learn”, than to make a seemingly harmless put-down. Words can develop a negative pattern, eventually creating a negative belief, which is why words should be chosen carefully.

Where will this show up when working with your students? I find it in the messages they send direct to me. There are often very direct words used about themselves, and sometimes subtle cues about their mindset. Either way, I want them to know they always have potential.

Strategy #3: Self-Acceptance is Crucial

One of the most challenging aspects of our belief systems is ensuring self-acceptance is included. The most important example I can think of is a student whose grade is not where they’d like it to be. They monitor the gradebook closely and obsesses over every update. All of a sudden, their level of self-acceptance is called into question. I’ve heard students use phrases such as the “imposter syndrome” when they were not earning an “A” grade.

What I try to do is to help them understand there is more to learning than a grade. I want them to begin with what was learned from the feedback provided. How can they improve with future assignments? I teach them to focus on self-development and self-acceptance first, and in time, the grades will follow.

Self-Acceptance: Accept who you are. Accept you can always learn.

Then use this newly formed self-acceptance to become beliefs: Believe you can learn. Believe you are capable. Believe it is possible to achieve your goals.

Strategy #4: Trust Must Follow Beliefs

The final important strategy for you to use, in relation to the establishment of positive beliefs, is about the manner in which you trust yourself. This extends what you are thinking into something more concrete; an ability to take future action. When you decide to accept yourself, and believe in what you are capable of achieving, then you need to trust yourself to be able to learn, do, create, or whatever it is going to take to accomplish what you want to complete in life.

When you take action, based upon trust, it demonstrates to yourself that you do in fact hold a valid belief. From that moment on, your belief is accepted, and perhaps, you’ll develop another belief related to it.

Teach Your Students: Believe you can succeed. Then trust yourself to follow through.

Your Students Have Untapped Potential

Do you have any idea how much potential your students hold, especially untapped potential, which only requires their belief to access it? This doesn’t mean they are all going to excel in your class, but what it does mean is you can help remind them of their potential, whatever form it may be. It may take them an entire lifetime to find out, if it is even possible to fully discover.

Wouldn’t you like to know what more they can accomplish, if only you’d help encourage them, even in some small manner? You can even lead the way with your own positive beliefs, demonstrating to students you are continuing to learn and grow, and more importantly, you’ve discovered the power of your potential. Their day, and even their life can change, once students begin to establish a positive belief system. Regardless of the time available for your class, find ways to encourage, appreciate, uplift, and teach students to believe in themselves.

About Dr. Johnson

Dr. Bruce A. Johnson has been working in the field of higher education and distance learning since 2005, with roles including Doctoral Chair and Committee Member, Faculty Development Manager, Core Faculty, and Faculty Development Specialist. Dr. J’s background also includes work as a Human Performance Improvement Consultant, and prior to 2005, he was a Manager of Training and Development.

Dr. Johnson is an inspirational author, writer, and educator. His life mission to teach, mentor, write, and inspire others. He has earned a PhD in Postsecondary and Adult Education, a Certificate in Training and Performance Improvement (TPI), a Master’s in Adult Education, and a Master of Business Administration (MBA).

As a scholar practitioner, Dr. J was published in a scholarly journal and he has been a featured presenter at an international distance learning conference. He has published three books related to higher education, including two about online teaching.  Dr. J has also published over 230 online articles about adult learning, higher education, distance learning, online teaching, and mindset development.

Come join Dr. J’s new group, Motivation for Transformation:

• Any time of the day, visit this group to find your source of motivation, to be inspired and more importantly, have your mindset transformed: https://www.linkedin.com/groups/9108352/

Dr. J offers transformative resources

Please visit the Books page and Store page for more details.

You can also find Dr. J on the following social media sites:

Twitter

Instagram

What are the qualities you believe it takes to make an online class feel “real” to your online students? Do you believe your students consider you to be visible during the class and available whenever needed?

One of the challenges faced by institutions of higher education is providing quality degree programs via a virtual classroom environment. Even for experienced online instructors, there are inherent challenges which are based upon the nature of working in this manner, and will always be present, requiring dedication and time to address. One of the most pressing challenges is becoming a real person to students. This is someone who is visible and available to address their needs, and more importantly, accessible when requested to answer their concerns.

A virtual classroom immediately changes the dynamics of teaching, as to how instructors interact with students. Instead of visual, verbal, and vocal cues, now interactions are based primarily upon written text. There are exceptions to this rule and include the use of videos as a supplemental means of engaging with students. One of the challenges for reliance on written communication is the one-sided nature of sending messages and creating classroom posts. There is only a perceived tone, and if the formatting is less than academically accurate or precise, the message and its meaning will be interrupted.

Within an online class, students are watching for clues or indicators their instructor is actively present, not just someone who is remotely working and occasionally checking into class. The greater they perceive the instructor is present, the more likely they will be motivated to also be present and engaged in class. Creating a highly visible online presence requires skillful practice, implemented as part of an ongoing set of teaching strategies. 

Welcome to the “Always Open” Classroom

The benefit of a virtual classroom is the seemingly unlimited access to it, along with the course resources and materials. This “always open” mentality changes the perception as to what students expect of their instructors, as to when they should be available. I’m finding response time has a significant impact on how students view my involvement in the class, and shapes how they respond in turn to my feedback.

In other words, if I am highly responsive and available, students are more likely to engage with me when I send messages or post feedback. The challenge for me is learning when to be present and when to give myself a break or some downtime away from the classroom. Just because the classroom is “always open” does not mean I, or any online instructor, need to be “always on” and present at all times.

How to Become a “Real” Person to Your Online Students

To be noticed in a virtual classroom is the first step in being seen. Yet students who expect an instructor to be highly visible and accessible expect high quality interactions, and someone who is highly engaged, responsive, and frequently available to assist them. When I thought about sharing my strategies for teaching in a virtual classroom, I took into consideration the fact instructors will have varying degrees of experience working in this environment. However, there are basics which can be implemented by anyone to create an online presence which is perceived as visible and readily accessible to learners.

Strategy One: Personalize the Learning Experience

This is an aspect of online teaching I’m always aware of and it has to do with the development of ways in which I can humanize the learning experience for students. One area in which I’ve grown is with my introduction. I used to share professional information only but over time it has evolved and now I also include casual information which can help show me to be a real person. For example, I talk about favorite television shows and movies, and I’ve also included a photo of my office buddy, which happens to be a pet who comes into my office at times. I share a limited amount of personal information, believing there is a professional relationship needed to be maintained.

What I recommend to anyone who is trying to become a “real” person to their students is to share what you believe will help make connections with them, without sharing anything too personal. The idea is to connect with and inspire your students, and find a way to bridge the gap between a resume and casual conversation. You could also share a LinkedIn profile link as that is professional in nature and allows students to get to know more about your background, provided you’ve kept it up-to-date.

Strategy Two: Teach Through Weekly Posts

For those instructors who teach in traditional online classes, there is typically a method of posting course announcements and/or weekly overviews. For example, each week I record and post a series of videos. With each video I narrate a PowerPoint presentation, which provides an overview of the week ahead. This includes assigned readings, course concepts, an in-depth examination of specific topics, along with an exploration of the required learning activities. When I complete feedback, I also post a course announcement, and I often use this as a teaching tool. I may include supplemental resources, along with additional tips, strategies, and suggestions.

If you have an ability to transform long written lectures into some form of interactive video, with or without a PowerPoint presentation, I recommend you try it as students get the experience of being in class and a feeling of personalized instruction. This also relates to the first strategy about personalizing the learning experience. If there is any method available for you to add your instruction to the course, be it through the use of messages or something else, you’ll find this allows you to share your subject matter expertise and knowledge.

Strategy Three: Plan an Approach for Class Participation

Do you think ahead about how you will participate in class discussions? A weekly class discussion can be your opportunity to help determine how your learners are working with and grasping the course topics, along with being able to apply what they learned. While the discussion responses tend to be similar in scope, you still can help prompt them to continue to learn by asking questions in a planned manner, such as the use of Socratic questioning techniques.

When I post a reply to a student, I start by acknowledging something written within their response. Next, I build upon it by adding my own insight and supplemental resources, and conclude with a follow-up question. As to a planned strategy, consider starting early in the week and post a reply to every student at least once. This will help encourage students to become actively engaged throughout the week. Whatever your strategy is, if you have a plan for the week, it will help you become better prepared to be substantively engaged.

Strategy Four: Develop a Plan for Office Hours

Do you have multiple methods of contact available for your students? For most online schools, the traditional method of contact is through classroom messaging or email. Now web tools such as Zoom are available and can be used for virtual class meetings. A challenge for adjunct online instructors is determining how to balance availability with other full-time responsibilities. My recommendation is to offer office hours during a time when you know or anticipate you will be online working and available to return messages or accept calls.

If you want to continue to follow the first strategy and personalize the learning experience, I recommend you offer availability by phone. I do this to prevent long emails back and forth, which can end up frustrating both you and the student if the message is not understood. More importantly, I find this presents me with an opportunity to continue to teach the course concepts in a one-on-one manner, which can further bridge the distance learning gap.

I remember being an online student and how it felt when I had to wait for a reply and the reply received did not fully address my question. If I had an ability to call my instructor, I would have done so. I know my students greatly appreciate this extra time taken on my part. Perhaps you will consider it as well.

Manage Your Disposition at All Times

Becoming visible and easily accessible for students does mean you will have more direct interactions. The benefit of increased availability is helping your students when they request it, while demonstrating your care and concern for their developmental well-being. With increased communication comes an ability to also get to know your students better. This also increases the possibility of conflict between you and your students, especially if they are contacting you by phone and there isn’t a direct record of what was stated.

It will be up to you as to how you address each situation. For example, if a student does not communicate appropriately, you can then restrict their communication to messaging or email only. I also recommend with every phone call received or you initiate, send a quick follow-up message or email to serve as a record. This will provide your school with a record of the conversation. What you must decide ahead of time, is you will maintain a positive frame of mind no matter how challenged you might feel by a student. If at any time you believe a student has not maintained proper communication, be it their tone or something else, you can advise them you will no longer continue the conversation and remind them of the Code of Conduct.

As an instructor, you must always try your best to remain calm and emotionally controlled when interacting with your students. Your disposition helps to reinforce a perception you are interested in being an active part of the class. Visibility takes many forms and includes direct interactions with your students, whether through discussions, messages, emails, or phone calls. The potential impact you can have on the progress and development of your students increases significantly when you become easily accessible and use each opportunity presented as a time for teaching and learning. Whatever methods you use to become “real” to your students, make a conscious choice to be involved in class for the benefit of them and their academic development, not just to make an appearance for the sake of being present.

About Dr. Johnson

Dr. Bruce A. Johnson has been working in the field of higher education and distance learning since 2005, with roles including Doctoral Chair and Committee Member, Faculty Development Manager, Core Faculty, and Faculty Development Specialist. Dr. J’s background also includes work as a Human Performance Improvement Consultant, and prior to 2005, he was a Manager of Training and Development.

Dr. Johnson is an inspirational author, writer, and educator. His life mission to teach, mentor, write, and inspire others. He has earned a PhD in Postsecondary and Adult Education, a Certificate in Training and Performance Improvement (TPI), a Master’s in Adult Education, and a Master of Business Administration (MBA).

As a scholar practitioner, Dr. J was published in a scholarly journal and he has been a featured presenter at an international distance learning conference. He has published three books related to higher education, including two about online teaching.  Dr. J has also published over 230 online articles about adult learning, higher education, distance learning, online teaching, and mindset development.

Come join Dr. J’s new group, Motivation for Transformation:

• Any time of the day, visit this group to find your source of motivation, to be inspired and more importantly, have your mindset transformed: https://www.linkedin.com/groups/9108352/

Dr. J offers transformative resources

Please visit the Books page and Store page for more details.

You can also find Dr. J on the following social media sites:

Instagram

       

Every student is likely to feel some apprehension as they attempt to complete what’s required in a course. It doesn’t matter if it’s the first or last course, there may be something holding them back and it’s typically related to their state of mind. This is why the persistence rate of students in a degree program becomes so important. When students no longer believe in themselves, or their capacity to continue, especially in an online degree program, they will likely drop the class and eventually disenroll from the program.

I teach courses, and serve as a Dissertation Chair for doctoral students, in traditional online schools. What I mean by this is students are assigned to a class and an instructor. This provides me with an opportunity to get to know my students and interact with them as much as I am willing to do. Every instructor who teaches in this type of traditional online classroom environment also has this same capability when teaching a course or serving as a committee member. The choice has to do with the amount of time they are willing to invest.

The time invested is important as students also have one of two choices to make when they feel frustrated or don’t believe it is possible to continue with the course. The first choice is to accept they are powerless and beyond hope of addressing the challenges before them. In other words, their self-doubt and negative self-talk has overcome them. The second choice is to ask their instructor for help and hope they are willing to assist them.

When I work with a student, and they want to give up because some aspect of the course seems too challenging, I remind them: This is not the day to give up. What I want them to understand is there is nothing to be gained from an attitude of defeat. How well they perform depends upon what they believe. When they learn to trust their inner strength, they are drawing upon as an accessible internal power. Once they do, they will find themselves stronger of mind and ready to face whatever concerns them now and ahead in their academic journey.

Reason to Quit: The Unexpected

The unexpected can and will occur in life. It usually happens without warning and catches a person by surprise. If ever there is a time when a student would want to quit, this would likely be on top of the list. There’s no planning for every possible scenario and situation which could be encountered. When the unexpected does happen, and it will, there’s a choice: Attempt to retreat from it, or face it head-on. As you likely know, a student’s ability to address any situation outside of the classroom, which directly influences their performance within the classroom, depends upon the support they receive. This support includes help from their instructor.

Reason to Quit: Lingering Doubts

Whenever someone experiences a challenging situation, their ability to handle it effectively may depend upon how strong of mind they are at that time. For example, if there was a minor setback, such as a goal which could not be completed when planned, this does not need to present a significant challenge, as long as they have a positive state of mind. If instead this is seen as a failure, trying to regain momentum may become much more challenging. Even more self-defeating are doubts which are allowed to continue, especially by a student, whether it’s about their ability, capability, or anything similar. The more these doubts are cultivated, the easier it will be for them to quit or give up.  

A Source of Internal Strength and Power

The inner strength a person has is often referred to as resilience, willpower, grit, determination, and other similar words. I simply call it internal power, to represent a combination of all these qualities. It takes all these elements to give a student the strength needed to continue, whenever they want to quit or give up. There are three particular powers which are developed from their internal power, and include the Power of Potential, Power of Beliefs, and Power of Affirmations. Each of these powers can be cultivated with intention, and utilized for self-development. At any time, they can draw upon one, or all of these powers. As an instructor, you can teach students to never give up through use of any of these powers.

The Power of Potential 

Whenever there is a situation which is perceived to be too challenging, beyond a student’s capability or capacity, or any other justification which could be a combination of these reasons, there is something they have forgotten to consider: They hold tremendous potential. It is important to remind them of this statement, especially during moments when they question their ability to complete some requirement of the course.

All it takes is a moment of clarity, when a student recognizes they can do more when they believe, to look ahead at possibilities, and then realize they hold the power to make changes, all because of the potential they possess. Even if they received less than perfect feedback or a grade, or the unexpected has occurred, their potential is an ability to create a mindset of strength and not give into doubts and fears.

The Power of Beliefs 

When you are able to have a conversation with a student about their potential, ask them these questions: Can you name a positive belief about yourself now? Or is it easier to think of something negative?

A belief is a mental statement you develop and continue to reaffirm, often without changing, unless you consciously make a decision to do so. It’s something you state to yourself long enough you begin to accept it as the truth, especially if you find enough evidence or outcomes to support it. For example, if a student believes they have failed, and they continue to receive low grades, this “evidence” will only seem to support and reinforce what they believe. Negative beliefs are the easiest to develop and replay, especially when a class feels challenging. Yet it is the power of positive beliefs which can have the greatest impact on what they accomplish. 

When I am addressing a student who wants to quit, and I detect a negative belief, this is when I try help them change their focus. One possible way to begin is to ask the student to think of the last accomplishment which was important to them. In doing so, remembering the details and what it felt like to be able to achieve that particular goal can reinforce a positive belief. What I want them to understand as well is they won’t know what they are fully capable of achieving until they make a first attempt and try. Regardless of the requirements of the course or degree program, they have the power of their beliefs. They can be mentally prepared and unafraid to try.

The Power of Affirmations 

The last power a person has, which comes from within, is developed through affirmations. These are statements which are designed to be specific to you, and meant to guide you through those moments when you need strength. For example, some of the worst feelings experienced are those created out of fear and doubt. You can change your thinking by making strong positive statements that begin with “I am”, and conclude with optimistic words, such as strong, powerful, hopeful, unafraid, fearless, centered, calm, etc.

When you think of affirmations, you may visualize statements which are made and read each day. However, as an instructor, affirmations are a powerful form of support for reminding your students of their potential. For example, when I provide feedback I may begin with a statement of appreciation, such as “I appreciate how much progress you’ve made in this course and your positive attitude about learning”. When I conclude my feedback, I will also use affirmative words to help instill a sense of positive self-belief and support within them. I want to help them learn to associate positive words with their performance and create positive affirmations, which can lead to supportive beliefs.

Becoming Limitless

Any time a student wants to quit or give up, it’s time for them to conduct a mental self-assessment. Some of the questions you can have them use include: What more can you accomplish if you keep on trying? What is possible to achieve, with a little more effort?  What do you believe about your ability to address this situation?

What I know from experience is this: What you think about, work towards, and commit to matters most. There are no limits to what a person can believe. For every reason there is to quit, there’s an even greater reason to continue trying. The bigger the challenge to overcome, the greater your resolve must be. It’s not just a matter of circumstances, it’s about your determination to stay strong, even in the face of fear or doubt. Every person has within them an unending source of internal power to draw upon, and it only requires a change in focus. When you teach students to make “I can” and “I will” their personal mantras, giving up will not be an option today, or any day.

About Dr. Johnson

Dr. Bruce A. Johnson has been working in the field of higher education and distance learning since 2005, with roles including Doctoral Chair and Committee Member, Faculty Development Manager, Core Faculty, and Faculty Development Specialist. Dr. J’s background also includes work as a Human Performance Improvement Consultant, and prior to 2005, he was a Manager of Training and Development.

Dr. Johnson is an inspirational author, writer, and educator. His life mission to teach, mentor, write, and inspire others. He has earned a PhD in Postsecondary and Adult Education, a Certificate in Training and Performance Improvement (TPI), a Master’s in Adult Education, and a Master of Business Administration (MBA).

As a scholar practitioner, Dr. J was published in a scholarly journal and he has been a featured presenter at an international distance learning conference. He has published three books related to higher education, including two about online teaching.  Dr. J has also published over 230 online articles about adult learning, higher education, distance learning, online teaching, and mindset development.

Come join Dr. J’s new group, Motivation for Transformation:

Any time of the day, visit this group to find your source of motivation, to be inspired and more importantly, have your mindset transformed: https://www.linkedin.com/groups/9108352/

Dr. J offers transformative resources

Please visit the Books page and Store page for more details.

You can also find Dr. J on the following social media sites:

Instagram

       

The rise in distance learning courses and programs continues, yet the persistence rate of students remains an issue. Regardless of how many options students now have for taking online courses, even those of high-quality design, current research finds a significant problem with the number of students completing their courses and making it to graduation. Many online schools, including those which are experiencing the greatest growth in enrollment numbers, believe the answer is to diminish the role of the instructor. This means students are allowed to work on their own, until or unless they would like to seek the assistance of someone who knows the subject matter.

Yet I do not believe this trend will succeed in the long run, as my nearly two decades of work within the field of distance learning finds the instructor’s role is critical for student success. Without an ongoing relationship, in which a bond is formed through positive interactions, students are likely to struggle and even fail. When an instructor takes time to be involved with their students, developing an interest in how they are progressing and what their developmental needs are, students begin to awaken to their potential. Yet this increased self-awareness doesn’t come while working alone, rather students discover the power of possibilities through interactions with their instructors.

The Start of Class as a Litmus Test

Any time a class begins, I view it as a litmus test of my ability to develop productive relationships with students. Often students feel a sense of apprehension and uncertainty during the first week of a new or entry-point class, and it is not confined to undergraduate students. Even my doctoral students experience a range of uncomfortable emotions as they begin. I am keenly aware of what it took for them to enroll in their program and start this first class. It was the culmination of decisions made and answering questions about making the right choice. If I am able to ease their fears, and help them believe in a future with limitless potential, they will have a better chance of continuing on each week.

A Bond Between Instructor and Student

I understand the argument for reducing the role of an instructor to that of an on-call expert or grader. It is based upon a new trend for courses which are aligned with competencies, tested via exams and written assignments, and assigned individually to students without an instructor. Yet this diminishes the intellectual stimulation and discourse which is offered through traditional online classes with weekly discussions and highly engaged instructors. My students want to feel a sense of connection with me and I work to ensure interactions with them are meaningful.

I know it only takes one challenging assignment, poor grade, and/or unclear set of assignment instructions to stop a student from progressing. This is when my availability to speak with students and assist them becomes invaluable. I speak with them not just as an educator, but often as a coach and mentor. This also includes the times when a student tells me about their negative self-talk, which can become quite loud during challenging course weeks. When I have established a working relationship with students, they are likely to confide these struggles with me and seek advice.

5 Strategies to Help Students Discover the Power of Possibilities

Trust as an Important Relational Aspect

A student’s trust in their instructor is never automatic. First there is the distance factor, which is going to automatically work against students, and prevent them from feeling a sense of connection to their instructors. Then they must decide, as the class progresses, if the instructor can be trusted to help them when needed. They will be observing what the instructor posts to determine if they have the skills necessary to facilitate the course. Trust is either built or lost then, one interaction at a time.

The very nature of instructor-to-student relationships are complex. Take for example the mindset of students and their view of feedback they anticipate receiving from their instructor. One of the first assignments my entry-point doctoral students complete has a variety of criteria to reflect upon. The following are student excerpts from one in particular, titled How I Accept Constructive Feedback:

“Availability to ask the professor questions and get a timely response.”

“Try not to form hurt feelings.”

“Accept it comes from someone that cares about me.”

“I often need time to sit in the feedback and let my defensiveness simmer down. Once I can reflect upon it, I become much more responsive.”

“I analyze if the feedback I receive supports my goal achievement; does it have value?”

“I accept constructive feedback when there are points of gratitude incorporated and some validation is given.”

As you can tell from the responses above, the relationship I develop with students has a direct impact on how well they accept feedback received. There are key words here which depict the importance of developing a bond with them, including one a student wrote: “someone that cares about me”.  Now if I were only an instructor on-call, and someone who was not working closely with students, any feedback received may be met with resistance or worse.

5 Strategies to Help Students Discover the Power of Possibilities

I have always believed in the power of the mind, and more specifically, the thoughts we focus upon. Whether you want to complete a goal or create a new future for yourself, it is all possible if you accept your own power. This starts by deciding it is important to you, and then believe it is possible, for you to achieve or accomplish it. This is something I try to teach my students, not directly through long classroom posts, but through motivational messages I create and share in my classes. As to strategies you can implement, there are five I implement into my online teaching practice which you may be able to use as well.

Strategy One: You Didn’t, But You Can

When students receive feedback from me for the first time, they have a true indicator of how I will evaluate their work. While there is always an objective element to feedback, because of the inclusion of a rubric, there is also a subjective element as well. This comes in when I am deciding where on the rubric their work meets specific criteria, and to what degree it meets those criteria.

For an entry-point class it would be easy to give perfect scores, operating under the assumption students have not adapted to the expectations yet. However, my approach is to grade based upon what was submitted. While I may not grade to the extent as an advanced course, I do not “give-away” grades either. I will include numerous supportive comments, especially for students who did not earn all points possible. This tells the student: You didn’t achieve the maximum score, but you can with practice and by using the resources made available to you.

Strategy Two: Celebrate Your Ongoing Progress

When students begin an academic degree program, or even when they are early in their program, the thought of reaching the end point may seem a long time away. This is especially true for doctoral students who must complete a dissertation after their coursework has been completed. As students complete a course, they may still feel as if there will be a significant amount of time required to finish the remaining requirements. This is why it becomes very important for instructors to remind students of their progress, and more importantly, help them celebrate what has been completed as each course marks progression and progress confirms their capacity to persist.

Celebrating a student’s progress can also occur within a class as well. For example, if a student struggled the first few weeks of class, but maintained a willingness to learn, then their growth throughout the class needs to be recognized by the instructor. With my entry-point doctoral class, which is only five weeks in length, I can observe growth for many students, especially if I encourage them as they make attempts to complete the requirements. As I notice progress, I make certain to remind them of their growth as it encourages them to continue. I learned from my own experience as an online doctoral student how challenging the first few weeks of class can be and how transformative the interactions with my instructor become. Even a single sentence of encouragement can nurture student growth.

Strategy Three: I See Potential in You

The following is what I personally believe about all of my students: No matter how well or poorly you perform with a required learning activity, you have a capacity (and capability) to achieve more. In other words, one grade does not define who you are as a student or your potential. I work with non-traditional adult students who are typically highly experienced in their fields and many believe (in the beginning) they are knowledgeable enough to complete the requirements with little assistance. It’s usually not until these students begin to receive feedback, they realize there is more to learn as they have academic skills which are required in order to be successful. That’s why I have to encourage them to see their potential and ability to learn.

Strategy Four: When “I Can’t” Arises, Remember You Can

The role of an instructor needs to involve more than being a grader or subject matter expert. There are many times when students are going to hit the proverbial brick wall mentally, and they believe they cannot continue. Perhaps they have received a grade which was less than expected, they cannot develop an idea for a discussion or assignment, or their dissertation writing seems to be too overwhelming. That’s when I intervene and become more than an instructor. I begin to act as a coach, encouraging them to remember why they can continue, and I provide them with helpful ideas to break through their mental barrier. I also monitor classroom conditions and intervene any time I observe signs of defeat and/or frustration on the part of a student. While I may not be able to help all students, most respond well.

Strategy Five: Make No Time for Fear

There are two types of fear I commonly find students address. The first is the most expected, a fear of failure. There is no question, from my experience, it takes time to build a sense of confidence within students. Even those doctoral students I work with who reach the dissertation phase may still not feel completely capable of meeting the requirements. The second type of fear, which I also find common among students, even doctoral students, is a fear of success. This occurs when students are receiving consistently good grades, positive feedback, and there has been nothing to indicate they have significant areas of development.

These students may be afraid of continuing to perform well and/or be unwilling to admit they are on the right path to success. My role for either type of fear is to help build their self-confidence and reassure them they can engage in class without fear, as they have a built-in support system, starting with their instructors. More important is the value in making mistakes, as those are the times in which valuable lessons can be learned. I’ve learned from experience both success and failure are necessary for growth.

5 Strategies to Help Students Discover the Power of Possibilities

What to Consider as You Help Your Students

If you want to help your students to discover the power of possibilities, begin with a tune-up of your online teaching practices and ask yourself the following questions:

#1. What can your students accomplish in one class? This prompts you to think about the subject matter and learning activities for your course. What could (or should) your students be able to complete by the end of the course? You can think of the course in terms of what students should learn and how they could learn. It is also important to factor in the length of the course as it will help establish a realistic frame of reference while you are working with your students. This also allows you to consider the possibilities for students and how best to help encourage them.

#2. Will you see immediate results? This prompts you to consider the point in which students are at in their academic program, the level of their studies, and difficulty level of the course itself. For example, if you teach a doctoral course and this is one of the last courses in the program, you may expect students to have already acquired knowledge and a set of academic skills. However, if you are teaching a master’s degree course, and students have not taken a college-level course in some time, you may expect it takes time for them to learn how to meet the requirements. Regardless of the college level, you want to know what creates potential and possibilities for students.

What students need, if they are going to persist in their academic program and continue to grow, is an instructor who can help instill hope and teach the value of a positive outlook. It’s not just about achieving perfect grades, rather it’s a matter of realizing the potential they hold, which can transform how they perform, what they believe about their ability, and the level of self-confidence they can sustain. This occurs when there is an instructor who is actively engaged in the course and dedicated to the development of their students. From my perspective, I don’t want students to just believe they can complete the course I’m teaching; I want them to see the many possibilities their academic growth can provide. When students believe in the power of possibilities, how they view their potential and ability to perform, become transformed. Now learning can occur and whatever seemed impossible, now feels possible.

About Dr. Johnson

Dr. Bruce A. Johnson has been working in the field of higher education and distance learning since 2005, with roles including Doctoral Chair and Committee Member, Faculty Development Manager, Core Faculty, and Faculty Development Specialist. Dr. J’s background also includes work as a Human Performance Improvement Consultant, and prior to 2005, he was a Manager of Training and Development.

Dr. Johnson is an inspirational author, writer, and educator. His life mission to teach, mentor, write, and inspire others. He has earned a PhD in Postsecondary and Adult Education, a Certificate in Training and Performance Improvement (TPI), a Master’s in Adult Education, and a Master of Business Administration (MBA).

As a scholar practitioner, Dr. J was published in a scholarly journal and he has been a featured presenter at an international distance learning conference. He has published three books related to higher education, including two about online teaching.  Dr. J has also published over 230 online articles about adult learning, higher education, distance learning, online teaching, and mindset development.

Come join Dr. J’s new group, Motivation for Transformation:

Any time of the day, visit this group to find your source of motivation, to be inspired and more importantly, have your mindset transformed: https://www.linkedin.com/groups/9108352/

Dr. J offers transformative resources

Please visit the Books page and Store page for more details.

You can also find Dr. J on the following social media sites:

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/motivational_guru_drj/

Follow @DrBruceAJohnson

       

The saying about perception becoming our reality is absolutely true and especially relevant for online students who cannot assess an instructor visually. Instead, students rely upon perceptions to decide what the reality of an online class will be, and distance learning in general, whether or not those perceptions are accurate.

For example, if a student is focused on outcomes only, such as a grade for an assignment or the course itself, they are going to rely upon perceptual cues to determine if their instructor is making an accurate assessment. Those cues come from interactions and a perceived tone of every message or email received. If there is any sense of negativity or indifference to the needs of the student, the outcome received is going to be perceived as anything but authentic. This can also create a perception of what future classes may be like, as to a generalization of instructor attitudes.  

From my experience with online teaching, there are many ways you can describe the interactions between an instructor and their students. The most basic description is to refer to it as communication, with a sender and receiver attempting to accurately convey a message. Yet there is one type of interaction I found to be the most transformative of all, and it begins with some form of appreciation by the instructor for their students. What this does is take a form of communication, typically email or classroom messages, and transform it into a supportive interaction.

When I am able to extend some form of appreciation for my students, as a teaching strategy and overall disposition, I help create a different type of perception about instructors. This is especially important for entry-point doctoral classes I teach, as I want to establish a supportive tone to help students and be a positive representative of the school in general. Developing this attitude of appreciation has been a product of time and my own doctoral research. What I’ll share are methods you can use to incorporate appreciation as a general teaching strategy, regardless of the subject.

Why Appreciation Matters, Defining Appreciation

My journey with the concept of appreciation began back in 2008, when I was starting research for my dissertation study. At this time, I was developing a dissertation topic and I was also in the early phase of my online teaching career. I was at my last in-person residency for the doctoral program and attended a session about appreciative coaching. It was then I learned about an organizational developmental strategy called appreciative inquiry. I was immediately intrigued by this concept and wanted to learn more. I discovered its use was primarily for organizations and had not been translated for distance learning. That’s when I settled on my dissertation research topic.

For my dissertation research project, I translated appreciative inquiry for distance learning, and more specifically online teaching, and I called it appreciative andragogy. I immediately connected with the appreciative aspect as I have always held a helpful and supportive attitude while interacting with my students. The word andragogy refers to teaching adults. The strategy I developed at that time was designed to help improve the performance, motivation, and engagement of students through a series of scheduled appreciative interactions. The results confirmed the use of appreciation did help improve all elements studied, including student performance, motivation, and engagement.

After graduating in 2010, I continued to use appreciative andragogy myself as a general teaching strategy. I also continued to study appreciative inquiry and have been inspired by its results within organizations. It is based upon the strengths of an organization’s employees to help facilitate change and improvement of any deficits. Over time, my use of appreciative andragogy has evolved as well. I learned from my own experience that a formalized process of scheduled interactions might not be feasible when I have a workload of 90 students.

The concept of appreciative andragogy evolved into appreciative teaching, to denote a supportive disposition when working with students. I’ve found, and my colleagues have shared the same results with me, that the use of appreciation has a significant positive impact on the overall performance and progress of students. It’s about creating a positive connection with students in every interaction. Appreciation can be defined in three ways: 1) to appreciate another or demonstrate gratitude in some manner, 2) the act of appreciating someone or making a conscious effort to appreciate someone, and 3) creating a supportive and positive feeling when interacting with another.

Appreciation as a Teaching Strategy

I’ve been teaching online over 17 years and I still love this profession. I’m teaching and mentoring doctoral students, and I find they need just as much support and care as any student at any other grade level. For online classes, the students are referred to as non-traditional, which means most have returned to school after a lapse in time since their last degree was completed. This means they are starting at the beginning, as to learning the finer points of academic writing and formatting. It also means I’m in a unique position to share my experience and serve as a guide, mentor, coach, and overall supporter of their progress. What follows are the three basic steps I use to implement appreciation as a teaching strategy.

Step One: Know Your Disposition

When it’s time for to me to interact with students in any manner, I need to be aware of my disposition. This is a self-check I have performed since the start of my career and continue to this day. I want to be aware of how I’m feeling, what my surroundings are like, and any influences there may be at the moment that can shape my interactions with students, whether intentionally or unintentionally. What you can do is to ask yourself: What do you believe about your students and their potential? How do you feel at the moment? Are you prepared to teach and interact with students, in a non-judgmental and unbiased manner? A quick self-check is absolutely essential to remain in a positive state of mind for your interactions.

Step Two: Use the Power of Your Words

Without question, words hold potential for tremendous power. Everything you write or post can be interpreted, or even misinterpreted, based upon perceptual cues each student picks up. What this means is you must write with care, not fear, but with an attitude of support and concern for each student’s well-being. I create what I post or send first in the body of a Word document. This allows me to read and re-read it, quickly assessing it for any potential flaws in tone or intent. It will be easier to fix it before it is sent, than explain something afterwards. This is also where appreciation comes into play. You can use just a few words to shape your message into something positive. Even if you state something simple as “I appreciate you” at the end, you have established a supportive tone.

Step Three: Take Proactive and Measured Action

This is the step that encompasses what used to be appreciative andragogy as a process. What I do each term for my students, regardless of the level they are at, is to post pro-active weekly supportive messages. I typically post these messages on Friday, as I know students have already met the discussion deadline and they will continue working on a written assignment that is due by the end of the week. I will share tips and inspiration, usually consisting of the motivational messages written with my moniker Motivational Guru Dr. J. These picture quotes are meant to uplift and inspire students. Included with the Friday message are words of appreciation, to remind students they are supported and cared for by their instructor. I also utilize appreciative wording in all my feedback, whether it is discussion or assignment feedback. There is something I’ll find within a student’s work to appreciate.

Transformational Education Through Appreciation

I’m witnessing now a trend in higher education, and more specifically distance learning, towards a form of learning that is exclusive of classrooms and assigned instructors. Instructors are becoming guides on-call, if needed by a student, rather than being an essential part of the learning process. Students take exams and write papers to earn a passing score, only engaging with an instructor who grades or answers questions. This reminds of the days long ago when there were correspondence-style courses.

While I understand the intent of competency-based education, and I’m not going to evaluate its merits, what I can share with you is my experience after working with directly with students for over 17 years. The lesson is simple: I know many students would not make it through their program were it not for the support, time, effort, and encouragement of their instructors. I was also an online student, and earned most of my advanced degrees online, and I know how effective a class is with an instructor.

For those of you who still work within a traditional online classroom, with instructor-led courses, there is only one way this form of education will continue, and it is by continuing to show how transformational education can be as a result of direct involvement with an instructor. The discourse I have with students in a discussion board always prompts higher order thinking and contributes to their intellectual development. I am always appreciative of their contributions and take time to craft feedback acknowledging what they post, supporting their growth and progress.

I encourage you to think of online teaching not as a task or set of duties, but at its core it’s a set of interactions. More importantly, every interaction has a potential to contribute to the learning and development of students, if you will demonstrate some form of appreciation. This only requires finding something positive to state when you write an email or post a message. If you maintain a disposition that reflects your enjoyment of the work you do, this will also show up in your interactions and before long, you will naturally be using appreciative teaching. When students perceive you appreciate them in some manner, and they experience positive interactions with you, appreciative teaching will have also become a transformational strategy.  

About Dr. Johnson

Dr. Bruce A. Johnson has been working in the field of higher education and distance learning since 2005, with roles including Doctoral Chair and Committee Member, Faculty Development Manager, Core Faculty, and Faculty Development Specialist. Dr. J’s background also includes work as a Human Performance Improvement Consultant, and prior to 2005, he was a Manager of Training and Development.

Dr. Johnson is an inspirational author, writer, and educator. His life mission to teach, mentor, write, and inspire others. He has earned a PhD in Postsecondary and Adult Education, a Certificate in Training and Performance Improvement (TPI), a Master’s in Adult Education, and a Master of Business Administration (MBA).

As a scholar practitioner, Dr. J was published in a scholarly journal and he has been a featured presenter at an international distance learning conference. He has published three books related to higher education, including two about online teaching.  Dr. J has also published over 230 online articles about adult learning, higher education, distance learning, online teaching, and mindset development.

Come join Dr. J’s new group, Motivation for Transformation:

• Any time of the day, visit this group to find your source of motivation, to be inspired and more importantly, have your mindset transformed: https://www.linkedin.com/groups/9108352/

Dr. J offers transformative resources

Please visit Dr. J’s Books page on his brand-new website.

You can also find Dr. J on the following social media sites:

Twitter

Instagram

Any educator who engages in ongoing professional development knows most of the topics written about are usually related to classroom management, technology, future trends, and even online classroom presence. Yet the one topic that is not readily available, and isn’t easy to train faculty about, is supporting the needs and growth of online students. This is not a procedural matter, rather it’s a disposition held by each individual educator.

Online teaching can be a transformative experience for educators and students alike. One of the reasons this occurs is the discourse available through online discussion boards, when both exchange ideas and engage in intellectual discourse. But then when an educator engages their heart into the process, and students feel or perceive they are cared about, learning becomes even more meaningful to them. For an educator, this transforms teaching from a mandatory function into a purpose-driven role.

I have found there are individuals who are good with the delivery of information or excel as public speakers in a traditional classroom. Others are effective with the process of facilitating the basic functions of an online class. But what is it that makes an online classroom feel much more inviting, and the instructor seem to be more supportive of their students? More importantly, how does an educator uplift their students as a matter of practice? Is it necessary for every instructor to care that much about their role? Is it important for students to interact with someone who exhibits that type of passion? These are the questions I explore further, based upon my work as an educator.

Being Present Without Being Seen

Most of my experience has been teaching adult students (and faculty as students) in non-traditional online classes. I have worked in an industry that requires classroom engagement and interactions virtually every day and evening. In other words, there may not be stated hours that are required of faculty; however, there is an expectation the students will be a top priority regardless of the day of week. Also consider in this environment I do not see my students, unless they have uploaded a photo or I hold a live seminar. This means I’ve had to learn how to take static, written communication and use it in a manner that can still convey a sense of warmth through the choice of words used.

There are three possible approaches an educator can take when managing a virtual classroom environment. The first is to be “always on” or always plugged into the classroom environment, and alert for messages or new posts. The second is to be plugged in and present on a regular basis, while also allowing for downtime breaks. The last approach is to check-in with the class only when required, which means taking a minimalist approach to the required faculty duties. The best of the three first depends upon the demeanor of the person; however, a consistent presence is beneficial for students, along with downtime for the health and well-being of the instructor.

Supporting Open and Closed Minds

When students interact with others in the classroom, they are not always open-minded to begin with as they have their own beliefs, opinions, established patterns of thought, and habitual ways of thinking. They see the world in a particular manner and point of view. They are interacting with an environment that is going to make demands of them, present ideas and information that may conflict with what they know or think or believe, and it is their instructor who is going to influence them and matter the most.

Instructors also have a set of beliefs, personal opinions, world views, and habitual ways of thinking. What an instructor sees, thinks, and feels may be in direct opposition to what a student writes or posts. It is up to the instructor to be supportive of students, and maintain an open mind, as they need to nurture and support any student who has a closed mind. There are also going to be students who do not meet the expectations of their instructor, and again, the instructor must consider what they expect of them, how realistic those expectations are, and how to support students.

Students also hold expectations about the learning process. They expect the class to conform to what they want, confirm what they already believe, meet their personal and professional needs, and operate according to their views. Sometimes those expectations are met, and other times there is a clash of beliefs and opinions. If expectations are not met, and there is a disconnect, it is the instructor’s disposition and support that matters most. An instructor must uplift and guide, not punish their students for thinking different or expecting something unrealistic.

How to Uplift and Support Your Students

For any educator reading this now, who feels a connection to what is written, you likely have a supportive and nurturing approach to online teaching already. Anyone who cares about their students can adopt this approach. From my experience, a caring instructor is much more effective in the long-term than someone who demands strict compliance to the requirements, and cannot empathize with students. What I am referring to though goes beyond caring, and I call it uplifting and supporting students.

For me, this disposition has occurred as a product of time, along with a process of trial and error. When you put your heart into a career, you stick with it during the times when you feel alive and are fully engaged in it, along with the times when it challenges you and you are taught life lessons. What I’m sharing with you are the strategies I use to be student-centered, regardless of the circumstances within the job itself. My belief is simple: I’m in this career for my students. I recognize the workload and problems many faculty like myself are facing. Yet no matter what is going on around the job, students must always come first.

Supportive Strategy #1: Care Personally

To care about your students personally means you are able to empathize with them, any time they share a personal moment with you, be it a triumph or struggle. It doesn’t mean you are adjusting rules for them, rather it means you can offer words of care and concern as needed. When students are able to perceive you as a “real” human, not just an online instructor who is “somewhere out there”, then you can build a bond with them. I have been able to develop these types of connections with students, and it is gratifying to watch their progress because of it.

Supportive Strategy #2: Connect Professionally

I teach doctoral students and one of the strategies I use to connect with them on a professional level is to share my social media links. These are my professional social media links, inclusive of LinkedIn and Twitter. For any form of social media I share, I make certain to keep it education and career focused. I do this to help encourage students to think of what they will pursue after their degree is completed, and it also allows me to keep in touch after the class has concluded. It also allows them to build an academic community, which can help them avoid a sense of isolation while they are working on their degree.

Supportive Strategy #3: Motivation Matters

I’ve been writing and posting motivational picture quotes for many years now on social media. What I’ve found is that by sharing some of these in class on occasion, it can really help to uplift students. If you have any additional words of encouragement that you can share in a course announcement or post of some kind, you may find it helps inspire your students as well. There are times when they may feel challenged and need some words of encouragement.

Supportive Strategy #4: Manage the Details

When I write about the details, I’m referring to the word choices made when you develop a classroom post, classroom message, or email. The receiver of anything you post or send is going to perceive what you have written, as to the tone and intent, which means you want to be certain you are clear about the message. A simple strategy you can implement is to create your posts and messages in a Word document first, as a means of proofreading what you write. Why is this a supportive strategy? When you pay attention to what and how you write, you demonstrate to students you do care about all aspects of your interactions with them.

Supportive Strategy #5: Stay Vigilant

Being vigilant as an online instructor means you are aware of the potential for your students to disconnect or disengage from the course. If you notice a student has missed a deadline, send them a message. But instead of just quoting the late policy, let them know you care in some manner. The purpose of this strategy is to always be aware of the conditions of your class, and more importantly, the status of your students. You want to be ready to act as support.

Make Students Your Priority

Teaching has always been second nature for me. It is one of the first memories I had as a child, even before I knew what I was really doing, and throughout my career I found myself in a classroom no matter what my job titles might have been at the time. It was a natural progression for me to move from corporate training into higher education. I can tell you there have been many times in which I have worked as a faculty member (full-time and adjunct), and my positive disposition was challenged, simply because of the workload and nature of the institutional politics. During those times I always came back to a focus on my students, and why I love to teach.

For anyone who believes they have put their heart into their work, your students will notice it. Your support is going to make a difference for students during times when they feel challenged. Your ability to care and empathize, while being a coach, mentor, and teacher, will serve you and them well. You are going to also feel challenged at times by institutional circumstances, situations, conditions, and expectations. If you can stay focused on your ability to uplift students, and how much they depend upon your caring attitude and positive disposition, perhaps you can maintain your own balance during those challenging moments. No matter what external conditions may be, when students are your top priority, then all of the effort put into your job will never feel like time wasted.  

About Dr. Johnson

Dr. Bruce A. Johnson has been working in the field of higher education and distance learning since 2005, with roles including Doctoral Chair and Committee Member, Faculty Development Manager, Core Faculty, and Faculty Development Specialist. Dr. J’s background also includes work as a Human Performance Improvement Consultant, and prior to 2005, he was a Manager of Training and Development.

Dr. Johnson is an inspirational author, writer, and educator. His life mission to teach, mentor, write, and inspire others. He has earned a PhD in Postsecondary and Adult Education, a Certificate in Training and Performance Improvement (TPI), a Master’s in Adult Education, and a Master of Business Administration (MBA).

As a scholar practitioner, Dr. J was published in a scholarly journal and he has been a featured presenter at an international distance learning conference. He has published three books related to higher education, including two about online teaching.  Dr. J has also published over 230 online articles about adult learning, higher education, distance learning, online teaching, and mindset development.

Come join Dr. J’s new group, Motivation for Transformation:

Any time of the day, visit this group to find your source of motivation, to be inspired and more importantly, have your mindset transformed: https://www.linkedin.com/groups/9108352/

Dr. J offers transformative resources

Please visit the Books page and Store page for more details.

You can also find Dr. J on the following social media sites:

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/motivational_guru_drj/

       

A typical path for the high school graduate used to be enrollment in college, making a transition from one learning environment to the next, even if a major had not yet been determined. For many high school graduates, this may still be the case. However, within the field of higher education, there has been a shift over time, with an increase in a different type of student who is attending school. This student is known as the non-traditional learner, or someone who waits for a period of time to return to school to pursue formal education.

A non-traditional learner could be someone who doesn’t enroll in college courses right after high school. This type of learner could also be someone who completed an undergraduate degree after high school, and then waited a period of time to pursue graduate or advanced education. What I have found, through my experience in higher education, is non-traditional learners are initially motivated to enroll in a degree program for specific reasons. This is especially true for online schools, which will offer degree programs for particular career interests.

I have been teaching and mentoring doctoral learners online for some time, and these students almost always fit the non-traditional category. For many, there may have been a time gap between when they began their doctoral program, and when they had completed a master’s degree. What I have also found is most have some type of career purpose in mind, when they enrolled in a doctoral program, either to advance in a career, or begin an entirely new career. Similar to myself and my doctorate program, many doctoral students I’ve worked with have a sense of purpose or calling involved; believing their doctorate degree will fulfill a life’s mission and vision.

Teaching online students already requires a different approach than traditional on-ground students. Now what I would like to emphasize are the additional needs non-traditional learners have and how these needs can be addressed with three basic online teaching strategies. Perhaps you will find yourself utilizing one or more of these approaches already. Or it may be possible you will discover something new to add to your instructional toolbox.

What Non-Traditional Learners Need

What you are likely to read, in most of the literature and resources related to non-traditional learners, is the importance of bringing real-world problems and issues to the classroom for studying. In other words, there is a de-emphasis placed on theory, and continued recommendations made for practicality. While I understand the need to avoid teaching a course strictly about theory, I also believe for some subjects, a balance is necessary.

For example, when teaching adult education as a subject, there are basic theories I recommend students learn about to establish a foundation. An important theory to study is andragogy, which is about teaching adults. This is in contrast to pedagogy, or teaching children. Yet learning about relevant theories should only be a starting point for a course. There also needs to be practical application, providing students with an opportunity to put into practice what they have learned.

I’ve also learned some lessons from working with non-traditional doctoral learners. First, I cannot rely upon the course content itself to meet the needs of students. While I cannot change or add to discussions and assignments, I can help to clarify and add relevance to them. For example, with class discussions, I can share theory, practical application, real-world problems, or whatever is needed to help make them relevant and useful.

Another lesson learned is the importance of contributing something of value to their chosen field for students. This relates back to the vision and mission most have for enrolling in a doctorate program. This is why it is important for discussions and assignments to be something more than busywork. Finally, many students are interested in social causes, and this is another driving force for pursuit of their studies and doctorate degree completion.

3 Successful Teaching Strategies

Based upon what I’ve learned about the needs of non-traditional learners, especially online doctoral students, there are three teaching strategies that can help make the class more meaningful and engaging. These strategies can be used for any subject and any graduate grade level. How you choose to implement one or more of these strategies depends upon how you teach your students now, and how you could add any of these ideas to your instructional practice.

Strategy #1: Teach the Value of Advanced Education

Students know their graduate degree holds greater weight than an undergraduate degree. For a doctoral student, they are usually aware this degree is the highest level of education possible in the United States. Yet do students really understand what this degree means as a reality, when it is time to begin their program, as to what’s required of them? From my experience, most students know what the levels of advanced education are, yet few understand the increased expectations and responsibilities which come along with it.

Take for example online doctoral students. I’ve taught non-traditional learners who worked in the fields of business and education, with jobs ranging from manager to college instructor. Many believe they already write appropriately and are able to demonstrate sufficient academic skill levels. The reality is usually quite different as these skills are not routinely required. Now at a doctorate level, there is an expectation for students to be able to demonstrate higher order thinking and proper academic writing, and apply theory into practice. This requires I spend a significant amount of time helping these students elevate their writing, and reach for critical thinking and analysis.

I’m certain you have found this is one of the most important lessons students can learn once enrolled, and a true value of advanced education, transforming how they think and what they write. I refer to changes they need to make as learning to elevate their writing, to help students understand they are building from what they already know at present. What I never want to do is to make a student feel as if they are back in grade school, and just learning how to write.

Strategy #2: Teach Self Self-Efficacy and Self-Empowerment

You, as the instructor, have an ability to greatly influence what your students believe about their ability to complete the required learning activities. The level of influence you have is held with only a few words written, and occurs primarily through the feedback provided. This is where you have a choice each week: Take time to offer personalized and constructive feedback, or complete your tasks quickly and offer a few quick comments which are basically not much more than canned commentary. Should you take time as I do each week, you choose to take advantage of the influence available to you, to help shape the beliefs of your students.

The most important beliefs students hold, especially as related to completion of tasks, retention, and making it to graduation, include self-efficacy and self-empowerment. Why do I believe this to be so? It is based upon over 17 years of online teaching experience, including my ongoing research in the field of adult education. Self-efficacy, in general, refers to a person’s ability to believe they have the confidence necessary to complete something, be it a learning activity or degree program. I have attempted to use a strengths-based approach to feedback, which means I focus on strengths first, and use those positive elements when addressing areas of development. In other words, I want to instill a sense of confidence within students, about their ability to complete anything they attempt to do.

The other belief is related to self-empowerment, as I want students to know grades and outcomes do not happen to them. Whenever I read a student’s introduction and they tell me their goal is to earn an “A” average for the course, I know what their focus is, along with their locus of control. If I can help them learn they are fully empowered to be in control of how they learn, and more importantly the grades they earn, then my hope is this mindset will continue into the next course. If I am successful, this sense of self-empowerment may even extend into their own lives as well.

Strategy #3: Teach the Transformative Power of Education

I know why students enroll in their degree programs for the most part, and still, I have met few who really understand how transformative education can be, until the very end of their program. To help students better connect with their studies, I’ll emphasize the importance of growth as a student. This can be challenging for my online doctoral students at times, who are often leaders, working in an advanced capacity, or educators with extensive experience.

It relates to the idea of “going to school”, in which you “learn something new”, and then acquire a degree. The missing piece from these statements is “growing as a person”, or something related to it. It is simply not possible to enter a doctoral or graduate program and not be changed by it in some manner. What I remind students as well is that through growth, they can then become an agent of change in turn for their chosen field. In other words, you cannot enact change around you, if you alone are not willing to change.

In order to help emphasize the transformative power of education, there are two concepts I discuss when possible with my doctoral students. The first is becoming a lifelong learner. As students learn advanced higher order thinking skills, they are acquiring a method of questioning and examining, which will likely change how they read. This will translate into their career, and likely their personal lives as well. They will find themselves wanting to seek out credible and reliable sources, acquire new information, and in essence, continue to learn. This may be learning for enjoyment, or learning with a specific purpose in mind.

The second concept I emphasize at the doctorate level is that of scholar-practitioner. I remember when I was a doctoral student and was told about this concept, and the impact it had on my work. I took it to heart at the time, and have continued to view it as a responsibility that comes along with holding a doctorate degree. For my doctoral students, I talk about it from the perspective of the importance of elevating their academic writing, conducting research, developing a dissertation that contributes new knowledge to their chosen field, and developing a dissertation research topic of interest that they could continue to study even after their program has been completed. That’s what I did with my dissertation, select a topic that was a launching point for something I continued to study and write about ever since graduation.

Demonstrate Appreciation for Your Non-Traditional Learners

Every student deserves respect and appreciation. For non-traditional learners, there is an added level of appreciation you can demonstrate. It’s related to their background and experience. To provide a sense of contrast, consider those students who are enrolled in a college course right after high school. Some may have work experience, yet many have a limited number of years of real-world practical experience, as a general rule. Now consider an online, non-traditional doctoral learner who has 20 years of professional experience, as an example. When you engage with this student, you should not use any wording that in any manner discounts their experience or background. They likely know their profession very well, and could speak very eloquently about it. What this student may lack is current academic experience.

While it may seem easier to teach students with minimal life experience, I have always enjoyed teaching non-traditional learners. I find I learn as much from these students as they learn from me. Their professional experiences are usually different than my own, and I find these differences lend to engaging and fulfilling class discussions. Some of my non-traditional learners have resisted the need to change and grow, as could any student, and it comes down to a matter of their willingness to learn and adapt. I try to remain patient and willing to help students, as I too was a non-traditional learner, and I’ve always flourished most when an instructor demonstrated appreciation.

You can take an extra step, when engaging with your non-traditional learners, and acknowledge the experience these students write about in their discussion posts and papers. When you make this acknowledgement, you are demonstrating appreciation for them as experienced adults, and this helps instill a sense of positivity within them. They chose a program specifically for adult students, and as such, they do not want to be viewed as inexperienced or uneducated. While they may need guidance to reach the level of expectations required, they will likely reach it quicker with a positive focus, then one which is negative-based. Help your students remember their vision and mission as you interact with them, take time to provide developmental guidance, and then enjoy the learning process with them as they grow.

About Dr. Johnson

Dr. Bruce A. Johnson has been working in the field of higher education and distance learning since 2005, with roles including Doctoral Chair and Committee Member, Faculty Development Manager, Core Faculty, and Faculty Development Specialist. Dr. J’s background also includes work as a Human Performance Improvement Consultant, and prior to 2005, he was a Manager of Training and Development.

Dr. Johnson is an inspirational author, writer, and educator. His life mission to teach, mentor, write, and inspire others. He has earned a PhD in Postsecondary and Adult Education, a Certificate in Training and Performance Improvement (TPI), a Master’s in Adult Education, and a Master of Business Administration (MBA).

As a scholar practitioner, Dr. J was published in a scholarly journal and he has been a featured presenter at an international distance learning conference. He has published three books related to higher education, including two about online teaching.  Dr. J has also published over 230 online articles about adult learning, higher education, distance learning, online teaching, and mindset development.

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