As e-learning evolves, one welcome trend is the movement away from large formal courses and towards more informal methods – providing support to your learners by any means necessary. Open source tools like Moodle offer very cost-effective ways of providing what one expert has called ‘surround sound’ support to learners. One of the more cost effective and high-touch ways of supporting learners is through online tutoring.
What’s an online tutor?
An online tutor (sometimes called an e-tutor, e-coach or e-moderator – catchy, no?) is there to support and facilitate a learning experience – potentially without ever meeting the learners. An online tutor can add extra value to the overall learning experience.
Online tutors support learners by:
• Responding to learners’ queries and providing subject matter expertise
• Initiating learning activities for individuals or groups of learners
• Providing feedback on tasks submitted, informally or as part of formal assessment
• Coaching and counselling learners
• Moderating and contributing to online discussions and live chat.
Talk is cheap
Open source tools like Moodle are the online tutor’s best friend. They provide you with options for running discussion forums, live chat, assignment reviews, one-to-one messaging and setting up groups. Adding an open source webinar tool like DimDim can further increase your reach at no extra cost. The tools are free – but your time is not, so use it wisely to provide focused and useful support for learners.
Top tips for tutoring
- Always put yourself in your learner’s shoes. Find out when they like to go online and what kind of support they would like from you; treat them as individuals. Seek feedback on what’s working for them in terms of support.
- Start modestly. Too many different channels of communication can cause confusion and key messages could get lost. Start small with some simple communication, e.g. one discussion forum, and expand at your learner’s pace.
- Keep things fresh with new inputs. As you build up momentum, think of yourself as the host of a daily show. You’ve got to keep the format fresh. Invite guest experts to join discussions and answer questions or maybe break up your discussions with a quick real-time chat at a set time each week. Add a weekly blog with valuable insights. Keep adding value.
- Provoke intelligent responses. Make your activities or tasks thought-provoking – get people to want to come back with comments. Set calls to action.
- Be flexible – it’s a dialogue. When moderating discussion forums, rather than having a fixed agenda, follow the flow of the conversations while you guide everyone to the end goal.
- Be realistic: don’t expect too much. Even two or three well-articulated contributions is a fairly good response rate for learners in most settings.
- Don’t worry if some people don’t participate fully. Accept the fact that some people prefer to ‘lurk’, i.e. not contribute. You cannot force involvement, and if they are learning through this observation, so what?
- Encourage and motivate by responding to learners who contribute. Try to encourage contributions by praising people for sharing their ideas. Learners will take their cue from the online etiquette you follow.
- Keep it informal and relaxed. Let people know that perfect grammar and typing are much less important than making their meaning clear – especially in live chat and discussion forums.
- Be patient. Be prepared to wait several days for replies or comments – don’t push too hard and don’t fill every silence in discussions with moderator contributions.
Set yourself up as an online tutor to add value to your online learning. It’s quick and easy to set up, and a well-thought-out pilot could take your learning model in a new direction.