Twelve lessons from teaching my first online course

Twelve lessons from teaching my first online course

Innovation Method
Published On:
May 21, 2023

Last Friday, I held my first synchronous online class session ever — and it worked out much better and smoother than I had expected. As a member of Gen X, I consider myself a digital immigrant. I am well-versed with the technology I use every day. However, compared to the digital natives of Gen Y and the digital addicts of Gen Z, I need to put in more effort to keep up with the fast-evolving tech space.

If you’re a novice or apprentice to the world of delivering courses or hosting meetings online, then you might be interested in my insights from my first online class. (And if you’re savvy tech geek, then please forgive me that this article is probably too mundane for you.) So, here are twelve lessons I’d like to share with other educators who are about to start giving online classes soon. (My take-aways may also be interesting for managers who may have to run online meetings or workshop sessions with their teams working in their home-office).

1. Do your homework on the technology

Take the time to research different video conferencing platforms to find the one that best caters to your usual teaching style. Before my class last week, I investigated half a dozen service providers and tested three. I settled for, and I am happy to pay for it.

2. Run a test session

Familiarize yourself with the application features and interaction flow of your chosen platform ahead of time in a mock-up class, and test out its various functionalities. It’s one thing to read about a feature or watch a video, and another thing to try it out yourself in a real setting. As the Zen saying goes, “To know and not to do is not yet to know.”

3. Make everyone feel comfortable

At the start of a virtual class or meeting, welcome everyone, and invest time in doing a quick check-in with everyone to ensure everyone is well and ready to learn. Also, take time to explain the key features of your chosen platform to learners. For example, show learners how they can raise their hand virtually. And don’t forget to brief everyone on the importance of muting the microphone to avoid background noises or echoes.

4. Take an experimental approach to your first sessions

Plan to fail sooner to succeed earlier in becoming a savvy online educator. Resolve to test out various features of your video conferencing platform quickly—for example, set-up and use break-out rooms that allow for virtual group work. Check out different options for recording your session. Find out how to use the chat function (or a broadcasting function) to effectively share instructions during group work phases.

5. Take failures lightheartedly

When something doesn’t work out as planned —which will and should happen (see the previous point)—, then admit defeat and move on. Tell the learners that after class, you will spend time investigating how to make the desired feature work and then try again next week. If you like, make a joke like, “As you know, it’s not easy to teach an old dog new tricks.”  

6. Scale down on your content

In an online class, expect to cover slightly less material than in a face-to-face course (due to switching between different modes and at times a slow internet connection). Probably a good rule of thumb is to settle for 80% of the contents that you usually would cover in a face-to-face session.

7. Slow down your delivery

Speak slower and more enunciated in an online class, especially if you’re dealing with non-native English speakers—or, like me, are one of those yourself.

8. Pause regularly to check for understanding

If you deliver a lecture, stop your shared slideshow every 10-15 minutes. Switch to the “all faces”-view of your video-conferencing platform to check if everyone is still on board, and allow learners to ask questions.

9. To shape up, stand up

Consider delivering your online-class session standing upright instead of sitting on a chair. It’s much more dynamic. If you want to sit down from time to time, consider using a bar stool if at hand.

10. Dress smartly for online success

If you deliver a lecture, stop your shared slideshow every 10-15 minutes. Switch to the “all faces”-view of your video-conferencing platform to check if everyone is still on board, and allow learners to ask questions.

11. Keep to the scheduled timing and pauses

When you schedule the online session, then set up a waiting room for the learners. Open the online session ten minutes ahead of time, then admit and welcome the learners as they arrive at the virtual waiting room. Start your session punctually. Admit those latecomers as you see them coming to the waiting area. When it’s time for a break, ask everyone to turn off their video and to mute their mike. Of course, do so yourself, too. Then, enjoy the break and be back in time to continue the session.

12. Set the standards of behavior for online sessions

An online course differs from an in-class session in at least two important ways:

  • For one, you cannot observe as well as in a real setting all that’s going on in the classroom.
  • For two, you also cannot just walk over to a learner who is doing something disturbing to influence their behavior positively.

So, while you deliver your first online classes, pay attention to catch learners who do the right or wrong things. Praise learners who do something good, such as reminding someone to mute their mike. Also, remind learners of unacceptable behavior. In my first online class last week, one of the learners was smoking in class. I sent him a private chat message to stop smoking in our online course going forward.

Conclusion: Embrace the opportunity to enhance your online competencies

The current global COVID-19 health crisis is affecting all aspects of life, including education and business. Interestingly, the Chinese word for ‘crisis’ is composed of two symbols — one means ‘danger,’ the other one ‘opportunity.’ I view the current health crisis as an opportunity to develop creative solutions that allow me to transfer my usual teaching style as much as possible to an online environment.

The courses that I deliver for Thinkergy and at my universities (Bangkok University and Hong Kong Baptist University) and are all highly dynamic, interactive, and application-oriented. These aspects of delivery and pedagogy are challenging to replicate in virtual environments. In some cases, the limited functionalities of the online video-conferencing platforms cannot reproduce the rich set of “hardcopy” media, materials, and tools used in real-life innovation sessions.

As such, I still face lots of challenges, for which I aim to create new solutions to better transfer my proven methodological and pedagogical modes of delivery into the virtual world. Here are three examples:

  • How to best simulate a “quick and dirty” ideation session with hundreds of Post-it Notes on a video conferencing platform?
  • How to best replicate a rapid prototyping exercise where teams create mock-ups and iterate when all team members work from home?
  • How to process and document outputs of an X-IDEA innovation project in a virtual workshop? (Usually, we employ a mix of various hardcopy formats — flip-charts, Post-it Notes, different A4-worksheets, stimulus cards, among others.)

Interestingly, idea management software platforms such as or offer some of those online functionalities. If you’re an innovation manager of a large corporation who regularly conducts innovation projects and now needs to do this online, then take a look at those solutions. For innovation educators running 1-3 workshops per year, however, such innovation platforms are not viable due to budget, scope, and time limitations.

  • Do you need a sounding board or some fresh inspiraitons on how to best maneuver the current Covid-19 crisis? Contact us and tell us more about your challenges. We will give you some ideas on how to best keep your team spirited and engaged, and your business unit or organization up and running. And we may help you spot some new opportunities that open up in times of crisis.

© Dr. Detlef Reis 2020. The article is published in the Thinkergy Blog on March 26, 2020. It will be re-printed in a shorter version in the Bangkok Post on April 2, 2020.