What You Have To Get Right To Teach Well Online


Saturday, 8.21pm

Sheffield, U.K.

It is by teaching that we teach ourselves, by relating that we observe, by affirming that we examine, by showing that we look, by writing that we think, by pumping that we draw water into the well. – Henri Frederic Amiel

Learning how to teach better online is going to be essential for all of us, whether we’re thinking about engaging with students in a traditional school or university environment or if we’re training colleagues in a work environment. In many cases you’re also going to be teaching your customers before they’re in a position to buy from you. So what do we need to do in order to do this well?

I have been watching videos on copywriting recently and Google, knowing what’s going on, has been serving up ads for online courses and I’ve been listening to them to see how they’re structured. They annoy me. They follow a formula, telling you a problem and then trying to tell you all the benefits that you’ll get if you sign up to their program. Then they throw in a number of tactics like saying you’re getting a discount and the offer won’t be online for long and the kinds of things they think will force you to click the buy button.

I don’t like these adverts or the longer form content that is really a disguised advert because the thing they are teaching – that they have secrets to tell you – is just no longer relevant in this day and age. Every “secret” has been revealed, it’s out there. There’s no magic bullet tactic that, if you just learn, will get people to swoon over what you’re selling.

The thing people selling these products miss is that success for a person who really wants to teach someone else is not how many courses they sell but how many students actually learn something useful. And most courses don’t deliver value. A paper by Haugsbakken [1] references research that suggests most Massively Open Online Courses (MOOCs) score poorly. If MOOCs from universities don’t deliver good value the chances are that your average course dreamed up by someone in their bedroom is less than worthless. It’s probably a certainty.

But, let’s not bicker about whether you can do good work or not from your bedroom. Maybe you can. But, if you are serious about teaching, the paper has a checklist of things you should be aiming to do for your students.

There are 10 things.

First, what you’re teaching needs to be centered around solving problems that actually exist in the real world. It’s needs to be of real-life value.

Second, it needs to help the student develop a new skill, building on what they know with what you’re teaching them.

Third, you need to demonstrate how it’s done well – you need to show the student what good looks like.

Fourth, you need to give the student the chance to apply what they’ve learned and make it their own.

Fifth, they need to understand the point of what they’re doing and why it works – they need to be able to defend the skill they’ve gained – so it’s integrated within their capability.

Sixth, they need to publish and show their work. There’s no point learning something and then hiding it away – show the world.

Seventh, they need to be able to work with others, and collaborate and co-create material.

Eighth, your teaching needs to be differentiated – providing different types of learners with the materials they need to learn in the way that best suits them.

Ninth, your resources need to based on real-world examples. Don’t teach something sophisticated with a simple example – use a case study that is a real challenge that you would face out there.

Tenth, provide feedback. Your job as a teacher is to be available to help your students learn what is good and what isn’t good and how to tell the difference.

Very few of those courses that you take by clicking on an ad will tick any of these boxes. Few online courses from universities will. For that matter, most schools and universities with face to face classrooms and teachers will never approach this level of teaching.

But if you want to teach this is something to aspire to – it’s what good should look like.


Karthik Suresh

  1. “Digital Transformation in the Classroom: Storytelling and Scriptwriting in Instructional Designing of MOOCs”. Halvdan Haugsbakken. European Journal of Education. September, December 2019.

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