This content originally appeared on APUEdge.com
Strong classroom management is especially important in the online environment. In this episode, Dr. Bethanie Hansen talks about the need for advanced planning in online classes to keep students informed about what to expect in the class and aid students in managing their own. Strong classroom management can also help teachers build relationships with students while helping them meet their learning objectives, whether it is professional advancement or personal growth.
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Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Welcome to the Online Teaching Lounge, the show that helps you teach online with confidence and impact, while living a healthy, balanced life. I’m Dr. Bethanie Hansen, your host for the Online Teaching Lounge.
I used to be a very busy online educator, student, mother, wife, and overwhelmed person. It’s easy to struggle with balance when working in teaching online, and I’ve definitely been there. Over time I’ve learned best practices, strategies to manage time and online work, and I’ve gained tools to help with life-work balance.
As a full-time professor and faculty director at an entirely online university, I help faculty teach with excellence and keep learning new ways to make online education a great opportunity for faculty and for students. Through this podcast today, I’m helping educators become more effective, healthy, and balanced so they can love what they do and impact their students positively. And today we’re going to do that by looking at the objectives, needs, and challenges of our online students, and how we can help them. And let’s get started.
What Motivates Online Students?
In the first area, let’s talk about online students’ motivations, their objective when they chose online education. Adult learners who choose online education really have two main objectives. They want to advance their professional careers, and to develop personally. Of course, there are many other motivations for taking courses online, but we find that these are the highest number of motivations.
Motivated by Career Advancement
When students are learning something to advance their careers, it really means they expect to get something tangible in the future, a reward for the learning they’re doing right now. That long-term reward might be a career change. It might be a salary increase. More opportunities. Or even the chance to get a promotion. This kind of vision for the future is going to help your online students to be intrinsically motivated so that they will be able to achieve the future reward that they really want.
Motivated by Personal Growth
When students are learning something for personal growth, there might be a need to develop personally, benefit from the continuous learning that takes place in a structured program or class, and have something to look forward to.
In a Wiley education survey published in 2020, 76% of those online students surveyed said that they wanted career advancement. Seventy percent of them were also looking for personal growth as well. It was said, while career advancement is the number one motivator for Wiley supported students when starting a program, personal growth keeps them going. That was reported in the Wiley study, and 59% stated that their desire to achieve personal growth motivated them to continue with their program after getting started.
We can help the students maintain their motivation by providing them with regular feedback throughout the course. It’s also particularly motivating when students feel like they’re learning things that matter to them.
Sometimes all it takes is telling them how a particular skill, or new information, is applicable to them now or in the future. But making clear connections between what students are learning and how they can use it really helps them meet their objectives and stay committed.
While online students have a high level of intrinsic motivation to learn so they can develop professionally and personally, they also need support throughout the entire experience. Let’s move on to the second area, which is what students online need, what they must get from you, their instructor, in an online learning experience.
What Do Students Need from Online Teachers?
Particularly, what are the needs of non-traditional students and adult learners? First, it might surprise you, but one thing they really need is good classroom management. This comes from Daniel P. Stewart, an adjunct history and humanities professor at Fayetteville Technical Community College. He said that advanced planning, interesting and relevant lessons, and effective teaching are critical.
Now why do adult learners need these things? In my first teaching position, I attended a middle school educators conference during which Fred Jones taught us about using the physical classroom space for classroom management. His idea was that moving through the room regularly and being physically near each student often during the class, behavior concerns would be dramatically reduced, and engagement would increase.
While that was 25 years ago, a similar idea is still helpful today in online classrooms, and even with adult learners. Classroom management is about planning ahead to communicate and help things go right. In the example I shared about the middle school classes 25 years ago, this took an early arrival by the teacher. It also took setting up chairs in a particular manner, and a plan to move during the session. And to do that, the lesson had to be thoroughly planned and prepared. This meant the teacher would be able to walk around without having to look at the textbook or teaching materials very much during class.
Tips for Effective Online Classroom Management
Online, advanced planning is even more critical, because the course elements need to be placed into the online classroom so that everything is available to learners when they need it. Much of the time the entire course must be ready before the semester even starts.
Some of this advanced planning could take the form of a screencast walkthrough, to help your students know where to find things, and example assignments to illustrate formatting. Perhaps an example assignment might also illustrate the approximate length, or the depth that a student should explore, and grading approaches that you will use.
Another advanced planning element might include a thoughtful course announcement leading into each week. Maybe you want to provide a netiquette guide that tells students how to communicate with each other, and with their instructor throughout the class. A netiquette guide can help a lot, especially for students new to online learning who just don’t know yet that communicating in a discussion space really is different from text messaging. This is a great way to help your students know how to communicate in the online space and comfortably make connections with you and other class members throughout the experience.
Effective classroom management is probably one of the most important responsibilities we educators face in any number of learning environments, whether you’re live or online. Classroom management may be defined as the act of supervising relationships, behaviors, and instructional settings and lessons for communities of learners.
And classroom management really is a preventative activity that results in decreased discipline problems. Basically, preventative management means that many classroom problems can be solved through good planning, interesting and relevant lessons, and effective teaching.
Now when you plan ahead for what you’ll teach and how you’ll teach it, and when you will learn what your students will find most valuable and relevant, you can give your students what they really need. They need relevant, prepared lessons. And they need to learn in ways that support their goals for advancing in their professional career areas, and in their personal development.
And of course, they need connections with you, and with each other, to feel like they belong and stay connected when online education might otherwise become an isolating experience.
How Can Online Educators Help Students with Time Management?
Now let’s move into our third area, online students’ challenges: time management. Online students have challenges with time management and juggling the balance between studying and their work commitments. What does this mean for you as an online educator?
Well first, communicating what to expect from the very first day of class can help your students to plan ahead. In a previous part time faculty position I held online several years ago, I provided students with a sample schedule each week on which I suggested which tasks to complete in the online course every day.
These included suggestions like reading the textbook assignment on Monday, posting in the discussion on Tuesday and taking the first quiz. On Wednesday beginning a draft of their assignment, completing another piece of the curriculum on Thursday, and responding to classmates and their instructor in the discussion on Fridays and Saturdays.
In this way, they would be touching a few pieces of the class every day during the week. This would keep the workloads small every day, and actually give them a lot more reinforcement in their learning, spreading the work out. While not everyone will need this, or use this suggested schedule, providing that kind of help can really assist online students to see what the workload is like. Then they can plan how to manage it.
Second, providing some flexibility when students need it is also helpful with time management challenges. Flexibility does not mean that you go easy on the rigor of the course, or that you’re less accurate with your grading.
Why It’s Important to Show Students that You Care About their Learning
And of course, students need to feel that their instructor really cares that they learn. In a study of 609 online learners, caring was the number one predictor of online instructor ratings. “It turns out that caring is very important, even for adult learners.”
Thinking about what students need in order to be successful in their online experience helps you to get on their side of the challenge. Our students want to feel seen, known, and loved in their learning. And when we give them the tools and strategies that help them along, they experienced a great partnership with us.
It’s also helpful to check in with our students to see how they’re doing throughout the class, and to ask where they could use the most support and guidance. In a survey of online learners in 2020, 63% of students surveyed said that they had problems with time management, and 59% of the students cited that they had jobs that were conflicting and that work commitments were a challenge. “Allowing for flexibility while maintaining the right level of accountability at the program and course level is essential for students to be successful” (Wiley, 2020).
Learn about What Motivates Your Students
Students have a variety of specific objectives, needs, and challenges when they take courses online. We can see their objectives by asking them what they hope to achieve by completing our class. And we know that generally online students start off with the goal of professional advancement, and then they are sustained throughout their learning by continuing personal growth.
Remembering these two motivators can help us assume the best of intentions when we struggle to understand what’s going on with one of our students, or when we think about what would be most helpful in teaching them. With clear objectives, our students need us to plan. They need us to plan ahead and to practice is a high level of classroom management.
Classroom management online is a preventative approach to preparing the classroom itself, and keeping students informed about what to expect every step of the way. Classroom management also means that we build relationships with our students and help them learn how to engage with each other and with us during their experience.
And while we focus on meeting online students’ needs, it’s helpful to remember that the specific challenges they face, like time management and professional work commitments. Knowing about their challenges just might prompt us to reach out when we see students drop off in their engagement, and to be somewhat flexible when students hit unexpected time management snags.
Closing out the podcast this week, I encourage you to get to know your online students better. Learn about what motivates them to take your class, and learn about what their objectives really are. Explore what they need in order to hit their goals. Is there something more you can do in the way you prepare for the next week that will make it even clearer how your students can satisfy their own objectives during the class?
And find out how you might gain additional insight into their challenges. What do they struggle with most in your online course? What is challenging about studying online? What challenges might prevent them from completing the course, but which could be reduced if you were to try a particular strategy, or a particular approach? Once you see your students’ objectives, needs, and challenges, what might you try or do in your online teaching this coming week?
Thank you for joining me today for the Online Teaching Lounge podcast. We’ve taken a look at the objectives needs and challenges of online students, generally, and how we can help them. I hope you will try one new approach this week to help keep your teaching fresh, and help you see your students even more clearly. Best wishes to you in your online teaching this coming week.
This is Dr. Bethanie Hansen, your host for the Online Teaching Lounge Podcast. To share comments and requests for future episodes, please visit Bethaniehansen.com/request. Best wishes this coming week in your online teaching journey.