Health and Healthcare Systems

COVID-19: 10 steps for transferring your course online

A professor and students taking part in an online class are seen on a screen during a government-organized visit to the Tsinghua University, as the country is hit by an outbreak of the novel coronavirus, in Beijing, China February 28, 2020. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins - RC2I9F9KU593

Virtual learning: Students in China continue their education Image: REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins - RC2I9F9KU593

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Leadership Development Specialist, World Economic Forum
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Education, Gender and Work

  • COVID-19 has forced schools and universities around the world to adopt online learning.
  • Setting rules and being inclusive are among key considerations.

The COVID-19 pandemic is forcing schools, universities and learning and development professionals to shift rapidly from in-person to online learning.

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Here are 10 steps to take into account as you convert your school, university or corporate learning course online:

1. Design based on your learning objectives

Go back to your original learning objective – is it imparting knowledge? Fostering debate and exchange? Discovery in a lab setting? Once you’ve determined the main objective for your course, consider the following tips for success.

For courses where you are seeking to primarily communicate information (one-to-many), consider taking the pulse of your students during your lecture through polling or question functions on your digital platform. This allows real-time feedback of the interests and engagement of your learners. Reinforce the information you shared by providing follow-up readings.

For workshops or seminars (group-to-group), share the framework for the interaction and any pre-readings before the workshop or seminar to maximize the productive time together and to give the participants ownership in their interaction. Be sure to share outcomes after the workshop or seminar to reinforce the value of the small-group discussions.

Several sources provide specific guidance for transferring lab courses online and this repository of remote teaching resources for business continuity offers even more ideas.

2. Promote inclusivity

Consider reworking your online course to take up even less bandwidth to be inclusive of learners who have weaker online connections.

Bandwidth Immediacy Matrix
How do different bandwidths affect learning? Image: Daniel Stanford
3. Impart clear rules of interaction

Restate your expectations. Send an email reminding your learners of the objectives and outcomes for the course, any adaptations to guidance about attendance (if everyone is joining from home, do you still expect ill students to join?) and participation. Clarify whether the session will be recorded and if so, where and how it will be used. Include basics about being respectful in an online course too: dress code, how to ask questions, when and why to use the mute function. Harvard University has a sample text you can adapt.

4. Set the stage for successful interaction

Teaching online can make interpersonal interactions seem cold. Eye contact with your learners is essential. Gaze directly at the webcam and use guidance on how body language translates in video job interviews.

Having appropriate lighting can be the difference between your learners seeing you or your shadow. In general, audio is critical for transmitting learnings in online courses. Check that your audio is up to spec through test calls. If possible, secure an external microphone and be sure to slow down the pace of your intervention.

Be conscious that some of your learners may be hard of hearing. Here are some tips on how to make online learning accessible for deaf students. If your online class platform does not generate captions, you can save the videos to a private YouTube channel and generate free automatic captions there.

Make liberal use of the mute function to reduce background noise or the dreaded echo chamber, and remind your learners to do the same.

Coronavirus is keeping kids out of school
Coronavirus is keeping kids out of school Image: Statista
5. Practice makes perfect

Run a test class, practice transitions between slides and videos. Check that you know how to communicate with all your students and also individuals via your platform’s chat function.

Learn from the best: to prepare its faculty for online teaching during the COVID-19 outbreak, Zhejiang University asked one of its most popular MOOC instructors to demonstrate to other teachers “how he adapted pedagogy to online tuition and forged a strong sense of community.” Take advantage of any training opportunities and resources your school, university or company may offer to improve your digital interaction and facilitation skills.

6. Be concise and engaging

You may have a lot of content to impart, but keep attention spans in mind: research suggests students lose interest in taking notes after 10-15 minutes. It would be a good start to limit classes to no more than 45 minutes. This limit can help your learners be more motivated and focused during class activities and discussions. If you need more time, consider multiple sessions with breaks in between.

Create a narrative for each class, use polls, virtual break-out rooms, videos and open questions to reenergize your learners and surprise them with the effectiveness of a 45-minute class.

7. Take a break and get moving

Sitting for long periods combined with isolation can lead to anxiety and poor health. Incorporate breaks that allow learners to re-energize, drink water, stretch their legs and take some time to breathe and see natural light.

8. Use peer interaction to foster community

Learning should not be passive and it does not end with the online class. Design and plan for some human interaction outside of class to reinforce the learning and foster idea exchanges and debate. Keep in mind that peer-to-peer learning helps your students to review concepts from the class while enhancing their communication and critical thinking skills, teamwork. It provides an opportunity for learners to discover how they learn best.


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Promoting peer interaction could strengthen your learning community. For instance, one option is to organize a live session where instructors encourage debate and answer questions. Prepare some guiding questions, launch a challenge to be solved or a project and convene your learners to tackle it. Consider assigning duos or small groups before the live session.

9. Deploy asynchronous communication tools

AC tools permit direct contact with learners outside of class, facilitate their class-related discussions and allow monitoring in one-to-one, one-to-many and many-to-many conservations. They give you qualitative feedback on the course and how the learners are interacting with the material.

Not all course material shared outside of class has to be written. You can create podcasts with relevant material that students can review in their own time. Angelo State University provides guidance here.

10. Rethink assessment

In online courses, what you can control and observe in your course is limited. There is a movement to push universities to make all course grades for the current semester pass/fail, and many have adopted similar responses.

Embrace this opportunity to revisit how to assess your learners. Review your learning objectives and keep what you want to evaluate at the forefront, for instance, the learner's capacity to use the concepts learned to solve complex problems.

While the present conversion to online courses is rapid and temporary, it may have lasting effects on how education and learning are delivered. Think about how your experience and modifications could be integrated into your in-person courses in the future to best serve your learning objectives.

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