Estimate the time required for tasks - Provide learners with the approximate time required to complete lessons and assignments. This allows them to plan out their time and also gives them an idea of how much effort you want them to put into a task.


Encourage learners to use self-directed study techniques - Staying on task when you’re learning from a distance by yourself can be difficult. Recommend study techniques that help learners break-down their work and stay on track. The Pomodoro Technique is a popular method that gets learners to focus on their work for 25-minute chunks.


Use forums to connect students - To combat the feelings of isolation that may come with self-directed learning, set up forums for your learners. Have a forum for them to ask course-related questions and another where you post a weekly question that helps them get to know each other.


Elect class representatives - Learners will often be more open with their peers than their tutors. Having a class representative gives learners someone who they can go to if they have questions or concerns, and provides you with a channel for gaining constructive feedback.


Provide reliable and responsive support channels - This could be a forum, a Facebook group, or a set ‘office hour’ when learners can drop in to see you in a video-conference meeting room. Once established, ensure you are available for these long-term regardless of the amount of students that show up, as you never know when someone might pop in.


Use stories and real-world examples - Backing up theoretical content with real-life, practical examples that your learners can relate to is important as it helps your learners connect course content to the real-world, enhancing their motivation and understandings. This is especially important for learners at home by themselves, as it can be hard to picture what learning / work outside of their familiar home-environment could be like.


Keep pre-recorded video materials short (30mins or less) or create mini-lessons (5-15min).


Record demonstrations of practical tasks and assignments and upload these for your learners to watch.


Include activities within pre-recorded materials that require learners to pause the video and complete a task. For example, after demonstrating, prompt them to practice on their own, giving clear instructions and then welcome them back. This will make them more likely to create the task as well as make them feel as though they’re part of a real-time class and have a connection with you.


Use variety - Use a range of activities in your pre-recordings to keep your learners interested. For example:

  • Switch pre-work readings up with a podcast or documentary
  • Use quizzes after learning modules to further enhance engagement and track your learners’ progress.


Encourage learners to submit assessments in a video, poster, or presentation format to help them be creative with the way they present their work.

Self-directed learning is good for those with multiple commitments (like work and family) and for those hungry to learn.


Additional resources

In this academic article, Student Expectations of Peers in Academic Asynchronous Online Discussions, find out how to encourage and understand what students want from each other with these three simple behaviours: active participation, direct address, and brevity.