Online Learning Tips

The other day, I was asked to write down what I recommend for those of you hosting Zoom or Skype meeting for the purpose of teaching online.

Basics

Keep it simple!

  • Only 53% of the world has internet access. 
    • Some only have very slow upload speed and low download speed. 
  • Not everyone speaks English as their first language.
  • Match vocabulary to the audience.
  • Know what you are talking about. If not, say so. There are enough pseudo-teachers on the internet. 
  • Not everything has to be live or pre-recorded. Try both.

Audio

Good audio is priority one!

  • Do not use the built-in mic on your camera or laptop
  • Remove background noise and echo mechanically
    • By mechanically, I mean the opposite of relying on the audio solitaire to correct background noises.
    • Moving blankets are cheap and a great way to reduce bouncing sound waves and echo from the room. 

Video

Not as critical as audio, but excellent video quality is going to help learners stick around.

  •  Usually, a good webcam is going to give you better quality than a built-in camera. The reason for this is that you can position the camera closer to eye-level. A laptop camera angle is not flattering, as it looks up your chin and nose. 
  • I recommend Logitech or Microsoft webcams. They have excellent software support and do not require any additional drivers to be installed for them to work.
    • Most webcams under $100 only capture 720P video. 
    • A higher resolution is better if you can afford it.
  • Recording from a camcorder or a digital camera (DSLR) that outputs to HDMI will give you better video and more controls like focus, zoom and aperture than a webcam.
    • You will need a capture card to convert the signal from HDMI to USB. Those can run from $100 to $400 but will significantly increase the quality of your video.
  • Now, to be real, a good webcam will satisfy most needs and budgets. What matters most is what you show on your camera. Less is more.
    • Try to limit shows behind you on screen. Too many activities or things in the background will be very distracting to your audience. 
    • If you can, use a backdrop, like black or dark grey, to block out the background.
  • Less is better
    • Limit distraction
    • Keep what you show simple, too many details on the screen will be difficult to see.
    • Use a separate camera to show details, or pre-record and present it as a video playback during your lesson.

Lighting

Lights on a budget

  • Use a couple of clamp lights from the hardware store
    • Use daylight, 50 W, or less to keep brightness low.
    • If too bright, use a semi-transparent screen to diffuse the light.

Prosumer Lights & Stands

  • LED lights and kits can be purchased from $100 on a website like BH Photo & Video. 
  • 3 Lights kit is going to give you a more professional look, but a single light if well-positioned will be good enough. 

Content

 Content is king!

  • First, if you don’t know your subject, take a pass. 
    • There is nothing more disappointing than paying or taking the time to watch an online course and find out that the presenter does not know his or her material. 
    • If you don’t know a topic, be honest and tell your audience. Refer to another subject matter expert or provide a link on the internet where the answer is. 
  • Interviewing someone that is a subject matter expert is a great way to bring in the expertise you need for your topic. More on the topic of online interviews in a later post. 
  • Forget about talking for an hour, or even ½ hour without interaction with your audience. Keep your ‘lecture’ short, less than 10 minutes is ideal.
  • Density of information is great, especially if you pre-record your lessons. Then, use your live session to discuss the material covered in the lesson and to answer questions. Record the live sessions too, and make it available to your students for later review.

Presentation Software & Tips

I have a full course on this topic, but let’s look at the main points.

  • Use high contrast, like white on black or black on white. Colours are sometimes difficult to see on shared screens.
  • Keep the bullet points to 2 or 3 max per slide
  • Keep a maximum of 7 words to a bullet point. 
  • If you can explain it without a slide, it is a better way to do it that way.

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