Top 5 Tips to Minimize Confusion in your Online Classroom

Top 5 Tips to Minimize Confusion in your Online Classroom


With the ongoing pandemic, teachers are having to move from face-to-face lesson plans/teaching to online. Some teachers haven’t had to teach online ever before. I was a 4th grade teacher and remember making my lesson plans, copies, gathering supplies, etc. The online classroom is very different, and as an online instructor for the past 14 years, I have learned a lot about how our minds work and how we learn online. 

The biggest saboteur of an online classroom is confusion. Confusion leads to frustration, overwhelm, and anger. As an online instructor, you want to do anything you can to avoid confusion for your students and parents. How do you do that? There are simple, yet effective ways to minimize confusion. These are some tips, that seem obvious once you read them, but they have a tremendous influence on your student’s online experience. Many of these tips are doing things that you get to skip when teaching face-to-face because you are right there with them and you can see confusion on their faces. Even with Zoom and other technology, you still can’t see everyone’s expressions all the time to catch the confusion.


Here are 5 tips to minimize confusion in your online classroom:

1.     Create one central place for questions. Every online platform has differences and similarities, and the one thing that is difficult to manage is trying to answer a bunch of questions via email, phone, and different places in the online system. Create some type of discussion folder or post that students and parents can respond to with any general questions about assignments. Let them know that if they have a personal question, to go ahead and email or call you. This central location for questions is great for you because they are all in one place to respond and students/parents have the opportunity to see other people’s questions with the answer to minimize you having to respond to the same question multiple times.


2.     Answer questions as quickly as possible. It is really important to make answering questions your number one priority multiple times per day. Checking everywhere for questions is something you might have to do for a while before they get the hang of posting in one designated area, so it is best if you take 3 different times a day to check and answer any questions. I usually do this first thing in the morning, again at noon, and again in the evening. Children might be skipping some things to wait on their parents for help, so an evening check in for questions can be very helpful. This keeps them from having to wait until the next day to get the answer.


3.     Make sure your directions are specific. There are many directions that we use as teachers that are in addition to whatever is in the book or on a worksheet. Making sure that you have all those additional directions in your head in the classroom for the students. Start to think about your assignments in segments or parts. Instead of one long assignment with directions, try to use 3-5 different parts so that the directions can be spread out and easier to understand.


4.     Use numbers/bold/italics often. When answering questions and writing directions, don’t be afraid to use bold/italics to emphasize something. Page numbers, chapters, action verbs, etc. are all things that are good to emphasize in your written work. This just helps the students and parents to see the critical elements of your response. Using numbers is a very easy way to clear up confusion in your assignments. Instead of a paragraph of instructions with questions you want the students to answer, number each of the questions independently so that they are easy to read and respond to.


5.     Use positive comments more than ever before. It is amazing how a “thank you for your question…” or “that is a great question…” goes a long way to creating a welcoming and positive online learning experience. Remember that the students can’t see you smile or laugh, they don’t know if you are frustrated, upset, angry, happy, or sad. So, to create the positive online environment for learning always be aware of the tone in your responses. It takes some time to get used to because we are wired to just shoot that email response off right away and be direct. While that is helpful and provides answers to questions, it doesn’t create an environment conducive to learning and it doesn’t encourage anyone to ask questions. In the online environment, it is important to encourage the questions. You can’t see them like you did in your classroom, so often times the only way you know they are struggling is when they ask a question.


I hope these tips help you feel more prepared to venture online with your students. Please know that there are many of us who teach online and are willing to help out any teachers who need it during this time. Feel free to comment on this article, share with others, and ask questions yourself. Most importantly, remember to have fun online with your students. It can be one of the greatest learning experiences of their lives.



Kimberly Underwood's picture Kimberly Underwood | April 16, 2020 1:37 pm MST

Nice work, Dr. Maggie!  I will reference this again, as a reminder, when I start my next class.

Sue Weston's picture Sue Weston | February 8, 2021 8:09 am MST

I like the simplicity - these recommendations apply to all learning situations.  I was wondering do you have any perspectives One Year Later? 

Marguerite Dominguez's picture Marguerite Dominguez | February 8, 2021 3:22 pm MST

Hi Sue ~ I can't believe it has been almost a year of COVID already. I look at these strategies and they are still the ones I use in all my classes today. :-)

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Journal of Leadership Studies-Symposium Piece-Relational Leadership: Perspectives of Key Constructs on Diversity, Inclusion, and Social Equity in Higher Education

Psychology Today
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American Psychological Association Conference-Utilizing Clinical Hypnotherapeutic Intervention with CBT to Treat Pandemic-Aug. 13-2021 Symptomology

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