Years ago, as a new classroom instructor, I used to wonder why some of my colleagues used brainstorming techniques in the classroom. After all, as the instructor, I knew the content I wanted to see brought forward, and the students were there to learn from me, right? So why would I ask the students to brainstorm? Why shouldn’t I just list the important items on the whiteboard or on a bulleted slide and be done?
The answer, of course, is engagement. Presenting participants with data is not the same as teaching. By asking participants to come up with ideas, answers, or examples, you encourage them to engage with the content. And engagement is a precursor of learning.
So, marker in hand, you stand before the classroom and start writing things down as the class participants call them out. No judging. You write all ideas down. You maybe even learn new ideas you hadn’t thought about before, by listening to your students. Adult learning, after all, is not a one-way street. Often, your learners are themselves experienced professionals, and they make important contributions to your course content.
What do you do if the student brainstorm does not produce some of the ideas or examples you think are important? Ask follow-up questions. What about this? What about that? These follow-ups help guide the participants to the additional items you think are important. Soon, the class has created a better list than your slide alone could have contained, and participants are focused and thinking about the content instead of struggling to absorb static data.
Now transfer this concept to online teaching. Many online platforms have a built-in “whiteboard”—a shared screen that you can draw on or type on. If your online platform does not have a whiteboard, you can open a word processor instead (such as Microsoft Word or, even simpler, Notepad for Windows users; TextEdit for Mac users). Although you cannot just allow people to shout out ideas as you would in a face-to-face class, you can ask your participants to type their ideas into a chat window. Then you can transfer the items to the shared whiteboard or word processor screen. On some platforms, you can even allow the participants themselves to type or draw on the shared whiteboard.
Just as with an in-person class, you can guide the discussion by asking follow-up questions, and at the end, you have a more complete list than you could have presented on a slide. And, bonus! Some platforms allow you to save the finished whiteboard list and email it to your participants.
Learning to be an effective instructor is not easy, and knowing how to transfer classroom techniques, such as brainstorming, to the online space is not a given. You can improve your online teaching, and get a formal certification credential, at ICCOTP. Check the website for upcoming sessions of the online training certification program.
Jennie Ruby, COTP, has more than 20 years of experience in training delivery, and is much loved for her enthusiasm and energy in the classroom setting, whether online or in person. She is a published author and co-author of numerous training books, including Essentials of Adobe Presenter, Editing with Microsoft Word, and Writing for Curriculum Development.