By Amy Vickers

PictureWe all talk with our students about skills needed for success in the classroom like sitting in the front, asking questions, asking for help, introducing yourself to the instructor, collaborating with colleagues, and participating in discussions. What do those skills look like in online courses?


For the past few years I have been facilitating online professional development courses for adult educators through World Education and the LINCS TEAL project. I have found that some course participants are able to maximize the learning opportunities within the course—I can actually “see” them sitting right there in the front.

Keeping up with the course schedule, completing assignments, and posting meaningful discussion posts are the basics for success in an online course. In addition to those basics, I want to offer this list of simple suggestions that course participants have used to sit in the front. When you sign up for a course, you are dedicating your valuable time to it—make it work for you!

1 – Include a photo in your profile.
The course facilitator and other course participants want to get to know you as individual. We can learn about you through your introduction, discussion posts, and assignments. Having a photo will give a mental image to which we can attach that information. If you have reservations about sharing photos of yourself online, post an image of your cat or your garden.

2 – Email the course facilitator.
I often send whole-class emails several times during a course. Engage in 2-way communication by occasionally responding with a clarification question or a sentence or two about something that got your attention within the coursework. These small interactions are another way for the course facilitator to get to know you as an individual.

3 – Share a link to a resource, even if that is not part of the assignment.
You may think that everyone has already seen that video, already uses that classroom resource, or wouldn’t be interested in that graphic organizer that you made, but the community of adult educators is widespread and diverse. A resource that is common among your circle of colleagues could be brand new to adult educators in other settings. Include links to resources that enhance what you share in your discussion posts.

4 – Reply to other participants’ posts.
If you are nodding your head or smiling when reading an online discussion, no one knows that! It is encouraging to other participants, shows your engagement, and enhances your learning when you reply to others within discussion forums. Not sure what to say?  Reply with positive encouragement. “Thanks!  I never would have thought of that—I plan to use your idea next week in class.”  Reply with follow-up questions. “The activity that you are describing would be very challenging for my students. How did you support them so that they would be able to be successful with such a complicated activity?” Share a similar situation. “I also struggle with students arriving late to class! It is very frustrating. I have seen improvement since I started having a warm-up question on the board for students to work on when they arrive.”

5 – Incorporate a reminder of your teaching context in your discussion posts.
Adult education can look very different from classroom to classroom. In order to engage in more meaningful conversations, remind your colleagues of your teaching context. For example, use phrases like “in my multilevel GED prep class…”, “in my rural lower level ELL program…”, or “in my workforce math class at the community college…”

Trying these suggestions will make you more visible to the online course facilitator and other course participants, and will give them a better understanding of you as a unique adult educator. Having this understanding will allow the course facilitator to give you more nuanced feedback and will allow the other course participants to engage in a way that is more authentic and useful for them and for you. Haven’t tried an online course yet?  Now you can confidently try one, prepared to walk in and sit down right in the front.

Have you taken an online course? Which of these did you try? Do you have other tips to suggest? Leave us a note in the comments!

Amy Vickers earned a M.Ed. in Adult Education from the University of Minnesota and has a current Minnesota ABE teaching license. She taught various ABE classes during her 8 years with Minneapolis Adult Education; since 2011 she has specialized in numeracy. Currently she is teaching numeracy-focused online professional development classes, coordinating a series of numeracy webinars, and working on related consulting projects. Her website is

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