5 Habits of Successful Online Instructors

Posted by Becky Krill in Educator Tips on August 14, 2014

successful online instructors

What’s the secret to being a great online instructor? The best instructors are creatures of habit, which means you too can take the right steps towards success.

We’ve compiled a list of 5 habits the best online instructors share, along with action items to help you get on track with your own courses. Feel free to add any we’ve missed to the comments. Enjoy!

1. Solve Problems

Successful online instructors are above-average, creative problem solvers who want more than anything to help their students solve problems and achieve success. Before they get to work creating a course outline, successful online instructors spend time researching potential students and the problems they face. Solving student problems means higher enrollments and student engagement, which are both leading indicators of success for online educators.

Getting to know your potential students will put you in a better position to create course content that creatively solves student problems.

Action Item: Find online communities where your potential students hang out and start listening!

Not sure how to navigate the social media turf? Download our Social Media Success Guide for Online Educators. 

2. Grab and Hold Student Attention

Grabbing a learner’s attention (or anyone’s for that matter) has a lot to do with lighting a spark of curiosity. Curiosity can be defined as having a strong desire to learn something or having some unanswered questions. With it, students become intrinsically motivated to seek knowledge and learn, which is arguably, the ultimate goal of education.

Successful online instructors know that grabbing a student’s attention and sparking their curiosity is only half the battle.  Being able to hold student attention after you’ve peaked their interest is the real challenge.

So how do they do it?

By asking plenty of questions.

Successful online instructors lead learners to their own revelations through purposeful questioning.

Action Item: Increase student curiosity by adding purposeful questioning to your lessons, units and courses.

3. Network with Other Educators

Successful online instructors are master learners themselves. Inherent in their nature is a constant desire to learn and improve, not just in their content area but pedagogically as well. One of the best ways for instructors to do this is by networking with other professionals in online education. There are several online communities for online instructors to connect and collaborate, including SchoolKeep’s own educator community, SchoolKeepers. In order to join our group you’ll have to sign up first!

Social networking sites like Facebook, Linkedin and Twitter make it easier than ever for educators across the globe to connect and learn from one another. Successful online instructors tend to be active and engaged community members who recognize the importance of a PLN (Personal Learning Network).

If you’re just getting started with social media, you may want to check out my post: 7 Tools Driving Social Media Success for Online Educators.

Action Item: If you haven’t already, download the Social Media Success Guide for Online Educators.

4. Make it Easy for Students to Consume Content

Successful online instructors make it easy for students to consume their course content. This boils down to two primary tasks:

  1. Developing a comfortable course flow, where learners easily transition from one lesson or unit to the next.
  2. Providing a user-friendly platform or LMS experience.

Developing a comfortable course flow should be easy if you’re building courses according to learning objectives.  Keeping those objectives in mind will help you create high-quality lessons that seamlessly lead into the next.

As for #2, the last thing any educator wants is to spend hours, weeks or months building a killer course just to hear complaint after complaint from students experiencing “technical difficulties.”  Successful online instructors are always keeping their eyes peeled for ways to provide a better student experience.

Action Item: Explore course-building platforms like SchoolKeep to find the best student experience.

successful online instructors

5. Follow Up with Students

Do you remember the first time a teacher or mentor made you feel like your ideas or thinking truly mattered? I’m sure it was a transformative experience for you; I know it was for me. In fact, that’s one of the reasons I’m so passionate about education. Successful online instructors strive to bring this experience to the lives of their students with every personalized interaction.

Psychologist Dr. Harriet Schwartz recently coined the term ‘Intellectual Mattering’ which is the experience that our thinking matters to another person. It is both an intention we can bring to our work with students and also an outcome of that work.

Following up with students, especially in an online learning environment is an incredibly powerful exercise. It is believed that experiences of intellectual mattering can increase student confidence and motivation and can also fuel the transition in which students move from seeing themselves as receivers of knowledge to seeing themselves as co-creators of knowledge.

Action Item: If you’re not already doing so, consider ways to follow-up with students. Think weekly or monthly video calls or course-wide feedback workshops.

Are you an online instructor? If so, what tips would you give educators who are just starting out? Feel free to discuss some ideas in the comments below!

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Posted by Becky Krill

Becky is a community manager at SchoolKeep with a passion for education technology, social media and community. Follow Becky on Twitter @RabeckaKrill.
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  • John

    These are all good points. I would add that it’s important for the students to see your face and hear your voice throughout the course. I do not mean boring lecture videos but short engaging videos offering feedback and/or explaining difficult concepts. This helps to personify the course and give it some “life”.

  • http://ericnentrup.com Eric Nentrup

    For today’s online instructors and program managers, what’s most important now, but will eventually dissipate, is the challenge of straddling two paradigms: face-to-face and virtual. Synchronous and asynchronous.

    Both are still functional and each has their strong suits. We’re in the “Spanglish” era of education, which is a fitting metaphor, really. At 38, I can remember hearing my parents counseled that if I were to focus on learning a foreign language during high school and college, I’d be more competitive in the job search than a candidate who only knew English. And yet, I have only rarely used my Spanish while on the job. It’s never gotten me a gig. Others can tell a much different story, however.

    Similarly, both teachers and students accommodating the shift from wholly face-to-face instruction to having some if not a lot of experience in online learning might find the experiences valuable upon occasion. For others, it’s the difference between being able to squeeze in the time to earn an entire degree or accommodating a learning style that’s better suited in one environment or the other.

    If you listen to a child of a household with both Spanish and English being spoken, they can switch from one to the other without any cognitive dissonance or fatigue. The same is becoming true for today’s learners switching from classes that meet IRL and those that meet only online. We can teach and learn in either. We need both. At least for now!