The field of distance learning continues to evolve, not just from a technological perspective, but also by the mode of delivery for online classes. When this field was first developing in the early 2000s, one of the primary concerns was related to the ability of this form of teaching to replicate traditional classroom learning.

Over time most online schools included some form of instructor-to-student interaction as part of the curriculum, typically through asynchronous discussions, thereby making it possible for students to still experience many similar elements of a traditional classroom. If there were still any lingering doubts left today about an ability to learn effectively in a virtual environment, the pandemic has helped to eliminate them.

The ongoing evolution within the field of distance learning has been the development of competency-based education, or learning specific skills and competencies rather than course-specific objectives. This has changed the field of higher education, for better or worse, depending upon who you ask and the institution you are employed with now.

I can share two specific examples:

Example #1: One of the largest online schools (with a non-profit status) does not assign students to classes, changing what used to be the traditional model of online learning. There is no instructor-to-student contact required. A student may or may not read the course materials, and then take exam(s), write a paper, and work to earn a passing grade. Instructors are hired, but only utilized as on-call experts, if a student has a question and would like assistance.

Example #2: One of the well-established for-profit online schools was facing a situation in which it was challenging to compete with other online schools. This online school merged with another online school and hired a new CEO. Then a decision was made that competency-based courses and curriculum would be the future for this school, in order to be competitive in the marketplace.

I know what the programs were like as I witnessed course development first-hand. The curriculum mirrored the same set-up as the largest (non-profit) online school. There were no assigned instructors; only reading, tests, and papers to earn a grade. Over a three-year period afterwards, hundreds of full-time faculty were laid off, myself included.

What are highlights of these competency-based programs?

A. There is no discourse built into the courses. Students are taking self-paced courses, similar to correspondence-style courses from the 1970s.

B. There are no daily or weekly interactions required between instructors and students, which means there is never an opportunity for instructors to engage students with Socratic questioning.

C. The lack of instructor-to-student interactions also eliminates the power of words that traditional online instructors can utilize daily and/or weekly. Traditional online instructors have an opportunity to motivate and encourage students through the power of their words.

While there are going to be some students who are well-suited for this mode of learning, the human element of learning can still be transformative for all students who are able to interact with an instructor on a regular basis, especially when an instructor is highly engaged in the learning process. That’s missing from a competency-based course.

The traditional online classroom, with mandatory instructor-to-student interactions, requires an instructor to be present, available, and responsive to the needs of their students. It is possible for an instructor to be minimally present and only when contractually obligated to do so; however, schools and students expect much more from instructors, and minimal engagement is rarely tolerated. This puts the onus on instructors to learn to become highly effective within a virtual environment, interacting with students they cannot see, while communicating primarily through non-verbal classroom messages and posts.

Which is most effective for learning? Perhaps you’ll find out as you learn from my 18+ years of experience in the field of higher education and distance learning. I’ll also share some strategies for helping you, as an online instructor, enhance your interactions with students.

Why the Need for an Instructor?

Consider the student who can memorize information long enough to pass a test, or grasp information well-enough to write a paper sufficient enough to be evaluated by a grader. From a cognitive perspective, you can ask: Has there been enough interactivity involved to cause information to become knowledge, and more importantly, has there been enough interactivity involved to cause knowledge to be transferred from short-term to long-term memory? These are the questions I ask of the competency-based online schools that offer no direct instructor-to-student interactions.

When students are involved in a classroom environment, be it online or a traditional on-ground campus, they are provided with an opportunity to discuss course concepts or interact with the information studied in greater depth. This makes the learning process transformative, as it helps to build the neural pathways necessary for long-term retention of the knowledge. The reason why is the added context provided through discourse, which transforms information into usable and relevant knowledge, to be used now, stored in long-term memory, and called upon later. The most essential element of class discussions, the person guiding the ongoing discourse, is the instructor.

Developing a Competency versus Learning and Acquiring Knowledge

I can begin this analysis from the perspective of the student and focus first on the reason why they are enrolled in a degree program. For most online students, who are often referred to as non-traditional students, they have a specific goal or purpose in mind. In other words, they are not just enrolled for exploratory purposes. They are either seeking to advance their career, change careers, continue with their professional development, or gain career-specific knowledge to specialize in their career field. The expectation is they will be able to graduate from the program and immediately apply what was learned to their career, for whatever the initial purpose or reason was for enrolling.

For online schools that are strictly competency-based, and offer no required instructor-to-student interactions, the expectation is that by the end of a “course” the students will have demonstrated mastery of a competency. This mastery could be demonstrated via a score on an exam, a written paper, or a combination of the two. Within this structure, students are not required to read any of the materials provided, and only are encouraged to so if they are unable to achieve a passing score on an exam or paper, and need the additional assistance. The question becomes: If there were no direct interactions with an experienced instructor required, and a student is only required to pass with a satisfactory exam or written paper score, has learning occurred?

The answer to the question, as provided by the online institutions offering competency-based programs only, is this: Students have demonstrated mastery of a competency at the end of a “course”. My question is this: If studying isn’t required, then how has a student actually learned? I understand a student can memorize information or write about a topic they are already familiar with, but isn’t this like the correspondence-style courses that predated online programs? This is similar to someone picking up an instruction book or set of instructions for installing a new piece of equipment. They can acquire the information necessary to complete the required tasks long enough to do it, but will they retain the information for the long-term, and has learning occurred?

I still believe learning requires context and discourse, in order for it to become knowledge, as neural pathways are created and the knowledge is stored in long-term memory. Anyone can read or write, but understanding what it is you are reading and writing, and putting it into a context you can understand and apply, is the transformative part of learning. I understand this puts me at odds with competency-based education principles. But I still believe an instructor is necessary to guide discourse and help create an environment necessary for context to occur. This is what I have done now with my online classes for over 18 years, and I’ve seen the outcome with students, especially when they can immediately apply subject specific topics to their career. I’ve observed students learn, as a result of their interactions within the classroom.

How to Nurture Student Growth: One Interaction at a Time

To help your students learn, as an instructor within an online classroom environment, there are specific strategies you can implement. The following is a summary of some of the most effective strategies I’ve developed, and I’ve utilized the acronym INTERACT to help present them to you.

Individualized Attention: Whenever you have an opportunity to interact with students, try to see them individually. What I mean is to view each one of them sitting in a classroom, or coming to Office Hours, and providing them with personalized attention. I remind myself of this every time a new term starts and I take time to read every student’s introduction. I want to remember some detail about each one so I continue to view them each as a person.

Needs-Based Focus: As an instructor, you are provided with an opportunity to be more than a grader. What do I mean by this statement? You are able to interact in a much more direct and engaging manner, and by doing so, you are learning about their academic needs. This allows you to recommend resources based upon their needs, and share your recommendations in a conversational manner, as you develop productive relationships with them. As another example, I develop instructional videos each week to help students learn, and I am present in those videos to help reinforce my connection with them.

Transformative Discussions: At the heart of a typical, and traditional, online classroom is the discussion. What makes a discussion transformative for students is the involvement of an instructor, when they are able to engage students in discourse and prompt their intellectual curiosity. This requires more than acknowledging something the students have written, and instead, it requires providing context. I use a scaffolding approach to the development of my discussion responses. I also use Socratic questioning, and ensure I conclude with a question, to help extend the conversation.

Evaluate for Development: As an assigned instructor, you get to learn about your students and their academic development. When you provide feedback for learning activities, which are typically discussions and written assignments, your role is usually more than that of a grader. By knowing how your students are progressing, you can address their developmental needs with personalized feedback that helps to guide their ongoing academic achievement.

Respond Patiently and Appropriately: Most online instructors are aware of the growing impatience among younger students, as to having to wait for a response to their questions. It is understandable that when a student feels stuck, needs assistance, and/or finally decides to ask for help, they don’t want to wait days for a response. Then when you read the message and find the tone isn’t proper, your natural reaction might not be the best. That’s the time to take a break. Regardless of the student’s demeanor, you must always be patient and willing to help in a kind and caring manner.

Allow Time for Accessibility: One of the most important lessons I’ve learned as an online instructor is the need to be accessible and available for students. I’ve found students will often mirror my level of engagement in the classroom, especially within the class discussions. If I were to be available and present only when contractually required, students might perceive I don’t care that much about the course. I also make certain to provide Office Hours during times when students are likely working and need my assistance, so they know there is someone readily available to support them.

Communicate with a Proper Tone: An online classroom environment is not always the easiest type of classroom to communicate in, as you are relying primarily upon messages to convey everything you have to state. If you aren’t careful about how you develop your messages, and the perceived tone of the messages, students may stop communicating with you or disengage from the course. If you are newer to a virtual environment, one method I recommend is reading your messages aloud prior to sending it. You can also create your messages in a Word document first, to ensure there is proper academic writing and a proper tone, prior to sending them.

Teach in Every Interaction: As an instructor, you have an ability to use interactions with students as teaching moments. When you respond to questions, reply to discussion posts, or provide feedback, you have an opportunity to teach through the power of your example. Whether you are sharing your subject matter expertise, providing context, offering insight, or suggesting academic resources, consider how you can use those interactions to engage with students and teach.

An Instructor is the Heart of the Classroom

There’s no question the field of higher education, and more specifically distance learning, is evolving. The model of an online class, with a specified number of weeks, weekly discussions, required weekly learning activities, and an assigned instructor, is becoming replaced by competency-based programs that have no mandated interactions with instructors.

While I understand the basis of demonstrating competencies, and the purpose it is meant to align with, I question whether or not it is returning to the days of correspondence-style courses. The type of learning I still believe is most effective, is based upon interactions, discourse, and context, which helps promote the long-term retention of knowledge.

My hope is the traditional online class will continue for these very reasons, and I am fortunate to be associated with online schools that offer a traditional online classroom structure. I believe many students need the support, encouragement, and assistance of an instructor, to successfully work and thrive in a virtual environment. If you, as the instructor, take the time necessary to create conditions that engage students in the learning process, you become the heart of the online classroom.

Your students will find learning transformative, not just as a result of what they learned, but also as a result of the interactions which encouraged them and brought out their very best performance. Truly transformative learning occurs first because of the contextual connections made with the information studied, and then the discourse developed by an instructor. Transformative learning also takes place because of relational connections made, with an instructor who brings a classroom to life through active and responsive engagement in the course.

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 19 years, he has been an online instructor, Faculty Development Specialist, Faculty Director, Faculty Development Manager, and Dissertation Chair.

Dr. Johnson is also an inspirational author, writer, and educator. His life mission is 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, along with presenting at three faculty conferences. He has also published over 230 online articles about adult learning, higher education, distance learning, online teaching, and mindset development. Dr. J published three books related to higher education, including two about online teaching.

Getting Down to Business: A Handbook for Faculty Who Teach Business.

Transform Adult Education: Expert Teaching Strategies for Educators.

Transform Online Teaching: Expert Strategies and Essential Resources Every Educator Needs.

Come join Dr. J’s 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: Motivation for Transformation

Dr. J offers transformative resources:

Please visit Dr. J’s Books page on his website: Dr. J’s Books

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

       

The saying about perception becoming our reality is absolutely true and especially relevant for online students who cannot assess an instructor visually. Students rely primarily upon their perceptions to decide what the reality of an online class will be, and distance learning in general, whether or not those perceptions are completely 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 19 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: Monitor 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 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 teach traditional online classes. This means I’m assigned a new class with doctoral students each term, and I’m responsible for assisting them with their academic growth and development. I can share my experience after working directly with students for over 19 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 one-on-one weekly interactions 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 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 become a motivational teaching strategy. Demonstrating appreciation for students requires a small investment of your time; yet the results are certain to be transformative.

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 19 years, he has been an online instructor, Faculty Development Specialist, Faculty Director, Faculty Development Manager, and Dissertation Chair.

Dr. Johnson is also an inspirational author, writer, and educator. His life mission is 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, along with presenting at three faculty conferences. He has also published over 230 online articles about adult learning, higher education, distance learning, online teaching, and mindset development. Dr. J published three books related to higher education, including two about online teaching.

Getting Down to Business: A Handbook for Faculty Who Teach Business.

Transform Adult Education: Expert Teaching Strategies for Educators.

Transform Online Teaching: Expert Strategies and Essential Resources Every Educator Needs.

Come join Dr. J’s 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: Motivation for Transformation

Dr. J offers transformative resources:

Please visit Dr. J’s Books page on his website: Dr. J’s Books

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

       

When you think about what it takes to be an effective online instructor, you may consider how to efficiently complete the many duties required each week. This would be a normal response as the online instructor is task-driven. From a purely classroom management perspective, there are always questions to answer, papers to evaluate, discussions to be involved in, timelines to meet, and so.

Beyond the typical duties, an instructor will find themselves nurturing the developmental learning abilities of their students, and stimulate their intellectual curiosity. To be highly effective in the online environment, the instructor must have basic qualities, such as empathy and emotional intelligence. These are the qualities that are responsible for helping an instructor respond to conditions in the most appropriate manner.

Then there needs to be a quality or characteristic of an online instructor that is not dependent upon conditions, a basic human trait which can be applied to all situations. I believe that characteristic is kindness, which is an ability to have a positive disposition with all those you interact with each day. It’s a state of mind that has a direct impact on how you feel and perform, just as it does for your students when they interact with you.

It’s also directly related to another quality I recommend every instructor demonstrate for their students, and that’s showing appreciation for them. But being kind should become an automatic response to everyone encountered, no matter how nice or aggressive their initial tone may be. If this isn’t a natural state of mind for your now, it is possible to cultivate it through intentional practice.

Kindness in a World of Strong Emotions

I’ve chosen to focus on kindness as we all need a reminder from time-to-time about the importance of our basic humanity, especially when this is a time when it is so easy to experience strong emotions from events of the world around us. I have found within my online teaching practice now, more than ever, there are preconceived ideas about who I am, what I will be like, and what it will be like to work with me. This is all based upon my photo and introduction, which clearly shows my race, gives an indication of my age (likely older vs. younger), and my sexual orientation (there is a mention of my husband).

I am also sensing an immediate hesitation among certain ethnic groups to work with me, believing I will not be open-minded. Or I may be automatically viewed as “one of them” because of my race. This is very different than when I first began teaching online 19 years ago. Those who are willing to speak with me find themselves surprised that I can be very easy to talk to, get along with, and always accepting of others.

I rely upon a basic act of kindness to begin with, which I believe every person is entitled to, regardless of how strongly their initial words may be. I know the learning process can be challenging for some, and the simple act of kindness can go a long way towards helping someone overcome their frustrations and begin to listen to the advice being offered.

Is Kindness Always Reciprocated?

I believe we know the answer to that question and it is a resounding no, and I never make my approach to working with students based upon a condition they must act the same way in return. While I do expect a level of professionalism and respect, in accordance with school policies for student conduct, I know that basic kindness is not always going to be a natural response for some students. In fact, if a student does not receive the grade or outcome they expected, believed they earned, or thought they were entitled to, they may act in every manner except one which displays kindness. This is when I will continue to show not only kindness towards them, but empathy as well. Yet most students act in a professional manner and do in fact reciprocate basic human kindness.

Cultivating Kindness

Regardless of how I believe students may perceive me, or the disposition they hold when I interact with them, I always want to be kind while communicating with them. Kindness is a form of caring, and it is applied equally to all students. It’s also a form of patience, and when you make it part of your disposition, it helps create a measured reaction to classroom circumstances. The following strategies can help you cultivate this important quality.

Keep an Open Mind:

Within an online classroom it can be easy to preassess a student simply by their name, which is the first visual clue an instructor has about them. But this is where a self-check is needed, a reminder to be open-minded and conscious of any filters that may interrupt your ability to be kind. What you want is to approach any student, in any situation, and be able to listen while expressing your support. You must be a role model for your students and demonstrate that you’ve created an inclusive and safe learning environment for all of them.

Invest in Direct Communication:

The idea of speaking directly with students may seem to be something they would not want, and a commitment of time you do not have to offer. While both may be true to a certain degree, I’ve found that speaking with students, those who are willing to communicate with me directly, offers incredible value. I provide office hours that includes weekdays, weeknights, and one weekend day. When a student calls, I have an opportunity to start the call with a warm welcome and immediately set a welcoming disposition. No matter how the student feels, my goal is to make certain they understand I want to help them.

Never Respond When Strong Emotions are Felt:

There will always be situations in which a student is going to send a message and use improper communication techniques. If you feel a strong emotional reaction in any manner, this is not the time to respond. You must give yourself time to find your sense of balance, so that you can approach the student in a kind and calming manner. If the student were to contact you direct, and they are extremely upset, do your best to remain calm. If you find the student will not change their tone, the best suggestion might be to ask them if you can look into the matter and respond back by a specified date.

Develop Kindness in all Communication:

There are cues you can insert into your communication to demonstrate your ability to have a kind and caring disposition. Take for instance an email you’ve received and it is addressed only to your first name. Now consider the same email and it is addressed to your first name; however, there is the word “Hello” inserted before your first name.

Can you tell the perceived difference in the tone of the two messages? The second message gives an impression the sender is starting the message in a much more open and inviting manner. The first message sounds much less personable. The same holds true for classroom posts, especially discussion posts. The manner in which you word your messages and posts creates an impression of what it might be to interact with you.

Don’t Mistake Kindness for Leniency

One of the challenges for being perceived as someone who can be easier to get along with is it can be mistaken for someone who is also lenient when it comes to due dates and missed work. What I’ve found is I can maintain a balance between a caring individual as a personality, and still be strict when it comes to upholding academic policies. I always keep in mind my students are people too, which means I recognize the fact with online students they are often non-traditional learners and have other responsibilities.

Many of my students have pressures from life beyond their classwork, and they need someone to care about how well they are doing, is able to support their growth and development, and be patient with them.If you can develop a disposition that puts students at ease, you are going to find yourself approaching your work with much more enjoyment, and they in turn will soon discover how much you care about them.

Kindness as an online teaching characteristic does not mean you have to change who you are as a person. Take time to care about every student you are able to interact with, regardless of circumstances, and watch how transformative the interactions become.

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 19 years, he has been an online instructor, Faculty Development Specialist, Faculty Director, Faculty Development Manager, and Dissertation Chair.

Dr. Johnson is also an inspirational author, writer, and educator. His life mission is 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, along with presenting at three faculty conferences. He has also published over 230 online articles about adult learning, higher education, distance learning, online teaching, and mindset development. Dr. J published three books related to higher education, including two about online teaching.

Getting Down to Business: A Handbook for Faculty Who Teach Business.

Transform Adult Education: Expert Teaching Strategies for Educators.

Transform Online Teaching: Expert Strategies and Essential Resources Every Educator Needs.

Come join Dr. J’s 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: Motivation for Transformation

Dr. J offers transformative resources:

Please visit Dr. J’s Books page on his website: Dr. J’s Books

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

      

A busy work week with many tasks to complete and not enough time. There are endless papers to review and discussions awaiting your participation. It’s the weekly balancing act you find yourself part of, and for most of the time you can manage it well, until the unexpected questions, demands, and emails or messages start coming in. You are able to balance the week effectively enough, until you find your time taken up by students and the end of the week rush occurs. This is when the feelings of stress really begin to take over and you have to be careful how you respond to your students.

Does this sound familiar? It’s something I’ve experienced as an online educator for many years. While I’ve learned to develop an effective time management strategy, and become proactive in meeting my responsibilities, I know all too well how it was for me at the beginning of my learning curve. Even today there are times when I have to catch myself feeling caught up in the busyness of work, and need to make certain I’m managing my disposition, as I know how it translates into my communication with students.

I’m Sorry, I Don’t Have Time

As an online educator, it is possible to view the position from the perspective of duties to be completed each week. One of the most significant duties is grading, and it is also the most time consuming. For anyone who dedicates time to crafting more than rote comments, they well understand the commitment required to craft personalized feedback, and how disruptive it may feel if someone (a student) were to interrupt the process. Yet online teaching is not just about duties, it’s about the students, and this is a motto I remind myself often.

While I utilize the process of feedback as a valuable teaching opportunity, I also know any questions or messages I receive from my students provide me with an opportunity to connect with them one-on-one. If I demonstrate anything other than a willingness to engage with them, they are less likely to care about what I have to say to them in their feedback and perhaps the course as well.

If a student asks a question and my only reply is “Go see the syllabus” or “Look it up in the textbook”, I’m essentially telling the student: “I’m sorry, I don’t have time now for you”. While you don’t need to give students every answer, you can engage them in a dialogue and build a rapport with them. That one question could be all they need to feel empowered to continue working.

Patience is a Disposition

The process of communication is generally straightforward, especially within an online class. For example, a student sends an email or message to their instructor, the instructor reads it, reacts, and responds. The reaction experienced by the instructor is immediate and framed by their disposition, which is based upon current conditions. If this instructor is in the middle of a time crunch, feeling overwhelmed, over-worked, and out of time, the reaction may or may not be the most affirming and positive.

The instructor’s response is going to depend upon a number of factors having to do with their personality and mindset maintenance. If they allow their reaction to be guided by emotions, and they felt a negative reaction, the response to the student may likely be negative. In other words, having a good intention to be responsive to students requires follow-through and conscious involvement.

You have to ask yourself: I have a message I want to communicate, what will be the most effective, appropriate, and engaging method of conveying this message to the receiver? Also, what is the appropriate medium for sending this message to the receiver, to demonstrate willingness to help them?

When Your Patience is Tested

The online classroom provides unique benefits and challenges for communication between students and their instructors. The benefits instructors have for online communication include a written record through emails and messages, which is helpful whenever disputes arise.

In addition, a classroom message or email does not demand an instantaneous reply. You always have time to respond, even if an immediate reply was requested. This provides you with an opportunity to think about, and assess thoroughly, what has been stated. You can also take time to compose yourself, should you feel any negative emotions as a result of the message.

The challenges are related to disposition of the messages sent by students. I remember 19 years ago when I began teaching online and how I thought students would be aggressive at times in their emails; however, that was no comparison to what I am reading today. There is almost feeling of empowerment, hiding behind a sense of anonymity by being in an online environment.

I know many people have attributed this to the negative influence of social media. I am not an expert in this subject; however, I will state what I’ve seen and it is a much more aggressive tone within the messages of students who believe they have not received the grade or outcome they wanted or expected. That’s when your patience becomes tested more than ever. 

Strategies to Increase Your Level of Patience 

What I am suggesting is not to change who you are as a person. Rather it is about how you respond and what you say and do as you interact with your students. For example, you may find yourself in the middle of a busy work week and you’re asked a question or sent a message that seems to disrupt the week. What you don’t want is to have this disrupt your disposition, as any stress you may be feeling will trickle down into your communication.

The following strategies can be used at any time and in any order, just as you may be challenged at any time during the week by a message or email. You never know when a student is going to demonstrate a lack of tact, not have a filter on their communication, or be aggressive. Perhaps then you’ll be prepared to better respond because of the following.

Strategy One: Choose the Right Time of Day to Respond.

I know of many educators who like myself, are plugged in and available most of the week. The challenge is knowing when to stop viewing your email inbox, and/or when to stop responding to messages received. Consider a scenario in which it is late at night, you’ve had a very long day with numerous meetings, and a student sent an aggressive message that caused a negative initial emotional reaction within you. This is obviously not the time of day to properly address it.

If you were to respond, what you write would likely be something reactive and not very thoughtful, even with the best of intentions and well-managed emotional intelligence. Always consider your energy level and emotional state of mind, which correlates to the right time of day, when choosing to respond to student messages. This will set you up for a positive response, something that demonstrates to your student you have the patience to work with them, no matter how challenging they may behave.

Strategy Two: Type, Read, Delete, Re-Write.

There are going to be times in which you may feel challenged by communication from your students. It may be a result of a student who wants attention, doesn’t know how to express their feelings appropriately, cannot ask for assistance properly, or any other number of reasons. There’s a strategy I’ve been using, and perhaps it will help you as well. It’s a way of releasing your negative reactions, in a safe and productive manner, so these feeling do not build up within you.

What I do is open up a Word document and type out the response I’d like to send. It would be my reactive response, if I could say anything I want in reply to the student. Then I read it aloud and delete the document. It is really quite freeing to get it out, as a means of dealing first with my own emotions.

Then I can go back and address the student’s message in a calm and rational manner. Even if I still have to give myself time to process the message and anything requested, at least I’ve taken care of my reactive response first, before I attempt to create an actual reply.

Strategy Three: Connect with a Colleague.

Another lesson I’ve learned through time and experience is the value in connecting with my colleagues. If I am attempting to address a challenging student, it is very likely a colleague of mine has been in this same situation, or something similar. Whether or not they have doesn’t even matter as it’s the ability connect with and share the experience that is most helpful. It’s similar to writing out the reactive reply and discarding it.

You have an ability to express what you are feeling to someone who can relate, and just as important, someone who can offer guidance as to how this situation might be best addressed. I’m fortunate to work with a manager who is someone I can speak with about student situations, while receiving guidance and support.

Strategy Four: Manage Your Self-Care.

The ability to demonstrate patience with students is a matter of maintaining a positive frame of reference. In order to do this on a consistent basis, you should think about how you are managing your self-care. If you are feeling run-down and worn out, these feelings can work against the best of your intentions. One aspect of my self-care I pay close attention to each week is ensuring I am getting enough sleep. I also allocate downtime during the week, to unplug from technology and prepare for the next day. Even if you allocate just a few minutes downtime, it does help your state of mind.

The strategies you choose will help you feel renewed, and it will also ensure your disposition is well-maintained. Whatever your state of mind may be at the time of your communication, it will be reflected within your communication. With online communication it will be experienced through a perceived tone. Without realizing it, you are selecting words based upon your current mood or state of mind.

That’s the challenge of communicating without seeing students face-to-face, and why you should be concerned about how you feel while you are involved in the process. This is not to state you have to be perfect, just prepared for the best and possibly worst forms of communication from your students.

You Do Have Time to Help Students Persist

As an educator you may not think about your ability to be patient with students, and yet, it plays such a critical role in how they perceive your involvement with them in the class. I remember what it was like to be an online student, and how it felt when an instructor waited days to answer, barely answered, or didn’t seem to care. I take the opposite approach. When students send a message, I see it as an opportunity to encourage their growth and development.

I always have time to help students as they are my first priority. All other tasks will be completed after students have been assisted. In a student-centered classroom, students persist when an instructor is available, responsive, and willing to spend time listening, teaching, and guiding students. Maintain your self-care and you will have a disposition which reflects the good intention you’ve established to patiently assist your students. As a result of your positive attitude, students will likely become more engaged in the course, receptive to your feedback, and willing to listen to you.

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 19 years, he has been an online instructor, Faculty Development Specialist, Faculty Director, Faculty Development Manager, and Dissertation Chair.

Dr. Johnson is also an inspirational author, writer, and educator. His life mission is 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, along with presenting at three faculty conferences. He has also published over 230 online articles about adult learning, higher education, distance learning, online teaching, and mindset development. Dr. J published three books related to higher education, including two about online teaching.

Getting Down to Business: A Handbook for Faculty Who Teach Business.

Transform Adult Education: Expert Teaching Strategies for Educators.

Transform Online Teaching: Expert Strategies and Essential Resources Every Educator Needs.

Come join Dr. J’s 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: Motivation for Transformation

Dr. J offers transformative resources:

Please visit Dr. J’s Books page on his website: Dr. J’s Books

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

       

When you are assigned a class and students arrive, do you view yourself as a teacher, instructor, or educator? Is your role a function, one which completes tasks and responsibilities, or do you aspire to accomplish more with your students? Do you consider the instructional strategies you use now to be transformative in some manner, or would you like to somehow transform the students you teach?

A person enters the field of education as a profession, either full-time in a traditional academic institution or as an adjunct (or part time) instructor. A traditional full-time professor may likely be responsible for conducting research, teaching, and publishing scholarly work. An adjunct instructor may teach in a community college, traditional college, or an online school. When someone teaches students within the field of higher education, he or she may be called a facilitator, instructor, or professor. However, you likely won’t find a job title with the word educator in it.

Does this mean that everyone who is a teacher, professor, instructor, faculty member, or adjunct, is also an educator? What I have learned through my work in higher education is that everyone who is in one of these roles is doing their best to teach and guide a learning process, whether they are involved in undergraduate or graduate degree courses. However, someone who considers themselves to be an educator is a person who goes beyond the role of teaching and seeks to lead a transformational learning process. I have learned myself that becoming an educator is not an automatic process. It takes time, practice, and dedication to become an engaging and transformative educator.

A Basic Definition of a Teacher

Teaching is generally associated with traditional, primary education. Classes at this level are teacher-led and children as students are taught what and how to learn. The teacher is the expert and directs the learning process. A teacher is someone highly trained and works to engage the minds of his or her students. This style of teacher-led instruction continues into higher education, specifically traditional college classrooms. The teacher still stands at the front and center of the class delivering information, and students are used to this format because of their experience in primary education. The instructor disseminates knowledge through a lecture, and students will study to pass the required examinations or complete other required learning activities.

Within higher education, teachers may be called instructors and they are hired as subject matter experts with advanced content or subject matter expertise. The job requirements usually include holding a specific number of degree hours in the subject being taught. Teachers may also be called professors in traditional universities, and those positions require a terminal degree with additional research requirements. For all of these roles, teaching is meant to signify someone who is guiding the learning process by directing, telling, and instructing students. The instructor or professor is in charge, and the students must comply and follow as directed.

Here is something to consider: If this is the essence of teaching, is there a difference between teaching and educating students? Is the role of a teacher the same as that of an educator?

Basic Definitions of an Educator

I would like for you to consider some basic definitions to begin with as a means of understanding the role of an educator. The word “education” refers to giving instruction; “educator” refers to the person who provides instruction and is someone skilled in teaching; and “teaching” is aligned with providing explanations. I have expanded upon these definitions so the word “educator” includes someone who is skilled with instruction, possesses highly developed academic skills, and holds both subject matter knowledge, along with knowledge of adult education principles.

• Skilled with Instruction: An educator is someone who should be skilled in the art of classroom instruction, knowing what instructional strategies are effective and the areas of facilitation that need further development.

An experienced educator develops methods which will bring course materials to life by adding relevant context and prompting students to learn through class discussions and other learning activities. Instruction also includes all of the interactions held with students, including all forms of communication, as every interaction provides an opportunity for teaching.

• Highly Developed Academic Skills: An educator must also have strong academic skills and at the top of that list are writing skills. This requires strong attention to detail on the part of the educator must include all forms of messages communicated. The ability to demonstrate strong academic skills is especially important for anyone who is teaching online classes as words represent the instructor.

The use of proper formatting guidelines, according to the style prescribed by the school, is also included in the list of critical academic skills. For example, many schools have implemented APA formatting guidelines as the standard for formatting papers and working with sources. An educator cannot adequately guide students and provide meaningful feedback if the writing style has not been mastered.

• Strong Knowledge Base: An educator needs to develop a knowledge base consisting of their subject matter expertise, as related to the course or courses they are teaching, along with knowledge of adult education principles. I know of many educators who have the required credit hours on their degree transcripts, yet they may not have extensive experience in the field they teach. This will still allow them to teach the course, provided they take time to read the required textbook or materials, and find methods of applying it to current practices within the field.

Many schools hire adjuncts with work experience as the primary criteria, rather than knowledge of adult learning principles. When I have worked with faculty who do have studied adult education theory, they generally acquired it through ongoing professional development. That was my goal when I decided on a major for my doctorate degree, to understand how adults learn so I could transform my role and become an educator.

4 Strategies to Become a Transformative Educator

I do not believe many instructors intentionally consider the need to make a transformation from working as an instructor to functioning as an educator. When someone is hired to teach a class, someone other than a traditional college professor, they often learn through practice and time what works well in the classroom. There will likely be classroom audits and recommendations made for ongoing professional development.

Gradually the typical instructor will become an educator as they seek out resources to help improve their teaching practices. However, I have worked with many adjunct online instructors who rely upon their subject matter expertise alone and do not believe there is a reason to grow as an educator. For anyone who would like to become an engaging and transformative educator, there are strategies which can be can be implemented.

Strategy #1: Transform Through Development of Your Instructional Practice

While any educator can learn through time on the job, it is possible to become intentional about this growth. There are numerous online resources, publications, workshops, webinars, and professional groups which will allow you to learn new methods, strategies, and practices. There are also social media websites such as LinkedIn and Twitter which allow for the exchange of ideas and resources within a global community of educators.

You can also utilize self-reflection as a means of gauging your effectiveness. I have found that the best time to review my instructional practice occurs immediately after a class has concluded. That is a time when I can assess the strategies I have used and determine if those methods were effective. Even reviewing end of course student surveys may provide insight into the perspective of my students, whether or not every survey submitted was positive. Students tend to submit a survey response either when they are happy or greatly unhappy about the course. Either way, I can learn something about what my students have experienced during the class.

Strategy #2: Transform Through Development of Your Academic Skills

I know from my work with online faculty development this is an area of development many educators could use. However, it is often viewed as a low priority until it is noted in classroom audits. If an educator has weak academic writing skills, it will interfere with their ability to provide comprehensive feedback for students.

For online instructors, this has an even greater impact when posted messages contain errors with spelling, grammar, and formatting. The development of academic skills can be done through the use of online resources or workshops. Many online schools I have worked for offer faculty workshops and this is a valuable self-development resource.

Strategy #3: Transform Through Development of Your Subject Matter Expertise

Every educator has subject matter expertise they can draw upon. However, the challenge is keeping this knowledge current as you continue to teach for several years. The best advice I can offer is find resources which allow you to read and learn about current thinking, research, and best practices in your chosen field.

This is essential to your instructional practice as students can easily tell whether you appear to be current in your knowledge, or outdated and seemingly out of touch. Even the use of required textbooks or resources does not ensure that you are utilizing the most current information as knowledge evolves quickly in many fields.

Strategy #4: Transform Through Development of Your Knowledge of Adult Learning

The last step or strategy I can recommend is to gain knowledge about adult learning theories, principles, and practices. If you are not familiar with the basics there are concepts you can research and includes critical thinking, andragogy, self-directed learning, transformational learning, learning styles, motivation, and cognition.

My suggestion is to find and read online sources related to higher education and then find a subject that interests you to research further. I have found the more I read about topics I enjoy, the more I am cultivating my interest in ongoing professional development. What you will likely find is what you learn will have a positive influence on your work as an educator and this will enhance all areas of your instructional practice.

What Can Be of Benefit: Develop a Vision and Teaching Goals

Working as an educator, or someone who is highly engaged in the process of helping students learn, starts with a commitment to make this a career rather than a job. I have developed a vision related to how I want to be involved in each class I teach and I recommend the same strategy for you. You may find it useful to develop teaching goals for your career and link your classroom performance to those goals. For example, do you want to complete the required facilitation tasks, or would you rather put in the additional time necessary to create nurturing class conditions?

After developing a vision and teaching goals, you can create a professional development plan to prompt your learning and growth in all of the areas I have addressed above. While this strategy may require an investment of time, it is helpful to remember that we always make time for whatever we believe is most important.

Being an educator is not sustaining a focus on job functions, rather it is cultivating a love of what you do and learning how to excel for the benefit of your students. Becoming an engaging and transformative educator occurs when you decide teaching students is only part of the learning process, and you work to transform who you are and how you function, while working and interacting with your students.

When you transform your teaching or faculty role and become an educator, regardless of your job title, you also transform the learning experience of your students. You provide for them the critical element necessary for real learning to occur, substantive instructor involvement and engagement. More importantly, you humanize the learning experience and you can help to nurture their developmental needs. Students will leave your class transformed in some manner, having learned something they can apply to their academic pursuits, life, and/or career. You will be transformed and so will your students.

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 19 years, he has been an online instructor, Faculty Development Specialist, Faculty Director, Faculty Development Manager, and Dissertation Chair.

Dr. Johnson is also an inspirational author, writer, and educator. His life mission is 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, along with presenting at three faculty conferences. He has also published over 230 online articles about adult learning, higher education, distance learning, online teaching, and mindset development. Dr. J published three books related to higher education, including two about online teaching.

Getting Down to Business: A Handbook for Faculty Who Teach Business.

Transform Adult Education: Expert Teaching Strategies for Educators.

Transform Online Teaching: Expert Strategies and Essential Resources Every Educator Needs.

Come join Dr. J’s 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: Motivation for Transformation

Dr. J offers transformative resources:

Please visit Dr. J’s Books page on his website: Dr. J’s Books

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

       

Within the field of higher education, one of the important metrics for gauging the effectiveness of programs is student retention. Retention measures the number of students a school has been able to keep in their programs and in contrast, attrition measures the number of students who have withdrawn – either voluntarily or involuntarily. Another important word for this field is persistence, which is a measurement of a student’s drive and determination.

While retention and persistence may seem to measure the same criteria, I have made a distinction based upon the actions taken. For example, a school may have retention programs in place; whereas, helping students succeed in their programs bolsters their ability to persist and continue to make progress.

The sector of higher education I have the most experience in is for-profit online schools, with roles ranging from online educator to faculty development manager. For this industry, the typical retention rate is 50% or less. Retention initiatives that have been implemented in many of the schools I’ve worked for included changing feedback requirements, grading requirements, and changing the curriculum itself to make it easier for students to pass their classes.

While these initiatives may provide some help for the bottom line, I have found it has little impact on the student experience. What matters most for students is their ability to persist and be successful in their attempt to engage in the learning process. Is there a secret to student success? In my experience, I learned there is and it involves the support and resources students receive from the schools and their instructors.

Growth of the Non-Traditional Student

When I entered the field of higher education over 18 years ago, the phrase “non-traditional student” was becoming popular and I watched it become prominent now – especially with regards to how courses and curriculum are designed for students. The essence of this phrase is meant to describe new types of students, other than those who are starting college right out of high school, who are enrolling in college level courses and programs.

This one of the important factors that drove the growth of the for-profit online college industry. It is not uncommon to see online programs being offered for what is called the “working adult” – with promises made that the degrees obtained will help them advance within their chosen career. 

As a general rule, the non-traditional student can be someone who is older, part of a minority group, speaks English as a second language, attends school part-time, is employed, and has prior life experience. I have non-traditional students in my online classes with age ranges between their 30s and 60s, and many of them are working full time.

For these students, school work is not their only responsibility and this can create periodic time management challenges for them. In addition, by having life experience these students cannot be treated like blank slates, which is someone waiting to receive knowledge being dispensed by an instructor.

The Role of an Educator

Within traditional colleges and universities, the role of an educator has remained largely unchanged. This means they are at the front of the class and the center of attention during each scheduled session. It is a teacher-centered approach to instruction that is utilized in primary education.

This type of educator typically provides a lecture and students are expected to study for quizzes and exams. In contrast, an educator who is teaching online courses is finding their role to be evolving. The very nature of a virtual learning environment puts the primary responsibility for learning on students.

I have coached many traditional educators who have tried to make the transition to online teaching and found it to be difficult to adapt to as traditional teaching methods do not translate well. I can empathize with them as educators devote time and effort into developing their career and becoming a teaching expert – and then having to learn new methods may produce a lot of natural resistance.

Online teaching requires changing the focus from teacher-led to student-centered instruction. Does this have a direct impact on student success? The answer is yes, as an educator must be comfortable in their role and understand the needs of students they are charged with teaching.

Advisors and Mentors

The traditional responsibility for working with students has been part of the role of the academic advisor. An advisor is someone who may assist students with a wide range of tasks that includes registration, enrollment, course selection, and follow-up after being enrolled into a degree program.

Often this was a reactive role and that means an advisor could address a wide range of questions but only when initiated by the students. Within the for-profit online school industry, I have seen the advisor’s role evolve and include responsibility for conducting follow up for those students who were at risk for failing and/or dropping their courses.

There are also non-profit online schools that hired mentors, who are meant to take the place of faculty, or instructors who are on-call. For those schools, students are not assigned to classes and instead, they study to take assessments – usually with a low or minimal required passing score. It is like correspondence courses that preceded the online for-profit industry.

Discover The Top 5 Strategies That Support Student Success 

Based upon my experience and work with educators, students need an instructor – and just as important, they need ongoing support. An educator serves as the point of contact for implementing retention strategies put into place by a school, while working with their students to help them persist and succeed. An instructor can develop a productive relationship with students because they are working with them through learning activities, feedback, and discussions – and these tasks prompt learning. In other words, learning is relational.

Below are strategies any educator can use to help support student success, regardless of the class or subject matter taught.

Strategy #1. Provide Ongoing Support: Are you keeping track of the progress of your students? Every student has developmental needs, even those who are doing exceptionally well in your class. When you are familiar with their needs you will know what resources to recommend – whether those are sources provided by the school or supplemental resources.

Even recommending additional materials to review, along with subject matter related videos, those resources can help to enhance the learning experience and encourage engagement in the course. Why? The more interested a student is in the course, and the more they can develop their areas of weakness, the more they are going to be able to persist.

Strategy #2. Provide Engaging Feedback: I have heard many instructors state that students do not read the feedback provided and if they do, those students never seem to implement the suggestions provided. What I have discovered is that students develop a perception about feedback based upon their experiences.

As an instructor, I provide engaging feedback by taking time to insert comments directly into student papers and ask questions, offer insight, share my expertise, and relate topics to the real world. Again, if students find you have taken time to do more than provide a grade, they are going to consider what you have written. The more engaging your feedback becomes, the more likely they are going to maintain an interest in performing their best.

Strategy #3. Develop a High Level of Responsiveness: For some students, the thought of asking a question or making a request for help can be intimidating – especially at the beginning of a class when there isn’t a relationship established with their instructor.

When students approach you, and seek your assistance, your ability to demonstrate responsiveness is going to make a difference for them. If you can demonstrate a genuine concern for their request, and make it a point to help them in a meaningful manner, they will develop a perception you care and become more willing to work with you in the future. When you show you are responsive, students will also be more receptive to your coaching and feedback.

Strategy #4. Always Be Aware of Your Disposition and Tone: As an educator, you must be mindful of how you feel and the emotions you are experiencing as you work with students, as this will have a direct impact on your disposition. It will extend further into the tone of your communication and for an online class, you are represented by the words you use and you must consider how those words will be interpreted.

While you need to remain professional, it will be helpful to add some warmth to your messages to help develop a connection with your students. For example, consider the difference between the following two options for responding to a student’s email:

#1) “Student: This is my response to your email,” or,

#2) “Hello Student: It is good to hear from you. Here is a suggestion to help answer your question.”

Do you see how the second option communicates professionalism, warmth, and a genuine concern for providing assistance?

Strategy #5. Provide Follow-Up and Follow-Through: This probably one of the most important elements for student success and it involves going beyond answering questions or providing feedback. It means you pay attention to your students, all students, and you make it a point to maintain coaching and mentoring attempts. If a student asks a question by email, and it involves something complex, or may not be easily resolved, a simple follow-up email or call can support their success.

When a student is struggling, has performed poorly, or is not active in a class discussion – don’t wait to see if they improve. Contact that student right away and offer assistance. In addition, consider the value of a phone call and how a personal touch could influence their well-being. As another example, if you tell your students that you don’t have an answer to a question, be sure you find an answer and then follow up with them.

Will You Invest the Time Necessary?

The secret to student success involves the relationships which are established, nurtured, and maintained with them. It is an instructor who interacts directly with students, and knows firsthand how they are performing, which means they understand their needs and areas of development. More importantly, when an instructor is responsive to the needs of their students, they will likely have a greater chance of success.

An instructor who invests the time necessary to support the ongoing progress of their students is accomplishing something even greater; they are reinforcing a sense of persistence within them. Each hurdle a student experiences now becomes a building block, because they are being shown someone cares and wants to help them. All you need to do is to maintain a student-centered focus, in all interactions and instructional tasks, and you will find that supporting the success of your students becomes a natural process.

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 18 years, he has been an online instructor, Faculty Development Specialist, Faculty Director, Faculty Development Manager, and Dissertation Chair.

Dr. Johnson is also an inspirational author, writer, and educator. His life mission is 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, along with presenting at three faculty conferences. He has also published over 230 online articles about adult learning, higher education, distance learning, online teaching, and mindset development. Dr. J has published three books related to higher education, including two about online teaching.

  • Getting Down to Business: A Handbook for Faculty Who Teach Business.
  • Transform Adult Education: Expert Teaching Strategies for Educators.
  • Transform Online Teaching: Expert Strategies and Essential Resources Every Educator Needs.

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: Motivation for Transformation

Dr. J offers transformative resources

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

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

       

What is your belief about an end-of-course evaluation? Do you believe it accurately reflects your performance as an instructor? Or do you live in fear of the reports, as it may affect your standing with the school you teach for now?

I just received my end-of-course evaluations for courses that recently concluded, and I’m at a point now in my career where I look forward to reading these reports. This is real-time feedback I’m receiving from students, who can provide an overview of what their course experience was like, whether it was positive or negative. For students who were highly satisfied and had a positive experience, I look for specific reasons why and try to continue to build upon those aspects for the next course.  

If there was a negative comment made, I usually know who that student was and it’s not because their name was shown, but rather because of what occurred in class. For example, a student may have been reported for plagiarism or a student did not receive the grade expected for an assignment. The evaluation now provides an opportunity for them to express their frustration. My approach is to try to understand their perspective and ascertain if there was anything more that I could have done to improve their outcomes.

I understand the fear instructors may feel about receiving feedback from students, as many academic institutions have expectations about the evaluation outcomes, whether in the form of an overall score or commentary provided. For example, I worked for an institution that focused solely on the overall score as a condition of employment. Yet regardless of the expectations surrounding the end-of-course evaluation, and its purpose for evaluating instructors, I believe there is always something to be learned. It’s a matter of listening to what students have to say and using it for continuous self-improvement as an educator.

Learn From Student Challenges

As those of us who teach online know quite well, our students have a wide variety of learning styles, persistence rates, capacities, capabilities, and academic skills. When they interact with the materials provided, and attempt to complete the weekly requirements, this process occurs without someone physically present to guide them. Whether or not they are able to learn and complete the required activities is going to depend upon their ability to master the concepts, acquire new skills, and develop coherent thoughts into discussion posts and written assignments. Many students can do this with minimal assistance needed, while others will struggle to overcome learning difficulties.

If you have a large class size, you may not know about the extent of your students and their challenges until a course has concluded and they express their frustration on the evaluation form. That’s why it is important to read the feedback received and look for clues related to potential sticking points or barriers to learning. As an example, I once received valuable feedback from students about instructions for an assignment that were unclear to them. It was that information which led me to creating weekly instructional videos to provide clarification for all learning activities, inclusive of discussions and assignments.

Learn Through Self-Reflection

After you receive the evaluation reports, what do you focus your attention on, the positive or negative comments? When I first began teaching online 17 years ago, it didn’t matter if there were 20 positive comments, my focus was always on the one or two negative comments. I thought that somehow, I let my students down. But over time I realized there is something to be learned from all comments received, and negative comments are part of my continued growth.

I find the use of self-reflection is extremely valuable, in which I think about my instructional performance throughout each class week. What I’m focused on is creating a student-centered environment, and student feedback can be used to create a self-development plan. What I have within my control is not the evaluation outcomes, rather it is the classroom environment students are in. I’m continually reflecting upon the feedback received and trying to determine if I am meeting the needs of students, as this ties directly into their academic growth, and perhaps their satisfaction of the course.

Learn From Emotional Reactions

Overall, I believe the evaluations may not measure all aspects of your performance as an instructor. The end-of-course evaluations can show trends; however, these forms do not always provide a complete picture of the work you’ve completed in a classroom. Students may not be fully capable of evaluating every aspect of your instructional duties, especially as related to feedback or your engagement in class discussions. What students can do is describe the emotions experienced during the course, and how their instructor contributed (or did not contribute) to their overall learning. An emotional reaction speaks to the relationship that was or was not established with you as the instructor.

Learn and Grow as an Educator

When your students experience a positive feeling about engagement with you as their instructor, and it includes being valued and appreciated, it is usually a sign that indicates you have developed a meaningful and productive working relationship with them. You’ll find the more you dedicate your time and attention to the needs of your students, the greater their satisfaction with the course will be. This allows you to accept their feedback with an open mind and willingness to learn.

Instead of fearing or dreading the results of your end-of-course evaluations, look forward to discovering the many reasons why you are succeeding as the course instructor. If there are developmental areas discovered, welcome the real-time feedback and its potential to help elevate how you teach. All feedback received from your students provides you with a first-hand perspective of how you are perceived and the effectiveness of your instruction. With a student-centered focus, or putting students first in all you do, it is likely end-of-course evaluations will be a reflection of the transformative experience you’ve created for your students.

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 18 years, he has been an online instructor, Faculty Development Specialist, Faculty Director, Faculty Development Manager, and Dissertation Chair.

Dr. Johnson is also an inspirational author, writer, and educator. His life mission is 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, along with presenting at three faculty conferences. He has also published over 230 online articles about adult learning, higher education, distance learning, online teaching, and mindset development. Dr. J published three books related to higher education, including two about online teaching.

Getting Down to Business: A Handbook for Faculty Who Teach Business.

Transform Adult Education: Expert Teaching Strategies for Educators.

Transform Online Teaching: Expert Strategies and Essential Resources Every Educator Needs.

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: Motivation for Transformation

Dr. J offers transformative resources:

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

       

Teaching adult students is a rewarding experience as I have found them to be goal driven and motivated to learn something they can apply to their lives or careers. When they make an investment in a degree program it is usually done with an expectation it will be of benefit in some manner, whether immediately or upon graduation. When I am engaged and highly involved in the class, students believe they are receiving something of value – and this motivates me to perform my best as an educator.

I know it is natural for some students to lose interest in the course topics, discussions, or assignments over time. If I have established a good relationship with them, and I have been responsive to their requests and questions, I am able to help keep them engaged during times when they are not feeling highly enthusiastic. There are also going to instances when students struggle with aspects of the class that should seem self-explanatory or easy to understand. For example, I have watched students get sidelined with writing assignments when they simply cannot think of a starting point or topic to begin writing about, and their academic writing skills are so under-developed they reach a point where the only option may be to completely give up.

When students reach this point, they may express “I can’t” – either through their direct words or indirect actions. These students present a challenge for me as an educator; not for me to question my career choice, rather it challenges me to be a better educator and help these students succeed.

I know this form of expression represents their frustration and there is an underlying issue which must be addressed. While I may never know the exact cause of the issue, I must try to help turn the phrase “I can’t” into “I can” or at the very least, turn it into “I will try” and encourage them not to give up.

How Students Express “I Can’t”

Students may express “I can’t” several ways without stating those words. Using a written assignment as an example, students have told me what they submitted is the best they can do, they worked hard and should have earned an “A” letter grade even though the requirements were not fully met, and they put in the minimum effort needed because that is all they know how to do. In other words, they are stating they cannot do better because they either do not know how to perform better, they were not encouraged to do so, or they have performed in this manner long enough that it has become a matter of routine.

There are also other indirect methods in which an “I can’t” statement may be expressed. You can tell students have this mindset when their performance begins to decline with class discussions or assignments, you find mistakes are repeated even when helpful feedback has been provided to them, or they are starting to miss assignment deadlines.

For any educator, it may be difficult to determine if the reason for any of these issues is a matter of “I can’t” or “I won’t” – or if there are any other underlying causes. What makes these situations even more challenging is that students may not be very receptive or open to receiving help, once they have reached this level of frustration.  

Regardless of the reasons, direct or indirect statements of this nature may be an expression of “I can’t do better than this right now” – until someone helps them to “do” otherwise or encourages them change their frame of reference. You do not have to know the actual reasons why help is needed for your students; you only need to acknowledge they are struggling and then try to help them.

Consider Your Perspective as an Educator

Any time you have students who are no longer able to realize their full potential, and you sense a lack of resilience when they are faced with challenges, it is helpful to first conduct an internal self-assessment of your expectations. For example, are you familiar with class discussions and assignments, and what should constitute a strong level of performance from your student? You have read responses and papers long enough to know what constitutes marginal, acceptable, and outstanding work on the part of your students.

However, if you have been working with those same learning activities long enough that your personal tolerance level for what you consider to be subpar responses and papers may be quite low now. You may have reached a point that you expect all students to make an above average effort, which may not be possible for all students to achieve.

For example, the best effort a student puts in may only be an average discussion response or written paper. That is their best, until they learn how to perform better with time and practice. This is the reason why it is helpful to re-examine your expectations, to determine if you expect too much from students, or if you can do more to help them reach their full potential.

Helping Students Develop an “I Can” Attitude

Whenever a student expresses “I can’t” to you in some form, either directly or indirectly, you should begin with a diagnosis to determine if it is a matter of “I won’t”, “I don’t know how”, “I’m not sure where to begin”, “I’m uncertain I can”, I am unable to find resources”, “I need help but I do not know how to ask for assistance”. In other words, look beyond the initial statement or what you believe the reactionary condition may be to determine if the underlying cause can be ascertained as you can better assist the student when you address problems rather than symptoms.

Whether or not you can learn about the underlying issue, you can still attempt to work with your students to help lessen their anxieties and change both their perspectives and outcomes. The following are strategies you can implement to meet this goal.

Strategies to Assist Students: The most important starting for working with students who seem unable to complete a task or activity is to ensure you are approaching your response to them from a position of empathy and genuine concern for their academic well-being. They will be able to tell from the perceived tone of your voice, along with anything you post in an online classroom or send by email, whether you are going through the motions or truly care about them. Your attitude also determines the amount of effort you will put into trying to assist them, and how willing you will be to try to find solutions for them.

Strategy #1 Immediate and Direct Contact:  Often when I worked with faculty in my role as faculty development specialist, I recommended they offer one-on-one contact with students through an outreach method such as an email. However, when a student has reached a point where they are stuck – waiting for a reply and attempting to schedule a meeting can take time and further escalate their frustration.

One approach I’ve used is to contact the student immediately by phone as most of my classes have been taught online. If I am unable to reach the student, I will leave a detailed request and provide times when I am available, making a genuine offer of assistance. I also add the student’s name to my calendar, and check on them again, to ensure I have received a response and if not, I will continue my direct attempts. Some schools I worked for only want communication to occur through the learning management system. If that’s the case, I use messaging for contact. I can also set up a Zoom meeting for a one-on-one discussion.

Strategy #2 Consider the Student’s State of Mind: Whenever a student appears to be frustrated, or they are unable to meet any of the course requirements, they are not going to have a positive frame of reference and it may extend towards you as their instructor. What I never want to do is to push back at the student or argue with them about the issue they are concerned about and instead, I will acknowledge their concerns as being valid and express interest in resolving them.

Even if the reason why they cannot complete a task is invalid, there is something involved that has created a barrier and this is what I want to help them get past somehow. The more I can work with students, the more they will be willing to work with me.

Strategy #3 Provide Immediate Assistance: Another helpful strategy is to provide assistance when you respond to them, rather than wait until you can speak with them. As an example, if I am providing feedback for a paper and I notice the same errors are being made from week to week, and I have provided detailed feedback before, I will write a personalized message with my notes to the student that includes a list of recommended resources and an offer to speak one-on-one. I can also utilize the same approach for an online class discussion, if I read continued minimal responses.

I can post a general classroom announcement and offer tips and resources. I can also contact the student, request a time to speak with them, and ask for their feedback first about class discussions to gauge their perspective before I try to assess what I believe the issue might be. If they believe they are meeting the necessary requirements, I can discuss strategies for creating substantive and engaging posts. The purpose of these strategies is to be proactive and develop a connection with my students, which goes beyond just sending an email asking to speak with them.

Students Who Cannot Progress

It is not uncommon for students to experience sticking points as they progress through a course. If they can be resilient and persist on their own, they will find a way to resolve any challenges encountered – sometimes with and without the help of their instructors. But when students remain stuck, and they cannot progress any further with a task or learning activity, this is when they are likely to express their inability to complete the requirements either directly or indirectly to their instructors.

As an educator, you always have a choice as to how you will approach these students. You may allow these students to continue and expect or hope they will figure it out on their own, you may demand compliance, or you may choose to empathize with them and provide assistance. Students will be more likely to discover their ability to resolve challenges experienced when they change their perspective about the learning process.

This is something you have an ability to influence through any action or inaction taken when you discover they are struggling. Changing “I can’t” to “I can” will take some effort, and I know the work of an instructor already takes significant time; however, the result for your students is a renewed sense of accomplishment, self-belief, and self-worth. One of the most important academic lessons any student can learn is the power of the words “I can”, as a result of your encouragement, empathy, and willingness to spend time with them.

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 18 years, he has been an online instructor, Faculty Development Specialist, Faculty Director, Faculty Development Manager, and Dissertation Chair.

Dr. Johnson is also an inspirational author, writer, and educator. His life mission is 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, along with presenting at three faculty conferences. He has also published over 230 online articles about adult learning, higher education, distance learning, online teaching, and mindset development. Dr. J published three books related to higher education, including two about online teaching.

Getting Down to Business: A Handbook for Faculty Who Teach Business.

Transform Adult Education: Expert Teaching Strategies for Educators.

Transform Online Teaching: Expert Strategies and Essential Resources Every Educator Needs.

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: Motivation for Transformation

Dr. J offers transformative resources:

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

       

Do you see the best in your students now? Or will you be so focused on classroom management there is only time to get the job done each week?

Here are the most important questions to consider, especially as an online instructor: Do you see a group of anonymous students you may never really get to know? Or do you take the time to learn what you can, through discussions and feedback, to help students with their developmental needs?

Teaching students is not always a matter of showing up for class, disseminating information and instructions, facilitating class discussions, and providing feedback. It is more about the instructional approach you take and its effectiveness when utilized. This is especially true for online instructors who teach in a technologically enabled environment. Your classroom presence as the assigned instructor, or lack thereof, determines how students respond to your involvement in class and whether or not they engage with you.

More importantly, your choice of an instructional strategy will influence how well your students make progress throughout the class. Their continued development depends upon you more than your instruction. There is an additional strategy you can use, one that can encourage progress, which requires only a change in your focus and choice of wording, and it is called positive psychology. This is centered on the enhanced well-being of students, as it helps renew their self-motivation.

The Importance of an Online Presence

An online class may seem like a cold and uninviting environment; however, the involvement of an instructor can change all of that through visibility and continual engagement. It demonstrates to students the instructor is fully invested in their class. Yet there is more to being present than logging into the class and checking off required duties; there must be substantive engagement. A discussion board is one of the most crucial interactive elements of an online class, and this is where engagement can occur. It’s where an instructor can work with students and provide help when needed, guide them when they are off track, and prompt their knowledge retention, critical thinking skills, and intellectual involvement.

Working with Online Students

In a traditional classroom, an instructor has control in how the class proceeds. They conduct a lecture and lead students according to a specified plan. With an online classroom, everything changes. Students may cooperate and work with their instructor, or they may simply ignore them, complete the required work, and believe somehow they will pass the class.

In this environment instructors must gain the cooperation of their students and nurture a productive relationship. Credibility and trust are both built through one interaction at a time. It may be easy to engage some students, especially overachievers, while others may prefer to remain hidden behind anonymity. But if you set high expectations for students and they aren’t responsive, it means they have shut you out.

Positive Psychology Basics

There are three phases commonly used to describe positive psychology and includes well-being, happiness, and optimism. Martin Seligman is generally credited with bringing positive psychology into practice, and the purpose was to help individuals recover from depression through a positive perspective.

As you learn more about this particular branch of psychology you will find it is much more than positive thinking. It is also a strengths-based approach to human development. When positive psychology is utilized in treatment programs, not only is there a focus on strengths, there is also attention placed on positive emotions. The goal for this type of program is creating hope and restoring a sense of well-being within the patient. While this is a simplistic overview, it shows there is another approach to bringing about change within adults.

Appreciative Inquiry and Distance Learning

Positive psychology aligns with appreciative inquiry, which is also strengths-based and the focus of my work as an online educator. I took appreciative inquiry and translated it for distance learning, as an instructional strategy, and called it appreciative andragogy. Andragogy is a theory that addresses how adults learn and is distinguished from the theory of pedagogy or the instruction of children. The basic premise of andragogy holds that adult learning occurs through a process of action and self-reflection.

Appreciative andragogy emphasizes the positive nature of adult learning and the enhanced view of self which will occur through supportive interactions with an instructor. Through the use of appreciative andragogy as an instructional method, an instructor may have a tool to build nurturing relationships. This may increase the instructor’s presence within an online classroom environment. With a positive approach to student development, students are likely to experience a greater sense of motivation, engagement in class, and improved performance overall.

Deciding to Implement Positive Psychology

As an educator, you will develop a routine for managing a class and the many responsibilities that come along with it. For example, you develop a standard approach as to how you interact with, and communicate with, your students. Over time you may not question or examine that routine. As a faculty trainer, I observed many instructors who put time and thought into their instruction. It was evident because their communication was done with purpose and their feedback was focused on a balance between guiding and correcting students. That approach to instruction is the easiest for adding in elements of positive psychology. It would be a matter of building from students’ strengths and coaching them, encouraging them, and offering resources for their developmental needs. The purpose of taking this approach is to help students create positive emotions so that they are encouraged to continue making progress.

The other pattern that I have seen as a faculty trainer is that of “facilitation on the fly”, or being reactive instead of proactive. This was the faculty member who was trying to keep up with the work while often missing some of the important instructional requirements. The feedback returned to students was generally quick and to the point, and there was minimal substance provided. For this type of instructor, they will find implementing positive psychology can be overwhelming and any attempt to use it will seem disingenuous to students. This instructor will need their own professional development before utilizing any new instructional method of this nature.

Implement Positive Psychology and Change How You Teach

I recommend a student-centered approach to teaching, which will allow you to focus on the best of your students. When students are the center of the learning process, they are transformed and the class is transformed into an engaging and dynamic environment. The following is a list of my strategies and what I recommend when I train faculty.

#1. I will work to prompt student engagement. This applies to their participation in discussions and involvement in the class. I want students to know they are encouraged to try and supported in class for their efforts.

During class discussions, I will try to respond to every student at least once and when I do, I will ask direct follow-up questions which help to promote higher order or critical thinking skills. If I discover students are not involved in discussions, or there are some who are absent from class, I will reach out and check in with them.

#2. I will encourage the effort made by students. Students need to know that even when they believe their effort has fallen short, you still recognize the attempt made.

When I provide feedback for assignments and learning activities, I will use the sandwich method and begin the feedback with something positive. Then I’ll address a developmental need and conclude with a positive statement. If I have a student who is struggling, I can always encourage them based upon the effort made, as it will determine if they will continue to make an effort. If they are making an attempt and only receive negative feedback, they can easily become discouraged and give up. 

#3. I will encourage reflection through self-assessment. Any form of reflection must be taught as a productive exercise, one in which the student is looking for possibilities and opportunities, not failures, if it is to be implemented successfully.

If I can teach students to be reflective it will help them learn to self-assess their progress in class, rather than believe they have no control over their outcomes. I can also suggest self-assessment techniques such as a one-minute paper which will help them review what they know about a subject. Through the use of reflection and self-assessment I can help students take ownership of their involvement in class, which aligns with the theory of adult learning.

#4. I will work to be an example for students. As an online instructor I need to establish a highly visible and interactive virtual presence, which is also referred to as a social presence according to the Community of Inquiry framework.

Being visibly present means I am actively engaged in the class and class discussions, and students develop a perception I care about the class, which translates into the level of attention they will likely receive from me. I have found students follow my lead and if I am active and responsive, there is a good possibility they will be too.

#5. I will leverage my subject matter expertise. I want to create an inclusive, informative, and safe environment for the exploration of course topics.

Providing engaging feedback and discussion posts requires the use of my own background and knowledge. As we know, students can benefit from the inclusion of examples from our experience and expertise. How I share this is through the class discussions, when I provide real world context, along with weekly feedback, as it can help guide students as they attempt to comprehend the course subjects.

#6. I will always try to consider the perspective of students. I need to engage in my own self-reflection to make certain I understand the needs of my students.

As I reflect upon the progress of students, I will ask myself: What are their developmental needs? Are the instructions provided clear and concise? Is the feedback a true reflection of their progress and does it help to guide their thinking about the topic they have written about or discussed? When I provide feedback, I will think of students individually and provide personalized guidance rather than canned general comments.  

#7. I will try to lead the way to application of what was learned. With a student focus and concern for the student experience, I can also help students learn by making the course relevant to what they are interested in.

In other words, as self-directed adults who are taking courses for a specific purpose, they need something more than reading about subjects in a textbook; they need to know how to apply what was learned so they can use it, whether in their personal lives or careers. When students are provided with a context for what they are reading about they are more likely to retain that knowledge in the long term and they will develop a perception they have actually learned something in class.

Potential Challenges and Benefits

There are many benefits to adding a positive or strengths-based approach to your facilitation. For an instructor who already demonstrates care and concern, coupled with meaningful interactions, this will be another tool and a natural fit to their instructional approach. Students will likely respond in an enthusiastic manner because it will create a sense of hope, as it is tied to their continued well-being. Of course, not all students will respond to this approach, as some will keep their distance. With online learning you really do not have an opportunity to approach them in class and engage them in a conversation. You can extend the courtesy of an outreach attempt but it is dependent upon their perception of what it means to them.

Overall, the point of implementing positive psychology is to create positive experiences in the class so students will be encouraged to participate in the learning process. By taking a strengths-based approach, you can teach students to develop persistence and self-confidence, as they have skills and abilities to draw upon no matter what learning activities they are required to complete.

The use of a positive psychology frame of reference also creates a feeling of satisfaction for the instructor. I can state this from my own experience working with appreciative inquiry. I’m not a subject matter expert in either field; however, I know how it has helped the ongoing development of my work with online students. You can also experience this through the use of a positive facilitation instructional practice. When you focus on the best of a student, it encourages hope, elicits positive feelings, and creates a sense of self-renewal and self-determination, which is vital to their success in the online classroom.

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 18 years, he has been an online instructor, Faculty Development Specialist, Faculty Director, Faculty Development Manager, and Dissertation Chair.

Dr. Johnson is also an inspirational author, writer, and educator. His life mission is 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, along with presenting at three faculty conferences. He has also published over 230 online articles about adult learning, higher education, distance learning, online teaching, and mindset development. Dr. J published three books related to higher education, including two about online teaching.

Getting Down to Business: A Handbook for Faculty Who Teach Business.

Transform Adult Education: Expert Teaching Strategies for Educators.

Transform Online Teaching: Expert Strategies and Essential Resources Every Educator Needs.

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: Motivation for Transformation

Dr. J offers transformative resources

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

       

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. If you can assure your students that you are there to support them, in a nurturing, positive, and supportive manner, perhaps they 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 18 years, he has been an online instructor, Faculty Development Specialist, Faculty Director, Faculty Development Manager, and Dissertation Chair.

Dr. Johnson is also an inspirational author, writer, and educator. His life mission is 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, along with presenting at three faculty conferences. He has also published over 230 online articles about adult learning, higher education, distance learning, online teaching, and mindset development. Dr. J published three books related to higher education, including two about online teaching.

Getting Down to Business: A Handbook for Faculty Who Teach Business.

Transform Adult Education: Expert Teaching Strategies for Educators.

Transform Online Teaching: Expert Strategies and Essential Resources Every Educator Needs.

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: Motivation for Transformation

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

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