Blended learning is a new word in teaching methods. With the development of online educational platforms, this pedagogical approach is gaining more and more popularity. The method takes the best from both worlds: real and virtual, for teachers can now combine old-school classroom practices and virtual settings. One of the myths surrounding cloud-based teaching platforms is that they offer very uniform training. That is a challenge, of course, since the teacher can’t see students at any given minute, but it is no different from the old way of teaching, in a sense that it, too, was challenging in terms of personalizing the process. So, the question is: how do we make education through online learning platform more personalized?
Keys for success
According to recent development in pedagogical techniques, we now teach less and communicate more. Having said that, we can determine the following key factors to help every student succeed in his or her studies: better course planning and time management, sharing experiences, determining base level of trainees’ knowledge, better communication, clear and understandable goals and purpose of learning; wide range of online teaching tools.
It’s no secret that well-planned lectures and classes help students to digest more material by constantly keeping their attention and concentration on high levels. Take your time to present new information using different media and materials. Use your powerpoint, throw in some articles, ask your students to read parts of it. Be prepared with visuals, tables, graphs. At the same time, do not follow your plan to the letter, let yourself improvise as well. If you see that the students are already there, but you still have uncovered material, leave it for next group and continue.
Take your time at the beginning of each class to explain the purpose of the course, its outline and the knowledge or skills that will be achieved by everybody in the class. While planning your curriculum, take into account that you will have students with different needs, and tailor your course accordingly.
Personalized education means that you have to share some personal details about you. This is especially true when teaching to teenagers and young adults, and for many reasons. First of all, it’s easier to talk about ourselves. Everybody likes talking about them, so this is the time, really. Second, we get to know our students better because we ask them to share their experience as well. This way we can improve the process of teaching by understanding our students better, where they come from, what is their learning goal. Finally, we show our personality, and we lead by example. You can talk about your academic results, or your achievements in the subject. This is when your students actually look up to you. Who knows, maybe some of them decide to follow your path?
Determine initial level of knowledge
Logically, before we start, we need to determine where our students are in terms of knowledge on the matter. Depending on the type of course you are giving, a language class, a company training, or a professional atelier, there are different type of preliminary assessments. Let’s say, for a company training designed for 50-60 employees, it is well enough to open a general discussion, and just have a basic idea on the level of listeners’ proficiency. As for a language course, level-determining test is a must unless you want your advanced students to get bored and lose interest. Pre-test can also give an idea of students’ motivation to learn. Online learning platforms normally allow creating assessment tests which are way better than old pen-and-paper tests in a real classroom. You can blend it in into your session, view the results in real time, and discuss it with the students to help them identify their learning goals.
Importance of setting goals
Setting up individual learning goals with your students is very important to get your approach more personalized. Like in a real class, you need to spot “tourists”, students that are there just to pass their time, and pay special attention to them. You also need to reveal students on more advanced level to give them enough challenges to feed their interest.Try to build your course according to their individual needs, and your students will greatly benefit from well-designed classes matching with their individual skills and interests.
By engaging students to various activities we can let higher achievers go faster and deeper in the subject while we can spend more time with our less fortunate or maybe less motivated trainees. Offer your most active students a self-paced class or a video, put them in discussion groups while you draw the same concept again on your virtual whiteboard.
Work on the progress
While planning for your course, take into account a necessity to follow closely the progress of your trainees. During sessions, always emphasize the importance of self-evaluation and moving towards personal goals. Try to implement a systematic approach. Let’s say, put the outline of your class as a timeline graph, and periodically move achievement flags to visualize the progress. Explain to your trainees that they can reflect on where they are on the timeline and what they can do to get where they want. This is what we call meta-cognitive skills, or skills to evaluate the purpose and the process of learning. Make sure to well explain to your students that everybody is different, and everybody has their own pace and style of learning. Stimulate learning environment by giving your feedback and individual support.
Consider organizing your course as if it was a video game, with achievements, recognitions, locked levels, advanced levels and prizes. Prizes can be given out during your real-time meetings if there are any. It will work greatly with kids and young adults; but even serious businessmen and women like recognition, so they will like the idea. Prizes shouldn’t be anything valuable. I know for a fact there was a serious competition in one company over a cheap Oscar statue from a dollar store. Consider also creating some instant prizes like a funny emoji that will be rewarded for, let’s say, best participation; and the whole group will decide who will have it this session.
A fish or a fishing rod?
Remember an old English saying: ‘Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime’. This is especially true when it comes to education. That is why, we need to encourage students’ independence in learning, and not to force them to learn. What you can do, however, is to motivate and stimulate the learning process. Encourage your students to ask questions, and do research to learn about certain topics, or open a discussion so they can learn from their peers.
Online teaching tools for personalizing
- Teaching through an e-learning platform means having access to numerous online teaching tools that address the need for more personalized learning:
- Surveys and polls. Coming from social media, polls are interactive and fun, plus, they give immediate feedback on any topic, including self-evaluation and learning environment.
- Group text chat is an excellent online tool for peer learning, brainstorming and extra-curricular activities.
- Sharing screens and whiteboard tool. Sharing screens is not only for a trainer, but for a trainee as well. Ask your students to explain or to draw how they understand some complex matters. Remember, explaining a matter is a step to understanding it. So, give this chance to your students and let them learn themselves.
- Virtual labs is a perfect tool for personalized education when it comes to hands-on approach in coding and programming.
- Pre-recorded self-paced sessions and classes. You can use them either to give in-depth knowledge on the subject for your advanced students, or as additional explanation of difficult questions for slower pacers.
- Video streaming: chose the right student to stream his or her video according to your plan: sometimes, asking your low achiever to star in a video streaming can do magic.
- Tests and quizzes: use the advantages of online tests and quizzes to create more personalized learning environment. Online tests give instant results that can be discussed right away.
- Project assignments. Many online platforms offer individual project assignments. Offer your students a choice of topics ranging in difficulty; then discuss with the group who will take which topic. Give the choice to weaker students first, or pair them with more advanced learners.
To conclude, personalized education is important in many ways, and is beneficial to both the tutor and the students as it helps to create fun and constructive environment for learning, where individual needs are met, and the education is effective.
How do I create my virtual class?
Here are some steps to create a truly personalized virtual classroom:
- Chose a topic or a subject that you will be teaching.
- Create course outline.
- Think about your audience, what kind of crowd you will be teaching.
- Prepare course documents, taking into consideration students with specific needs.
- Create an account at an e-learning platform.
- Follow the instructions to create your virtual class.
- Create polls, quizzes, project assignments and virtual assessments. Be creative and use all the advantages of online teaching tools.
- Animate your class taking into consideration individual needs of your students.