How are online and on-campus teaching different?

teach dice ornament on table

Teaching that is mediated by technology is different than teaching in a face-to-face (F2F) setting, just as a movie differs from a play. Both are powerful experiences, but they require very different activities to be implemented successfully. Learn about these differences before you begin your course.

Content and Delivery

  • Divide lessons into smaller parts. Online learning should be broken into smaller pieces or chunks that take 20-30 minutes or so to process, with videos generally under 10 minutes.
  • Interleave activities and learning materials. Interspersing content with quiz questions, applications, discussions, or other assignments addresses different learning styles and helps students process information as they go. This active learning extends their attention span.

Instructor and Student Roles

In a face-to-face course, students focus on you, the instructor. In an online course, their focus is split between you and the words and images on their computer screen. This means that online learning is frequently more student-driven. As an instructor, listen to what they want to learn; focus on what students do to develop knowledge and skills rather than on what they read.

  • Give them choices where you can.
  • Use communication tools to enable them to teach one another.
  • Remember that the role of a good online instructor is to be a curator, designer, and facilitator, not the sole source of information.

Student Responsibility

Often, F2F learners implicitly designate one or two of their members as “participators”; these students ask most of the questions and give the instructor feedback while the other students learn more quietly. However, online learners require more interaction with their instructors. Because they can’t always watch the interaction between you and other learners, be prepared to answer plenty of questions.

  • To keep your burden as an instructor reasonable, pre-empt questions by answering them in support materials before they need to be asked.
  • Encourage interaction between students so they can get help from one another in addition to you.
  • Create a Course Q&A discussion forum where students can post (and answer) questions.
  • Provide links to online resources for technology used in your course and the subject you are teaching.

Student Support

While F2F learners know the drill, online learners may not. We all have many years of training in how to behave in a classroom. However, the social rules, class procedures, and expectations for online learning are less clear. In an online class, it can take some time for students to get their questions answered, which causes confusion and frustration.

Online materials should be clear, consistent, fully explained, and accurate. Every item that you take the time to make clear in advance will save you dozens of emails and questions posted to a discussion forum.

Online instructors become the first line of support for course questions and technology. Learners will look to you for technical help when taking your online courses.

  • Utilize the Canvas Instructor Help Guides and Instructor Video Guides to increase your skills using Canvas features and tools.
  • Collect a set of resources to share with students. You don’t have to be a technical wizard, but you should expect to know enough to begin troubleshooting when problems arise.