Offering interactions with your students can enhance their learning experience.
Online courses have many advantages: they fit very easily into students’ schedules, they are usually more affordable than courses offered by brick and mortar schools, and they are ideal for those who have caring or parenting responsibilities.
While focusing on these benefits is great, I think it’s important to recognize the big downside of online courses: they lack a human element that is very important for some learners to succeed.
The good news is that it is possible to give your online course a personal feel, it just takes a bit of thought and some intelligent use of technology. Here are a few ways you can increase interactions to offer a better overall experience for your students.
1. Live stream on social media.
Watching a pre-recorded video can be a great way to learn. Students are able to take their time to absorb the content, skipping back to re-watch difficult sections or pausing the video to give themselves time to think or make notes. However, pre-recorded content can feel impersonal, which turns off some students.
Live streams allow students to feel like they are part of something that is happening right now. Watching a live stream can therefore be much more exciting than working through a series of pre-recorded videos. During a live stream on social media, students can also leave comments and questions that the presenters can respond to in real time.
You can use either YouTube or Facebook Live to stream live content to your students. Be sure to publicize live streaming events well in advance so students can put aside the time to log on and join in.
2. Hold regular, live webinars.
Webinars are like live streaming, except perhaps not as casual. They are more like “events”. These events can be invaluable to students who would otherwise feel isolated on their learning journey.
During a webinar students can not only see the slides and hear the lecture that is being given, but also participate in real time using text chat or voice chat. All they need is a reliable internet connection, as well as a microphone if they want to participate using their voice (should you decide to allow this).
Regular webinars give students a chance to come together just as they would in a classroom in a traditional educational institute. They create a feeling of togetherness and can help to give students the support they need to succeed in their online learning journey.
I’d recommend using Zoom for your webinars. It’s affordable and reliable.
3. Start (and participate in) a Facebook group.
Many online course creators have used Facebook groups to great success. They give students a chance to get to know each other, share their struggles, ask questions, and help each other out. We have one for our company and it has really proven to be a hit.
In a Facebook group students can share content related to the course. For example, if your course is about contemporary poetry, students can share links to published poets that you did not have time to mention during your course content. They can also share articles and other resources to help students read and interpret poetry.
The best thing about starting a Facebook group is that it takes relatively little effort on your part compared to the scale of the benefits that your students will receive as a result of being part of the group. Your most important job is to set up the group, after which you must set some ground rules for how people should use it. Finally, you must enforce those rules – for example by removing people who post spam or who are rude to other users.
Participating in your Facebook group can help it to succeed, especially at in the early days of the group. Take the time to get discussions started and encourage your students to share their own thoughts and experiences. After a while, you can start to take a more hands-off approach as your students will begin to talk among themselves for their mutual benefit.
Don’t want to use Facebook? Use the BuddyBoss Platform instead!
4. Create a Slack or Discord.
Slack and Discord are chat programs that you can use to create a platform on which your students can interact in real time. You can create a chatroom, or channel, for each topic that you address in your online course. In addition, you can have channels for introductions and off-topic discussions, which should help to keep course-related channels focused on the course content.
Slack and Discord groups are invite-only, which helps to keep out spammers. You can send an invitation to each student when they sign up for your course.
Some students prefer these chat platforms to traditional social media platforms like Facebook because they encourage real-time conversation. It is a good idea to use both Facebook groups and a chat platform so that everyone can participate in a way that suits their individual preferences.
5. Put on an in-person event.
Online events are great, but to some students an in-person event can be a lot more exciting and rewarding. Of course you cannot rely on in-person events to deliver core course content, but running a one-off event or workshop in a real-world venue can be a great way to strengthen bonds with your students and cement your online learning community.
In-person events are most suitable for online courses where the majority of students are located within a reasonably small geographical area, and where the students are keen to learn more. For example, if almost all your students are British, you might be able to put on an in-person event in London or another major city that is accessible to a large fraction of them. However, if your students are spread relatively evenly across the various continents, it will be more difficult to plan an event that does not exclude a large fraction of your audience.
One way to make in-person events accessible to a larger fraction of your students is to host multiple events in different cities. However, this approach is likely to cost more and also take more time to organize. In-person events can be a lot of fun for some students, but most course creators should avoid making them a core part of their online course strategies.
The human element can help your online course business thrive.
When starting an online course business it is easy to get caught up in creating fantastic content to help your students succeed, so much so that it can be easy to overlook the human element of the online learning experience.
Improving the human element of your online course can go a long way in helping people learn the content. Most students will have questions about the material and it is important that they have some way of getting answers, either directly from you or from their fellow students.
Emphasizing the personal interaction can also help to ensure the financial success of your online course business. If your students have plenty of access to real-time support then they are more likely to persist until they achieve their learning goals, rather than giving up and dropping out of the course. As a result, interacting with students can help to reduce refund rates. Your sales figures will be a more accurate representation of your overall revenue, which means that you will know how much money you have available to invest in creating further courses to delight your student audience.