Make online lessons fun!

ByMike V. Cooper

Dec 10, 2021

Who was your favorite teacher? How did they engage, inspire and empower you? Why did you like them?

One of my favorite teachers was my mom. She has taught theater and English, and I don’t think she saw a big distinction between the two. She was a petite woman, bigger on the inside than on the outside, and she missed something every now and then, saying something she didn’t mean, which turned out to be hilarious.

The headmaster passed the room – poked his head in it – listened to thunderous laughter – shook his head – disengaged.

Somehow, his students performed better than anyone else.

Make them laugh – and check their MRI

Magnetic resonance imaging studies of the human brain show that humor lights up your brain. Different parts activate during setup, storytelling, and anticipation. The punch line illuminates a new area and everything that has happened before.

“Want to engage people for learning, innovation and more? “Just make them laugh.

Laugh yourself and put on a headset – or a pair of shoes

What’s the most watched TED talk of all time? Sir Ken Robinson, “Do Schools Kill Creativity? Once you watch it you’ll realize that not only is it about creativity, it’s also super creative. The lecture could have been a recitation of educational statistics, but it was delivered as a semi-comedy routine. He’s both funny and insightful, and that’s what audiences (including students!) Are looking for.

However, telling jokes is not the solution. Research also shows that you need to be in sync with your audience to be effective, and consistency (using your whole brain) leads to better decisions. Basically, if you’re having fun, they’re probably having fun too. You may want to check in at an executive neuro-lab or learning center equipped with an MRI. It’s the same, online and offline.

Here’s a feedback technique that can help you as much as a multi-million dollar machine: join a group of people who are eager to become more effective teachers / speakers. Instead of doing science readings of yourself and your audience, have everyone stand up. As you speak, step forward towards the audience when you are more engaged, and step back when you are less engaged. Every member of the audience should do the same. You will be physically together when things are working well and physically separate when they are not. “Quick and easy feedback is the best way to learn, and you can experiment in the process.

Open up like monty python

The thought and synchrony of the whole brain occurs in a state we call “openness.” John Cleese (of Monty Python fame) gave an insightful speech on creativity in management and the open vs closed mode (check it out on YouTube). Psychologists have known for years that family, open and playful environments invite exploration and effective learning. Stressful and competitive environments can boost performance and make us focus on the crisis at hand at the moment, but they are ineffective for exploratory learning and generating options (dreams, if you will) for building the future. Do you use competition as an incentive for learning? It’s counterproductive until we get to performance.

Is your classroom or online meeting a place to play or learn? Your answer will decide what environment you need to create – open mode or closed mode.

Think with your body

In his research at Harvard on burnout, Dr. Edy Greenblatt found the psychochemical basis (among other results) of sleepy and unproductive work. Office workers (and I dare say many online learners) don’t use their bodies all day, producing endorphins, dopamine, and other brain chemicals associated with exercise.

Just get up, stretch, and do something physical as a class (or meeting) when you’re online. Yes, we are virtual, but we are also physical beings.

Take a sun break

No one needs to walk (or drive) from building to building now, but we still need the sun. Some of Dr. Greenblatt’s research has drawn on the science of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Some people are particularly sensitive to the lack of light, and when the Singapore sun takes a haze induced by international fires, Shanghai and Los Angeles are battling smog and people are working indoors on laptops during Covid, all the world forgets the sun.

Exposure to the sun changes your levels of serotonin (brain hormones) and improves your mood, energy and your immune system. The sun wakes us up – and wakes our brains for learning. What if you imposed a sun break right before your class or meeting?

Remix it, don’t be the star, and work on something real

We’re used to 2-3 minute videos (max 5) – 15 if it’s a super well delivered TED talk. Micro-learning programs are gaining ground. Do we really need to take a break every 3 minutes and turn every learning journey into an ADHD experience?

No. However, I find it effective to schedule in my online sessions a mix of media and activities – video, polls, exercises, etc. I often start with an inspirational video, and sessions work best when we have a lively discussion and deal with it. like a workshop. Participants can read, watch videos, etc. before or after. If I start to repeat myself, I make a video and post it online.

The most effective thing we can do together is to work together. So we carry out a project, we make decisions on a case – we become specific and active.

What happens when I’m no longer the sage on stage – the star in the constellation – and they are debating directly with each other?

This is when it really works. This is when we all win, online and offline.

(The author is the director of i2e – The Innovation & Entrepreneurship Center at the SP Jain School of Global Management)