Take a minute and think of a story that inspired you. Maybe it changed your mind about something, spurred you to action, or just made you think. Don’t you hope your classes do the same for students?
We often hear about the importance of using stories to in classes to engage students and improve understanding, but let’s take a look at a few reasons why stories work.
Stories help us connect emotionally with our students, and when we do that, our students are primed to believe us.
Stories sharpen our curiosity. If you’re reading a good story, you want to continue reading and find out what happens next. The same is true for learners. A student trying to predict the next event is more engaged in learning.
Stories give relevance and context to the lessons, which helps students identify what’s in it for them.
Stories make complex concepts easier to understand by demonstrating what learners should do.
Stories are easier to process. Since you learned to read you’ve been making sense of stories, but you’ve had to learn to process graphs and charts.
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Housekeeping details at the beginning of a class can seem a bit boring, but covering them is an important step in making your audience comfortable, especially if the training is more than an hour. So what should you include to make sure the basics are covered?
1. The Schedule: When does the training begin and end? When are the breaks? Is there a lunch break? How long is it? Knowing the schedule allows students to concentrate on the class. They’ll know when is the best time to get coffee, make a call, or attend to personal needs and may be less likely to step out of the classroom and miss an important concept.
2. Restrooms: Always include the location of the nearest restrooms, especially if participants are not familiar with the location.
3. Questions: Encourage your students to ask questions along the way. This gives you the opportunity to clear up misconceptions or fill in gaps right away, and allows the learner to move forward in the class.
Are you adding virtual classes to your teaching repertoire? When starting to teach online, you might miss some of the face-to-face interaction that you’ve previously enjoyed with your students. Building rapport in the online classroom doesn’t have to be all that different than traditional instruction. Here a few things you can do to create a friendly environment online, even if you might not be able to share your warm smile with your class participants.
Welcome students as they enter the room, by name if possible.
Conduct a brief warm-up activity. The warm-up can familiarize students with the conferencing software, draw on pre-course readings, or help participants get to know each other.
Show enthusiasm and excitement for the class using your voice or feedback icons.
One section of the guide addresses writing audio scripts, and I thought I’d share a few of Malamed’s tips here, and use them to evaluate an audio script that I recently wrote for a short tutorial.
Tip 1: Write like you speak. This means using short sentences, everyday words, and contractions.
Tip 2: Keep it brief. Consider how much your audience can process at once and avoid overloading them.
Tip 3: Repeat key points. Use emphasis or new wording to help the learner understand.
Tip 4: Notate silence. A pause give learners processing time and keeps you from rushing.
So how does my script measure up?
I think my script sounds pretty close to my natural language. I’ve used contractions, such as “let’s” and “don’t”, my sentences are relatively short and straightforward. I have incorporated a few words of jargon, so I’ll review to make sure that they make sense to my intended audience. The script is brief (about 2 minutes) because I narrowed the topic ahead of time. I was tempted to explain a much larger concept, but decided to keep it tightly focused. However, I did not use any of my time to repeat key points. As I revise, I’ll consider adding a sentence that summarizes the take-home message. Finally, notating silence. I’ve never done this before, but I think it’s a great tip because I often find myself speaking more quickly than I would with a face-to-face audience. I seem to forget to pause and breathe, so I think putting the breaks in the script will help me find a more relaxed rhythm.
Check out the full version of the guide for more great tips!
Last week I gave a few tips for engaging your learners, based on this e-book from Shift eLearning. The final tip was to use good course design. But what does that mean?
According to Shift eLearning, “Well-designed courses help your learners to understand what they are seeing. When every element on screen has a deliberate function, and is in the right place, everything seems more clear.” While this is focused on the online learning environment, I think it’s true for traditional classes as well. Here are six key principles for good design.
1. Don’t unnecessarily complicate things. Keep the course simple with usable navigation and readable fonts. Focus on communicating with the user and making it easy to accomplish what they want to do.
2. Allow for inquiry and exploration. Isn’t it more engaging when you discover information on your own? Giving choices or trying scenarios can bring curiosity to the content.
3. Keep the content to a minimum. Focus on what they truly need to know and avoid extra information that can clutter the experience and get in the way of the main goals.
4. Pay attention to the visual elements. Check that your typography, color, texture, icons, symbols, pictures and animations or videos add to the experience and do not detract from it.
5. Less is more. This is a variation of keeping it simple. Make sure that it can load quickly and takes as few steps as possible to get to the content they should learn.
6. Mix it up. A variety of activities or formats can challenge the learners to think in new ways. Will a case study, game, or animation best help the students to learn?
Find several other tips for engaging your learners in the downloadable e-book!
I recently picked up a free e-book from Shift eLearning, called Engage the Unengaged: How to Create More Engaging eLearning Courses. You can download your own copy, too, if you’d like. I’ll share a few of their ideas in blog posts this week and next week. The focus of the e-book is on eLearning, but there are lessons here for the face-to-face classroom as well.
What is engagement? Shift eLearning uses “the level of participation and intrinsic motivation student displays in a learning environment” as their definition. It includes both behaviors (such as attention or effort) and attitudes (motivation or interest). An engaged learner is active and collaborative, seeks out help, and exerts his or her best effort in response to a challenge. Disengaged learners may do only the minimum work, delay completion of tasks, avoid challenges and may not participate. I’m sure you’ve met both in your classes.
There are a few things you can do to increase engagement, and even convert the disengaged to engaged. Here are a few strategies to try:
1. Acknowledge the prior knowledge of your students, and show them how the class will build on it.
2. Tell them what’s in it for them right away – don’t assume that they’ll know why the class is important. Why does this information matter and how is it relevant to their work or life?
3. Build in some immediate rewards. I don’t mean candy (though that works for some audiences). Can you reward them with affirmation or encouragement? Can you demonstrate to them how they are already doing something better or faster or more easily as a result of the class? Again, don’t just assume they’ll notice – point it out.
4. Take time for reflection. We’re often tempted to use every possible minute for dispensing information, but allowing time for reflective processing can help students to better retain the content. Ask students to stop, think, and apply what they have just learned or take a minute to consider how what they heard relates to their work.
5. Use good design and quality images. While this probably can’t sustain engagement, it may help to initiate it. In next week’s post, we’ll look at a few principles of attractive design.
Thinking of incorporating discussion into your next class? Here are a few tips to consider as you develop your lesson plan.
Target the discussion. You should have a well-defined topic or outcome for the discussion. Do you want them to come to a consensus about something? Produce a list of advantages and disadvantages? Whatever the purpose, having a clear focus will help keep the learners on track during the conversation.
Put a time limit on the discussion. A timeframe communicates to learners how long they have to discuss their ideas and may help avoid having one or two folks monopolize the discourse. Be sure to set the time expectation at the beginning, and if warranted, you can post a timer or have someone in the group be the timekeeper.
Consider the environment. What is the seating arrangement? Does it allow for easy exchange of ideas in small or large groups? Will everyone be able to hear? Do groups need space to discuss privately?
Consider the group size. Are you having a whole class discussion? Or will the learners be broken into smaller groups? Sharing ideas in a small group first can be less intimidating and help the salient points to be shared in a larger discussion. Groups of 3 or 4 tend to allow for all voices to be heard.
Develop learning materials. Depending on the discussion, your groups may or may not need any supporting materials. You might use a picture or slide to generate discussion, have a recording sheet, or supply data for the group to discuss. Make sure the materials are easily accessible for all in the group.