Leadership In Online Classrooms: In eLearning, Everyone Is A Leader

Leadership In Online Classrooms: In eLearning, Everyone Is A Leader
Summary: It is important for both students and teachers to develop and practice leadership in online classrooms to make eLearning environments rewarding and effective. This article will consider some of the key ways this can be achieved.

How Students And Teachers Practice Leadership In Online Classrooms

Conventional approaches to talking about leadership make it out to be a specialized skill set, an art form to be refined but never perfected, and best left to individuals of a certain temperament and native predisposition. eLearning runs counter to all that wisdom, because effective participation in any quality program requires both students and instructors to practice leadership in online classrooms. Whether in a corporate environment or in pursuit of an online degree, the principles of eLearning are the same: Students and teachers both need to exhibit leadership qualities to make the program a success.

3 Ways Students Practice Leadership In Online Classrooms

  1. Students lead group projects.
    Yes, the dreaded group project. These get an unnecessarily bad review in internet memes and discussion boards, but properly done they are fantastic tool for taking theory from the classroom and turning it into hands-on applications. Project-based learning can add a kinesthetic element to the digital learning environment, and help learners contextualize the material. But they can also devolve into finger-pointing contests, wasted time, and frustration across the board. The difference between success and failure is a proactive approach from students: passivity is kryptonite to group projects. Taking control starts with the students: They organize their group communication, delegate responsibility, and ultimately determine the course of their collaboration. The same skills that make students successful eLearners are required to make the most of group projects, and that means thinking and behaving like leaders. 
  2. Students lead conversations.
    The best classrooms are not just transmission chambers where teachers funnel knowledge into student minds via lecture or assigned reading. They are organic platforms for discourse, critical thinking and inquiry. It doesn’t matter if it is Philosophy 101 or a Continuing Education credit in Pharmaceutical Science: students get the most out of their education when it is interactive and social. Again, teachers can assign students to make a minimum number of comments in a forum or to pose questions to the group, but it is up to students to take the material and turn it into a discussion. Everyone in an eLearning environment has something to offer, or a question to pose, and both are equally valuable in elevating the experience of the group. Recognizing that value, and creating opportunities to share and extract knowledge from others is a trademark of good leadership. 
  3. Students lead through accountability. 
    One of the most common complaints of online students is that they feel the course design does not accommodate their learning styles. Having a particular learning style does not inherently disqualify students from being effective online learners; it does mean they need self-awareness and personal accountability to recognize their strengths and weaknesses as learners, and seek aid, remediation, or alternate pathways to understanding. Students who are struggling online can’t wait to seek help, or rely on their peers to bail them out of a learning deficit. Although both options should be available to an extent, tackling the challenges that come from unique learners begins with the learners themselves. It is difficult to succeed in remote, online learning programs without autonomy and independent motivation. It takes great self-knowledge to self-motivate and be accountable; no leader can succeed without these qualities.This is the essence of leadership as well: a vision, a compelling drive to achieve, and a willingness to explore strategies to pursue that goal.

3 Ways Teachers Practice Leadership In Online Classrooms

It isn’t always as obvious as it seems; in classrooms and online, students feel let down, neglected, or outright abused by teachers all too often. Even well-meaning teachers can fail to assume the leadership mantle in their programs by making the wrong assumptions about their students, or striking the wrong balance.

  1. Teachers empower students. 
    Independence is not always something students bring with them on day one; teachers need to set expectations, as well as provide tools, resources, and support to get students to a place where they can self-manage throughout the course. Any given class is bound to have a mix of introverts and extroverts, and it is often up to the teachers to ensure that both personality types are given the chance to function and thrive. Teachers open the door for students to succeed; it is still up to the student to enter. Empowerment in online classrooms means eliminating ambiguity, planning ahead, and maintaining visibility. When students know what is expected of them, what tools are available to them, what is coming next, and where their teacher is in all of this, then they have everything they need to own their learning experience and succeed.
  2. Teachers foster communication. 
    Student empowerment begins with quality communication. It does not happen automatically just because the subject is interesting or the platform is equipped with cutting-edge tools. Good communication is cultural, and it begins with the instructor setting an example of proactive engagement. This means doing more than suggesting that questions are always welcome, or any other such “open door” policy. Open door policies are a good idea gone bad in many cases; simply inviting students to bring their problems to you won’t cut it--engagement can’t start with a passive “You know where to find me”. The top ways in which managers fail employees all revolve around communication and access; regardless of intent, it is easy for students to perceive teachers as aloof or inaccessible. Teachers should take this to heart, and be more proactive in their communication with students. Leaders set the example to be followed, then maintain that pattern continuously. If teachers start each lesson with individualized communication and outreach, students are more likely to see this as normal and actually take advantage of their instructors’ availability.
  3. Teachers lead through assessment. 
    Students can’t always be counted on to recognize or admit when they don’t get something; similarly, they can’t always accurately assess when they do get the material. In both cases, teachers aren’t just there to issue grades and critical feedback; they are there to recognize knowledge gaps and obstacles to comprehension, and address them. Self-awareness can only go so far when the concepts or subjects are novel. This is when teachers need to help students help themselves, rather than leaving them behind. eLearning accountability is absolutely two-way; students will fail if they expect instructors or other students to initiate discussion and advance discourse; instructors will fail their students if they do not foster open lines of communication, provide diverse outlets for feedback and ongoing assessment, and engage each student directly from time to time. Assessment, like good leadership, is not just about judgement, but about playing on strengths to confront weaknesses. Formative assessment can be a powerful tool to keep struggling students from failing cumulatively when they are struggling in one area or on one project.

Online learning gets a bad rap from both instructors and students who focus only on the passive, recorded lecture approach. New technology as well as old pedagogy have rendered that early form of eLearning archaic. Educators and students recognize that this is neither engaging nor particularly effective; the best kinds of courses and programs involve both synchronous and asynchronous elements, which both elevate the level of engagement, and present new challenges. Students need the will to step up and lead conversations, pursue discussion and collaboration, and support one another’s learning to make the most of these elements. Instructors must also find creative ways to reach each of their students and ensure communication is never compromised by the virtual medium of instruction.