15 Practical Tips for Teaching your First Online Class


I have taught live online virtual classrooms for many years and this article will help you understand the practical tips and tricks I have learnt along the way. They will also save you time, help your classes run smother and make for happier students.

The Tips for Teaching Live Online Classes are:

  • Get Students to Test Connecting
  • Test Connecting the Day Before Class
  • Allow for Questions Before and After Class
  • Have an Alternate Method of Contact for Students
  • Set the Rules for the Training Session
  • Refresh Students on How to use the Technology
  • Communicate what Students can not see
  • Use Coffee Breaks to Fix Student Problems.
  • Showcase Student Successes to the class
  • Constantly Check for Understanding
  • Encourage Socializing in the Chat
  • Have the Ability to Reset and Restart Student Machines
  • Partner up with Another Trainer
  • Remote Desktop is Your Friend
  • Access to a Digital Course Training Material

Live Online Classes can seem quite daunting because as well as teaching you are also handling the technology at the same time. Not only will I expand on each of these topics but provide you some personal tips below.

Student Self Testing Technologies

I always send the students a link to test their connection too and the ability of the technology to run the week before the training commences. Whether you are running a simple audio conference, a video conference, a web conference or a full virtual classroom it is important the students check their individual internet connection to see they have the right speed.

It is also important for them to install any third party software prior to the first day of class so as not to hold up the class starting on time.

TIP : being in the class early and resend the testing link 1 hour before the class as there is always one in every class that forgets to check the technology. Being in the class early means you can walk them through anything if required.

Testing the Technology Before Class

This has saved me many times as the third party you may have used for the online classroom may have an outage or have forgotten to set up your environment for you. Better to do this the day before then when you have a class of students waiting.

TIP : Seeing at this is your first time running an online class as well as taking some training on the software you are using, it is also wise to trial it with a peer prior to class to remind you of how to use it again.

Allow for Question Time

I always let people know they can ask questions during a training session depending on how limited the time is and how much content you have to cover. Due to the different personality types you will have in class some may only want to ask questions after the class is completed when they can get you one on one.

TIP : When teaching online you may have people attending from all over the world. Look at your list of students and where they are from and adjust your question time accordingly. As an example if you are teaching an Indian class they will not interrupt you during the day but will all have many questions after class.

Alternate Method of Contact

Always have another method of contact like a phone number and an email address for students to contact you with if they have computer or technology issues during class. The class is always happy for your to take the call if you let them know what is happening. This reassures them that you would do it for them as well.

TIP : Some technology issues just won’t be resolved by remote desktop, on the phone or by email and set yourself a time to fix it before rescheduling that student to the next class.

Setting the Class Rules

The rules for an online classroom are quite different to a physical classroom and you have to be quite strict with some of them. There are also some I would recommend to make for a better student experience.

The strict rules are:

  • Start, Finish and Break times
  • How to be respectful to others in the class
    • Don’t talk over each other on group voice chat
    • Mute their line when not talking
    • Be supportive of other students learning
  • Be prompt on starting or returning to class
  • Raise their virtual hand for help in the software

The recommended additional guidelines

  • Encourage students to socialize in the chat when they finish tasks
  • Encourage students to let you know as soon as they get behind a few steps rather than a lot later on to keep the class moving together

TIP: Encouraging socializing in the text chat does two things for you. Firstly it gives students who finish early something to do like in a real class. Secondly it give you time to help students that need it to catch up.

Refresh Students on the Technology

If using a Web Conference show them how to raise their hand and how to mute and unmute themselves. Also show them how to use the text chat features as well as how to dock and undock panels if the software allows for it.

TIP: When a student raises their virtual hand in a Web Conference or full Virtual Classroom always acknowledge it as soon as you see it and let them know when you will be able to help. You may be half way through a presentation and will help them when you are finished.

Communicate What Students Can Not See

Whether you have chosen to show your webcam or not in the training it is always important to be continually talking about what you are doing to the class. You do this in a normal classroom to manage expectations and an online classroom is no different.

It is actually even more important as short breaks in communication can seem like a technology issue. So always tell the students what you are doing. Example: I am just quickly helping a someone and we will continue on in a few minutes and I will let you know when we are ready to continue.

TIP : Don’t call out students in the class when they have problems just say you are helping someone. This helps students from being singled out and saves face for repeat offenders.

Use Extra Breaks to Help Fix Student Problems

When teaching online like in the classroom sometimes you can give the other students an extra exercise while you help a student that is stuck. Or alternately with online classes due to the remote nature a short 5 min coffee break is always appreciated by students.

Showcase Students Success To The Class

One great thing about a Web Conference or using Classroom Management Software in an online Classroom is that it makes it very easy to showcase student success. You can just hand over viewing to the student in a Web Conference or project their screen to the class in the case of using Classroom Management Software.

TIP: It is recommended that students have two monitors when taking online classes so they can view your Web Conference with one screen and conduct their work on the second screen. This saves them having to swap between screens all the time and most people can find a temporary monitor quite quickly these days if they don’t already have one.

Constantly Check for Understanding

When running an online classroom you don’t always have the ability to watch body language so checking for understanding is very important. You need to ensure you are constantly asking in the voice chat and text chat for how students are going with the material. One advantage of a full Virtual Classroom is the ability to watch student computer thumbnail pictures and to remote any time they are having issues.

TIP: Just like in the classroom some student may be to shy or embarrassed to ask for help and without body language to read it can be hard to know when people need help. I always at the start of the first day of class show student how to send a private message. This way they can still ask for help directly to you without the group knowing.

Encourage Socializing in the Chat

Because the students can not physically see each other or have chats on breaks I always encourage them to socialize in the text chat. I also do the usual round robin introductions at the start of class but I let them expand a little to have more common ground with other students. This helps them feel less isolated and you can monitor the chat to see if they are taking advantage of getting to know each other.

TIP: If you have a particularly quiet class in chat and on the voice chat you can buddy up students together. This has two great advantages. Firstly they will help each other which will save you time by answering simple questions. And secondly it gives them someone to socialize with during the class to make them feel less isolated.

Have the Ability to Reset and Restart Student Machines

One of the many advantages of having a full Virtual Classroom is the ability to Restart or Reset your Virtual Machines when students have problems. This means that you can get back to teaching very quickly if a serious technical problem occurs. Obviously you can not do this in a Web Conference but you can wait as they restart their machine if it has problems but you can not reset them to the starting point again.

TIP: I always have one or two spare Virtual Classroom Machines running just in case this happens and Reset or Restart does not do the trick. It normally does but someones Students think it has not so psychologically putting them on another machine makes them feel better.

Partner up with Another Trainer

If it is your first class and the technology and teaching the class is too much, then why not partner up with another trainer for your first online class or two. One of you teaches the class while the other one monitors the chat and answers questions, as well as remote controls the students having problems to help them fix it.

TIP: Having a second trainer also makes the training more engaging if you have a dialogue going between the two trainers. It makes it sound more like you are including the students in a conversation which will always make the material more memorable as well. Try not to be too scripted as this has the reverse effect.

Remote Desktop is You Friend

Whether you are running an online class as a Web Conference or as a full Virtual Classroom Remote Desktop is your friend. Tools like Teamviewer that work through firewalls and home routers will allow you to provide students with help when they get stuck with the training material. Don’t underrate the use of using remote desktop tools on the student experience and it also ensures the class runs smoothly for you.

TIP: If you are running a Webinar without checking for student understanding by reviewing their work with Remote Desktop tools you are just providing a lecture or presentation. This is great for large groups but seriously consider using remote desktop for small classes under 20 students when you need to confirm they understood what you were teaching.

Access to a Digital Course Training Material

When teaching online it makes your classes run a lot smoother if the students have access to the training material in digital format. Even just access to their student exercises online means that you can set them tasks to give your voice a break in day long sessions. It also allows you one on one time with students that need it whether to catch them up or help them when stuck. Teaching online lends itself to a presentation then exercise style delivery. This simple change to your delivery will increase the effectiveness of the training and the use of your time.

TIP: Exercise or chapter backups are critical when using this approach for two reasons. One, so that you don’t have to do the exercises and can showcase the result prior to the students dong the exercises. And Two, so when students get stuck you can give them the finished exercise or push them back to the end of the last exercise so they can start again. This assumes you are teaching something that allows for you saving your work.

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Glen Brown

I am a Technical Trainer and Manager with over 20 years experience in IT, Education and Business. I have multiple qualifications on each topic including post graduate qualifications. I have a passion for sharing knowledge and using technology to do this. If you would like to know more about me please see the about page of the website.

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