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Credit: mahdis mousavi on Unsplash

Chances are you have attended some sort of online training in the last year or so. Whether you decided to use lockdown to develop a new skill, were sent on a course by your employer, or simply were looking to pass the time, online training exploded in 2020.

The good news for media trainers is that it shows no signs of letting up either, despite the lift in restrictions. With the huge convenience factor of being able to attend training in the comfort of your own home, online training appears to be here to stay.

Now is the perfect time to develop your own online courses. But, before you dive into lesson plans, promotion and selecting your virtual background, here is a checklist of essentials to think about before you get started.

Will my online training be live or asynchronous?

To be live or not to be live? That is the question. There are pros and cons to either.

Self-led, asynchronous courses mean participants are not tied down to a fixed time and can learn flexibly at their own pace.

This kind of course can also be an excellent ‘passive income’ product for tutors: once you have created the materials there is little input required and no limit on the potential number of participants.

Live classes offer a great social fix, providing opportunities for group interaction and more direct contact time with the tutor, which participants tend to highly value. This may mean you can charge higher rates per person.

Tutors also have more control over the learning process during a live session and can provide useful feedback to participants in real-time.

It is also easier to tailor your content and teaching style to suit the group dynamic, creating a more unique and personal learning experience.

In my experience, the best insights tend to emerge from participant Q&A during live sessions, which is why they are my personal preference.

However, I will sometimes make short video recordings of ‘teacher-led explainer segments’ so that participants who miss a class can still catch up afterwards.

Combined or ‘flipped learning’ methods are also very popular online, which blend elements of self-led, individual learning with live group discussion or problem-solving.

What activities am I including?

The golden rule of any training is: participants learn through doing. This is the case for in-person classes as it is for online.

Online ‘knowledge sharing’ events have exploded over the past year, but much of it still takes the form of webinars and lectures (where participants essentially just sit and watch someone talking through their computer).

This is fine, but it is not the same as delivering online training.

It is essential to plan some exercises participants can do to facilitate their learning (I have a ‘cheat sheet’ of 30+ of these in my toolkit, which I invite new tutors to adapt and use for their own courses).

These activities should be aligned to the skills you want participants to develop.

On my broadcast journalism course, for example, students write and present their own radio news story ‘live’ in front of their peers and get constructive feedback.

This is an activity we repeat every week, so by the end of term they can practically do it in their sleep.

Remember: The more you challenge your students, for example, the more practical ‘work’ they must do, the greater their learning will be.

This also means they get more value from attending your course and are far more likely to recommend it.

Otherwise, they may as well just sit and watch a bunch of TedTalks for an hour instead.

Is my online training accessible and inclusive?

Online training can be particularly great for participants who might otherwise struggle to attend in-person events at a set location.

I have had students attend my online courses from all around the world (France, Spain, and DRC, to name a few).

I have also noticed a rise in the number of disabled students signing up, and those with English as an additional language (EAL), compared to in-person courses before the pandemic.

This is hugely positive for inclusivity but can also challenge tutors’ confidence, especially if you are teaching in a self-employed capacity without support.

It is vital to consider participants’ needs when designing online training and to make reasonable adjustments where necessary (see advice on the Equality Act 2010).

For example, a blind student of mine requested plain-text copies of all PowerPoint slides be emailed to her so she could access them using her screen reader.

Small steps, such as switching on ‘live captions’ on Zoom to aid comprehension (YouTube can ‘auto-caption’ pre-recorded video) or adding ‘alt-text’ to any images you use, can make a huge difference to participants.

Think proactively about whether students may need assistance with any planned tasks you set, or whether you should tweak your activities slightly to be more inclusive.

Be flexible and, if unsure, seek guidance on how best to adapt your training (here are some basic dos and don’ts to get you started).

Am I making the most of the tech tools available?

There is a whole range of platforms out there, each with their own functionality.

MS Teams lets you set up ‘channels’ for student discussion, news sharing, Q&A, etc.

Zoom allows you to prepare polls, organise breakout rooms, share links and documents via the chat bar, and view submitted questions from your participants.

I have even seen Facebook and IG Live being used to host some great informal Q&A sessions on various journalism topics.

Taking the time to understand the functions available on different platforms can help you maximise the potential for your classes.

It is also important to consider how you will manage communication beyond those live sessions and share resources.

When I was lecturing, I would get dozens of emails from students asking the same questions. Now we streamline them via a Moodle Q&A forum, everyone can see the answer – and the tutor only has to type it once.

Not only that, but students also often help each other with useful links and advice.

Dropbox and Zenler are also fantastic for organising all your materials and keeping them together in one place for participants to access.

Have I had a practice run-through?

There is nothing worse than wasting 20 precious minutes of your first online training session sorting out technical problems, so remember to check the tech.

And then check it again!

Ask a friend or colleague if they can hop on a call with you next time they have a coffee break, and cover the basics: “Can you see me? Can you hear me? Can you see the slides? Can you download and open this document?” etc.

Something as tiny as a broken link can derail an entire session.

Equally, there is a risk that participants may conflate technical incompetence with a tutor’s teaching ability or subject expertise.

Put yourself in the participants’ shoes and make it as easy as possible for them:

Little ‘reminders’ clearly outlining how and where to access the online training are a lot less annoying than scrabbling to find that all-important link just before a class goes live.

That is not to say that technical glitches are 100 per cent unavoidable; it is inevitable that some participants will struggle regardless of what you put in place, so try to be patient, empathic and calm when they do.

And if it all goes wrong? A little humour goes a long way.

I often joke that my students would get lost in unfamiliar buildings or held up by tube delays when I ran face to face sessions, so at least with online training, these are just a few nightmares you no longer need to panic about.

Pushing back the start time gives everyone a chance to introduce themselves or go grab a cuppa – without worrying they will be held up in the queue at the local coffee shop.

Dr Holly Powell-Jones is a qualified broadcast journalist and media trainer with several years’ experience creating content for television, radio, print and online news platforms.

Want to learn how to design and sell your own online courses? Book a place on Holly’s ‘Design and Sell Media Training’ 5-week course. The next course starts 5 October 2021.

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