Find Your Online Teaching Voice

Over the years, I have worked with scores of university and college professors, and subject matter experts from various fields, helping them make the transition from classroom teaching to teaching online. One thing that almost always poses a challenge for those new to online instruction is finding and then including their personalized teaching voice on the course website.

By “teaching voice,” I do not mean “lectures” (recorded or transcribed lectures do not make for very engaging learning). I am, rather, referring to an informal, first-person narrative by the instructor that helps set the context for a learning module, lets the learner know why a particular topic is being studied, provides an overview of the key issues at hand, and includes a very clear explanation of what is going to be required of the learner. It also may include some personal stories or anecdotes from the instructor relating to the topic at hand to help bring it to life.

These things happen quite naturally in the classroom environment. However, they are often missing from an online course because instructors do not always do these things consciously. This is why so many online courses, in my opinion, come off as rather flat, clinical, not engaging, impersonal and pedantic. There is too much of “read this,” “review that,” and “submit this.” There is not enough of the instructor’s wisdom, experience, guidance and personality coming through. In other words, at a lot of the things that make a course interesting are missing.

Online teachers, particularly if they are academics, have to remember that they are not writing journal articles when creating online courses. The key to a good online teaching voice is an informal first-person style, as if you are speaking to one person. This is because in such an environment, that is exactly what you are doing – speaking to one person at time.

I often encourage online instructors to record and post their module introductions so that learners actually do get a “voice.” It is another way of breaking down the distance between instructor and learner, and further personalizing the learning environment.

Of course, much of this first-person teaching voice can come across on a course’s online discussion boards. However, if you do not use a clear teaching voice in the course content sections, you risk wasting a lot of valuable time and space on the discussion boards setting context, providing background, and answering dozens questions about what is expected of students, and how, and by when, etc. This time could better be focused on deeper discussions of course themes.

So, remember your teaching voice when designing your online courses. It is the connective tissue that provides your course with a unified narrative. And it also makes your course a more inviting, engaging, understandable and instructive learning experience for the learner.

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