How to Design the Perfect Online Lesson

June 22, 2020

Teachers around the world are adjusting to moving lessons online. It can feel intimidating as you learn to handle the new technology. But there’s an opportunity to design great lessons that enable students to learn without being in the classroom.
Creating the perfect virtual lesson shouldn’t feel different from your usual planning. At the centre of everything is the purpose of the learning. Choose online activities carefully to achieve this learning goal.
Let’s look in detail at the key elements of your online lesson.

Purpose of the lesson

Start with the objective. This lesson should fit within a scheme of learning. There needs to be a clear goal in your mind.
Ask yourself:

  • Why am I teaching this?
  • What is the point of this lesson?
  • What will students be able to do after this lesson that they couldn’t do before?

Think about the purpose of the lesson before planning activities, programs and platforms. It’s easy for learning to be lost when you get distracted by the virtual resources available.
1 Wacom Mind MapLarge

Planning the lesson

Start your lesson by revisiting prior learning. Use simple recall games, low-stakes quizzes or question starters to help them remember key information.
Break the rest of your time into small sections. There should be a mixture of modelling and independent practice. Signpost the learning so students see the purpose behind every task.
Online games and activities are great for making lessons engaging. Just choose carefully to make sure they deliver your lesson objectives. Watch for targeted ads, in-app purchases or paywalls and always follow your school’s online safeguarding policies.
Remember time for reflection. This doesn’t have to be at the end of the lesson. It could come after smaller tasks. Platforms like Microsoft Teams allow you to create worksheets, collaborative discussions or share a quiz to measure success.

Consider time limits

It’s easier to manage students’ time when teaching in person. You can spot when they’re struggling or need a challenge. This is much harder when they’re distance learning. Help them manage their workload by giving clear expectations for tasks.
You could use:

  • Time limits: Answer as many questions as you can in 5 minutes.
  • Word counts: Your answer should be around 200 words.
  • Amounts: Choose three questions to answer.
  • Points: This question is worth 5 marks.

Assume it will take them longer than normal to complete tasks at first. Open-ended challenge questions are useful for any early finishers. Give a time limit for the whole lesson to help them judge how long to spend on it.

Familiarity is key

Create a familiar structure to online lessons with flexibility within that framework. It takes time for students to learn how to use new technology. A fixed routine will help them feel confident.
Always set lessons using the same platform following a consistent schedule. Don’t choose a new program to use every lesson and allow time for them to adjust to changes. Create a set of ‘go-to’ websites and apps you know can support a wide range of lessons and make these your first choice where possible.

Create challenge

Students learn differently. This is challenging enough in the classroom, but difficult when working virtually. Your lessons need to have extension opportunities to stretch confident learners.
A good challenge task is never just more of the same. Instead, let them apply the learning in a new context or work at a deeper level. Make your extension tasks open for all students and prepare to be surprised by who tries them.

Support with learning

Online learning lets you get creative about how you support struggling students. Providing a scaffolded support for them can be as easy as ‘click here for a clue’ or a link to a video.
Ideas for scaffolds:

  • Links to websites
  • Simple presentations and voiceovers
  • Video demonstrations
  • Voice prompts
  • Word banks and glossaries
  • Visual images close to the text
  • Tick lists for tasks

Students need to see what you’re expecting from them.  Your virtual lessons should include ways to demonstrate what successful learning looks like.

Assessment and feedback

Tell students when and how you will give feedback. Moving online doesn’t mean giving a personalised response to every task if you weren’t before. Being clear about what you’ll mark and when the students will receive this feedback will let them know what to expect.
There are many ways to give online feedback:

  • Class feedback: Record a message for all students to watch or use a collaborative space on a platform like OneNote Class Notebook on Microsoft Teams.
  • Individual feedback: Annotate work using a tool like Wacom One or create comment boxes.
  • Peer feedback: Add work to a shared platform and assign students to mark each other’s work using a mark scheme.

Ask students to share how they felt the lesson went. Adding a tick box option is a simple way to gauge confidence levels and identify those in need of challenge or support.

Think about access

Consider what you can do to ensure all students have the same access to your lesson. Choose technology that works well on different devices, is free to access and doesn’t need large downloads or printing. It’s essential to try activities before you set them to make sure they work as you expect.
Consider creating a simple ‘how to’ user guide or record a video to show them what to do. Sniping tools (‘shift + windows + s’ on a PC or ‘command + shift + 4’ on a Mac) let you capture pictures to make your instructions clear.

Final Thoughts

As teachers get to grips with new technology, it’s vital that lesson planning does not become time-consuming. If you take longer to plan a lesson than the student will spend doing it, you need to make adjustments to keep your workload manageable.
Many lessons you’ve used in the past can be quickly adjusted to suit virtual learning. The vast array of resources online makes it easy to plan activities without having to make everything yourself.
Don’t be daunted if you’re not familiar with virtual lessons. Keep it simple and focus on the learning; you’ll soon get used to setting tasks online.

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