Teaching Students to Learn Online

Teaching Awareness of Learning

Online environments require students to be autonomous learners much more than is often required in the face-to-face environment (particularly in lecture-based courses). As this is the case, part of the instructor’s job in an online course is to guide students through the content while teaching them how to learn in a specific discipline. One way to achieve this is to encourage the development of metacognitive skills and knowledge.

Metacognition is both an awareness of and an ability to regulate one’s own thinking (Flavell, 1976). A student with well developed metacognitive skills will be:

  • aware of the strengths and limits of their own knowledge and capabilities and identify how they might fill deficiencies in their knowledge;
  • able to determine what they know, what they don’t know, and what they need to know about a task to complete it;
  • select and apply problem-solving strategies which are appropriate to the discipline and specific problem being attempted.

Fortunately, there are many ways to foster metacognition in the higher education classroom. These include but are not limited to:

  • including opportunities for self-reflection throughout the course; (see the assessment section of the Teaching & Learning Online course for more information);
  • modeling metacognition while teaching. Consider explaining why you are making certain choices in problem-solving and/or answering a discussion question;
  • and include opportunities for formative assessment and decode the results of them for students (see the assessment section of the Teaching & Learning Online course for more information).

For more information on metacognition in the higher education classroom, listen to our Metacognition episode of Teaching+ featuring Dr. Gregory Thomas.

Work Cited
Flavell, J. H. (1976). Metacognitive aspects of problem solving. The nature of intelligence, 12, 231-235.

Avoid Information Overload

Independent of the mode of delivery, it is important that instructors engage students in appropriate cognitive processing. Appropriate mental processing is fostered when students focus on the most relevant aspects of the content, process essential information, and make it their own. This requires a proper balance in the amount and complexity of the visual and auditory information students are required to process, without overwhelming students’ processing capacity. More experienced students will be able to process larger and more complex information, and students without certain prior knowledge will be more easily overwhelmed (Clark & Meyer, 2018). As you consider your options based on evidence-based principles such as the ones explained here, you also need to keep in mind your instructional goals, your students’ prior knowledge.

How to Connect Students to Other Students

Learn how to connect your students through eClass and to find their peers through Gmail and Google Chat. Watch here.

Tips for Improving Student Learning from Videos and Slideshows

Our research has shown that students are not necessarily concerned about fancy or “perfect” course videos; students want to hear/see their instructor (Vargas-Madriz & Nocente, 2018). However, learning from video lectures is not enhanced by merely having the instructor visible on the screen. Here are some suggestions from research to consider when creating videos:

  • An instructional video lesson with no visible instructor will be more effective for student learning if the instructor draws dynamically than a lesson consisting of a spoken explanation coordinated with static, already-produced drawings (Fiorella et al., 2019);
  • A video lesson with the instructor visible will be more effective if the instructor uses a transparent whiteboard and provides eye contact with the camera than a lesson where the instructor is visible but does not provide eye contact with the camera while using a conventional whiteboard (Fiorella et al., 2019).
  • Edit out footage that is irrelevant to the instructional goal and to segment the video to allow students to stop, start, and revisit specific segments.
    • Try using textual cues to guide the students’ attention to relevant aspects of the video (Clark & Meyer, 2018).
    • Add in prompts to engage students’ in summarizing or explaining the material (Mayer et al., 2020).
  • Add subtitles to narrated videos to assist student learning and comprehension (Mayer et al., 2020).
  • Student learning may improve significantly if an appropriate visual is added to a lesson with text only as this offers students two opportunities - words and images - to build meaning (Clark & Meyer, 2018).
    • Novice or inexperienced students benefit the most from visuals. Students with more expertise, with the required prior knowledge, are better able to comprehend without visuals.

If you intend on using a slideshow (either a voice-over PowerPoint or video), these tips may be helpful:

  • If you are using a slideshow lesson, students will learn better if they can flexibly advance the slideshow and if small segments of each slide are presented at a time instead of large segments such as complete slides (Clark & Meyer, 2018; Mayer et al., 2019).
  • Learning from still graphics is as good as or better than learning from animated versions of graphics (Clark & Meyer, 2018).
    • However, when the learning task involves motor performance using the hands, animations can be more effective than still graphics. Animations may also be effective if color flows or audio narration help guide students’ attention to the relevant aspects of the display (Clark & Meyer, 2018).
Student Resources for Remote Learning

The Academic Success Centre Student Resources page provides students with the following:

  • Learning Remotely eClass 
  • Strategies for Academic Success Online Course
  • Tips for Taking Classes and Studying Online at Home
  • Making the Most of Your Technology for Studying and Learning
Resources and Works Cited

Consider having your students take a course about learning online.
Athabasca University has an excellent course titled Learning to Learn Online for post-secondary students or instructors at any level. 

It is also important to teach and encourage good study skills.
Consider posting and discussing the Tips for Taking Online courses from the Student Success Centre with your students.

Finally, don’t assume your students have the technical skills required.
Both eClass and the Student Success Centre have posted helpful materials to support students during this transition.

Works Cited and Further Reading

Clark, R. C., & Mayer, R. E. (2018). Using rich media wisely. Trends and issues in instructional design and technology, 4, 259-268. Pearson.

Mayer, R. E. (2014). Incorporating motivation into multimedia learning. Learning and Instruction, 29, 171-173.

Mayer, R. E., Fiorella, L., & Stull, A. (2020). Five ways to increase the effectiveness of instructional video. Educational Technology Research and Development, 1-16.

Fiorella, L., Stull, A. T., Kuhlmann, S., & Mayer, R. E. (2019). Instructor presence in video lectures: The role of dynamic drawings, eye contact, and instructor visibility. Journal of Educational Psychology, 111(7), 1162.

Mayer, R. E., Wells, A., Parong, J., & Howarth, J. T. (2019). Learner control of the pacing of an online slideshow lesson: Does segmenting help?. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 33(5), 930-935.

Vargas-Madriz, L. F. & Nocente, N. (2018). From “it wasn’t that helpful” to “it was really good”: Proportion of online to face-to-face components and student experiences with blended learning. Paper presented at E-Learn: World Conference on E-Learning in Corporate, Government, Healthcare, and Higher Education, Las Vegas, NV. https://www.learntechlib.org/primary/p/185057/