How to make online-education gazillion times more social, interactive and live than off-line-education ever can be

The typical situation for learning is not thousands of participants – MOOC´s. It is smaller groups, 30-100. Still, imagine you cannot meet physically, Corona-times could be one reason. Then here is what you can do. And please note; it can become way better in doing exactly everything that off-line-education is claimed to be great at.

I have been experimenting, hard, with myself, others, and digital tools. Here is what I knew before I started…

On-line education must become better than off-line, otherwise nothing will make us believe in it. Praying will not help.

Firstly: People easily get bored, leave, or fall asleep. Off-line, fast. Online, faster.

Secondly: There is absolutely no point asking someone to go online if offline is better.

Thirdly: Every technology has its own characteristic. Use it, otherwise try a different technology, more here.

Mute your voice and your face. Use an Avatar. No-one will notice.

During my experiments I have done things online, live, but without recording. I don´t like recording live-sessions. Live is live, should not be repeated. Why else have it?

I love music, live and recorded. But I don’t listen to recorded live concerts. Neither the same feeling as a concert, nor the same sound-quality as a studio-recording. Are they only relevant for hardcore fans?

But I also know; if I record digital live sessions, number of participants, go down. If they know it can be watched afterwards, why be there when it is recorded? I end up alone. I get lonely and sad and nervous and; just bad.

If they are not there live, why should I?

Why should actually anyone of us be live?
My course Digital Transformation at Coursera. Full of videos.

Adding to that; if people prefer just consuming me as a video, why not give them beforehand? I already have videos, my MOOCs. They could be used. Quality is pretty good. Not perfect, could have been better. But I am neither that perfect live. Who is?

And If I wanted to create recordings, I already know I can do it far better than when live. I have the equipment and software I need.

Recording a live session, maybe, makes sense to people that might want it, but not to me.

Why do things that just doesn´t make any sense?

If creating recordings was the only future, avatars already existgrowing in use.

Don´t have to look good, make you look good.

In other words: since I already have decided to find a decent reason for live online-based education, I also have to find a solution.

A solution … starting off with a Q, instead of a “lecture

If I start an online-session with a question, I have a good start for a live conversation. I use Zoom and the poll-function. The nice thing with the poll-function in Zoom is that participants get it right in their face, when they log in. It is the first thing they meet, that´s the point. They can not avoid it.

Digitalization hasn´t changed deeply rooted social norms – not yet.

What do we want to happen when entering a room? “Hi, how are you?”

If no-one ask, we become insecure, start think about leaving.

I put this poll out before I even start. Participants arriving early get something to chew on. It´s also a way to chat with them. Isn´t it actually unpolite not chatting with people that comes to meetings a bit early?

The first Q in this poll is “Hi, how are you today?”. Answering-options are like “I´m ok” or “This is actually my worst day ever, but thank you for asking” or “Don´t really know yet, ask me again after this session”. It gives them a smile, a good start for a meeting. But it also gives me a feeling on how they actually are, I care about how they are.

A self-driving Volvo/Uber. The first test ever on public streets, Arizona, March 2018. Big change upcoming, but we don’t know when.

The second, often last, Q, in this poll is related to the topic at hand. Last week it was “When do you think we will have self-driving-cars out on public streets?” Answering-options was “1, 3, 5, 10, 20 years”, or “never”.

This is a seriously interesting question. Peoples opinion will effect when we will have these cars. I ask for a reason.

Then…when I share the result, which is the next thing I do, I don´t start off by “lecturing”, they get to know something interesting: how others participating are thinking about this issue. How could we know what everyone else is thinking without asking?

This start makes sense. Me asking relevant questions.

A nice feature in Zoom is that I also can share the result. I then can respond and reflect on their answers; “why should we expect self-driving cars to enter soon, or the opposite”.

If I start by skipping these Q´s, instead just speak for lets say 10 minutes, maybe show slides, participants have already left – physically or mentally. Digitally; people leave really fast, more in this book. We all know it.

The first three minutes the agenda, how things will be done, is set. It goes for a meeting, when at a party, in education and elsewhere.

Is it worth attending, or not? Will anyone care if I attend, or not? Am I needed here, or not?

After (not before) that … still no “lecture”

A host can jump in on all break-out-rooms – is all ok?
Also an implicit way of telling “Please participate”.

If I then talk three short minutes, then send them to a break out room, a feature in Zoom useful for creating digital groups, with an assignment for like 10 minutes…they actually work on it.

They start talking to each other. Knowledge is shared, and developed. Of course; this assignment is related to the first Q´s, in this case the business of self-driving-cars.

Then, after this short break-out-room-session, and everyone is back in the same digital space again, I ask them to post their conclusions in the chat…and they respond. I get a chat-flow of ideas. Great ideas also, at least often.

We actually do not need “great” ideas in order to learn. “Bad ideas” can even be better.

How interesting you said that. Let’s elaborate on it and see where we can end up…

So, I can just scroll the chat, that everyone can see at the same time, and reflect on the result openly. Taking the issue one step further so to speak.

If I do the above, they start interrupting me after a while, which I want – in the chatroom, or maybe by speaking openly. Then, the conversation is on…

The big problem is not if all of them interrupt me at the same time. That I/we can handle. The big problem is if no-one is interrupting. That I/we cannot handle. And this, break-out-rooms, I can do several times in a row…still works. Hopefully, at least I think so, they learn and get something out of the session.

In general: if people come back, it´s a good sign. My participants seem to come back. But I don’t check if they do. Nothing is obligatory.

Learners should come back because they want to, not because we force them to.

Would social media, Facebook, Twitter, whatever, be useful if we were forced to use it?

And how could I myself know if my possible “educational quality” is high, or perhaps low, if I forced people to attend?

Questions, break-out-rooms, discussions, reflections, new questions, new break-out-rooms


But even more interesting is this; gradually, the longer a session goes on, I can start “lecturing”…and still keep their attention. I can add me just talking and showing slides for 15, 20 or even 30 minutes – if needed, and if I have something relevant to say that is. I try to avoid speaking and showing slides if I don´t think I have something to add.

Everyone that have tried Zoom knows…competition; a thumb-press away. Great videos on YouTube, also useful for learning; not difficult to find.

Why do we think so many faces and voices are muted during digital meetings?

But we can go much, much, further …

In between all this I also can have as many coffee-breaks as I like, breaks about five minutes long. I do it if I personally need it, like getting more coffee for myself. Or if they suggest it. They don’t mind. I don’t mind. And after these five minutes of a break…all of us still seem to be there. I don´t have 15 minutes long breaks. They do not seem to drop out.

Actually; not even I seem to drop out (who said not educators sometimes would like to drop out?)

Why does this seem to work?

My guess: because it is simply the way it has to be done, if running live education on-line in groups of people that are like 30-100.

If you go for thousands, you have to use a different way, like the technologies MOOC´s provide. And if you go for smaller groups than this, 3-10 people, you already know the answer: a “conference call”. But in groups of 30-100, this is the way.

Notice: This could never work without the poll-function, the breakout-rooms and the chat-channel embedded in Zoom, reasons why I happen to like Zoom a bit better than other tools – at this moment. But far better solutions than Zoom is already on its way. Tip: check out Nvidia Maxine. I would be surprised if I will continue to use Zoom in the long run.

When better tools evolve, that can achieve what you desire, use them instead.

-> Pez, the candy, is the mother of all great E-learning.

Imagine that you participate live in an online course with 30-100 others. Imagine if the “educator” just talks. Why be there? You could receive the message in a different way. Or; take a MOOC. Somebody could also record that live-session for you so you can watch it later.

I bet my head off that lot of digital live lectures today are in fact already recorded, by the participants themselves, but without educators knowing it…called bootleg in the music industry. Piracy of music ones started with university students. They already know how to download course-books for free – far more than that. Isn´t it nice to know that young people knows how to use digital tools?

The most obvious reason to be on-line, live, jointly with a group of 30-100 people, is to interact.

Learning as a social process.

Yes, you can interact with people in a physical room. But notice this: If you want to create group-work with 30-100 people in a room, it would take lot of unnecessary time to arrange the groups – 10 minutes just gone. In Zoom you can have group-work up and running in 3 seconds. You just cannot have group-work this often in off-line education.

Adding to that: How are groups normally organized when you do it with 30 – 100 people in a physical room? You end up with the same people in the same groups, all the time. In Zoom you can help the participants get into a new group every single time – you control how break-out-rooms are created. Isn’t this seriously interesting socially? We can include the ones that previously was excluded.

Meeting new people is often nice, and good from a learning-point of view – hearing other perspectives than the ones we always hear. Though, it is difficult for a single person to achieve in a physical room, even if that person wants to. The room as such, implicit social norms and us all getting stuck in our first group is in the way. But with Zoom, I can help out. Constantly new people to meet and discuss with is possible to achieve digitally but impossible to do in a physical room.

It is the old technology, the physical room, that limits us, today – not the digital technology.

“Today I had serious conversations with 50 interesting people. How many/few people did you meet at the office today? What did you learn?

What with the breaks? If you try to arrange a five-minute break in a room with 30-100 people, what happens? It takes more than five minutes just to get everyone out of the room. So, we can suddenly have breaks often. Stretching your legs, for five minutes, often, with a big group, is easy to achieve digitally but impossible at a physical meeting.

Why did we actually have 15 minutes breaks before? Well, at my university, as in many, it was ones needed simply in order to give students time to walk to next room. Campuses are large areas. But that problem is now gone.

Why do conference centers still have 15 minute breaks?

A bad copy from the universities, made ages ago? Do they continue, but without knowing themselves why?

So, the reason for making things in such a short and quick way is: because it is a far better way (Sessions one hour long, fixed time; why? Try shorter, or why not longer?) And…because we now actually also can do it, thanks to digital tools.

We should have done this long ago actually. But it was not possible to do it before. Now it is.

But we can achieve even more…

Using Zoom in this way: teaching become…live.

While having these small breaks, or during break-out-rooms, I easily can change my own slides, if I use any that is, but without participants even noticing it. I am left alone, if I want to that is. So, if I run this in real time and time seem to be running out, or the discussion we are having leads us to being jointly interested in focusing more on something, I can change my “lecturing” while still being live.

Changing a lecture in the middle of the lecture is seriously tricky to do in physical teaching. In a physical room you easily gets captured by the pre-prepared format. Difficult to do major changes outside your 15 minutes break.

Here is also the reason why I don´t share any slides beforehand, but afterwards…I just can not know myself how the slides finally will look, until after the session. I constantly seem to come to the conclusion after my sessions that I always start off with more slides than needed. Good: it is never the opposite.

And then suddenly, finally, education can become…live. And then, suddenly…a reason for learners to join also evolve. And then…suddenly, we can start achieving something far better, and at the same time also cheaper, than old fashioned “class-room-based education”, even in its best of days, could achieve.

-> Congratulations; you are just about to outperform Neil Armstrong

So, I wonder; why do we actually still struggle with the old way of doing education? It is just costly and bad quality.

Here is a summary

On-line education can, if done “correctly” that is, outperform the old way of doing education on exactly all things we so often tend to claim to be the major reason for keeping the old way of teaching: being social, interactive, and running things live.

Could I perhaps have a point?

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