The researched literature agrees that the communication skills of a modern online tutor have to be well developed. The teacher has to be able to communicate effectively with all learners, regardless of their cultural background (Smith et al., 2005; Bigatel et al., 2012; Barbera et al., 2014; Goodyear et al., 2001; Wilson & Stacey, 2004 and Darabi et al., 2006). The online tutor has to clearly communicate the course requirements, implementing the exact expectations, informing about the course contents that will be worked on, setting the behavioural regulations and, most importantly, uses a plain and understandable terminology. Apart of that, the teacher has to use a generally respectful tone for the communication with the learners (Bigatel et al., 2012; Barbera et al., 2014; Zaho & Combs, 2011).
Also, the teacher has to constantly maintain the momentum of the course through various communication channels (Goodyear et al., 2001), always give prompt feedback on learners’ performances (MacPherson, 2010) and keep the learners informed about deadlines, recent changes, etc. (Wilson & Stacey, 2004). The amount of communication is essential, since the online tutor also has to manage the students’, learners’, expectations. Therefore, showing constant activeness is imperative to gain and maintain the learners’ respect and acceptance (Barbera et al., 2014).
Apart of that, the teacher has to actively shape the learning style of the students, learners. A collaborative and learner-centred approach has to be established through multiple communication ways and initiatives by the trainer (Bigatel et al., 2012; Darabi et al., 2006). The resulting learning environment requires constant high quality communication initiated by the trainer, to not only maintain the collaborative and interactive environment, but to also further develop it (MacPherson, 2010).
Areas of communication
This applies not only to the verbal communication, but also to the written and digital communication.
Generally speaking, communication is the key element of any good course. This especially applies when tutoring online. Therefore, a good teacher has to develop excellent communication skills in the following areas:
- Verbal communication
- Written communication
- Non-verbal digital communication
Verbal communication is important for any direct or recorded verbal communication that a teacher will implement in the course. The vocabulary has to comprehensive as well as understandable. The gramma has to be well developed. Especially when students, learners, speak directly to the online tutor, the tutor has to able to verbally communicate correctly, understandably and meaningfully with the learners.
Written communication obtains a completely new standing within an online course. Most of the general instructions, direct interactions with learners or other trainers, instructions for tasks, feedback, etc. will be based on written communication. Hence, the online tutor has to be an expert in written communication.
Non-verbal digital communication refers to the design of digital elements as well as the usage of illustrations or animations as substitutes for written or verbal communication. When tutoring online this aspect of communication should not be disregarded. A teacher will have a complete image in mind of how the course will appear, what targets are defined and in how far illustrations will add to this image. But any learner who will access the course, the perspective of the course will differ, since each individual will bring a different image, based on the expectations and experiences this person brings. Therefore, any digital element has to be carefully selected, based on its interpretation options.
Listening is as important as speaking or giving information when teaching a course. A teacher and trainer has to be good and attentive listener. This aspect receives another dimension when talking about tutoring an online course. Any feedback the learner has to be perceived, evaluated and commented. Especially in an online setting, information given by the learners has to be picked up, since any form of interaction has to be fostered by the online tutor. Based on direct responsiveness by the online tutor, the learner will feel valued and noticed, which will, again, positively increase his motivation to actively participate within the course.
Giving feedback (part II)
This is also relevant for giving feedback. As mentioned in unit 1 “Teaching skills”, giving feedback is an important element when tutoring online. Based on prompt feedback, the trainer shows his appreciation of the learners’ performances. But not only is the timely manner important, but also the wording as well as the structure. Due to the potential of having international learners, feedback has to be communicated in a positive format. Since diverse cultural background can influence on how feedback can be perceived, a generally acceptable form has to be developed.
The website www.teachthought.com has summarized all relevant aspects on how to give feedback in the following list:
- Feedback should be educative in nature
- Feedback should be given in a timely manner
- Be sensitive to the individual needs of the student
- Ask the 4 questions:
- What can the student do?
- What can’t the student do?
- How does the student’s work compare with that of others?
- How can the student do better?
- Feedback should reference a skill or specific knowledge
- Give feedback to keep students, learners, “on target” for achievement
- Host a one-on-one conference
- Feedback can be given verbally, non-verbally or in written form
- Concentrate on one ability
- Alternate due dates for your students, learners, (to have more time for quality feedback)
This list perfectly shows to which detail a teacher has to be skilled when giving feedback in an online setting.
All those aspects also have to be implemented in the course description, since the trainer has to set a standard for the entire online course, in case the learners will work collaboratively and have to give peer-feedback.
Community (part I)
When applying the suggested unit-cycle of input, task and feedback, the communication structure has to be perfectly matched to the format of the unit. The learners will constantly receive information, work on tasks either alone or in groups and will receive or give feedback. Those short-timed communication cycles should vitalize the course and foster the active participation of the learners. Activating the learners and keeping the momentum of the course interaction going, strongly depends on the communicative activeness of the trainer (Smith, 2005; Bigatel et al., 2012; MacPerson, 2010; Zaho & Combs, 2011).
Based on frequent and prompt communication, learners will feel connected and as part of the course. This should lead to the establishment of an online-community. The learners as well as the teacher should generate relationships with one another to further foster the vivid community (Darabi et al., 2006). As members of a community, the learners will also further develop their motivation to actively participate within the course.
To further develop an online community it is recommended to apply reflective elements within tasks. Learners will be conscious of their pre-knowledge and personal point of view towards a specific topic which is automatically a solid basis for further interactions, either with the online tutor or within the course community.
Also, the communication structure provided should allow the learners to interact freely and leave room for flexibility (MacPherson, 2010).
Plain and clear
The foundation for creating such a communicative community is plain and clear communication by the online tutor. The chosen terminology has to be understandable for every learner and should never be too lengthy. Information should be given in adequate chunks to avoid overwhelming the learners. The learners’ attentiveness will be higher, when the given instruction is understandable and on point (Bigatel et al., 2012; Barbera et al., 2014; Zaho & Combs, 2011).
Communication has to be well structured and adaptable to the teaching concept. Based on short-timed communication cycles – theoretical input, task, feedback – the learners and teacher will feel noticed, valued and integrated which will positively influence the motivation of the learners to further actively participate within the course. Learners and trainer will have the chance to generate relationships to each other, which in return will allow the establishment of a community. Becoming member of a community will then also positively influence the learners’ motivation. To achieve such a development, the online tutor has to be able to communicate clearly and plainly. The chosen terminology has to be adequate and understandable. Also, any given information should be chunked to avoid overwhelming the learners. The general nature of any communication should be positive and respectful to anticipate any misunderstandings or misinterpretations.