How to Keep the “Human” Element in Online Teaching

Everything is almost online nowadays—shopping, working, learning, and so much more. Lately, with the COVID-19 pandemic, eLearning has gained so much popularity. And while digital technologies allow teachers to work from their homes, keeping the ‘human’ element online is a challenging yet vital part of the process.

Technology integration is either a friend or a foe. It can make the almost impossible possible, but it can also be the cause of the problem if not properly used. At some point, the digital tools for teaching online somewhat have a dehumanizing effect. 

Technology can take away how teachers connect to their students and vice versa. It also limits the students from being grouped heterogeneously in as much as cross-ability collaboration is questionable. 

With everything that is going on around, and with the crisis that the world is facing, teachers are left with no choice but to incorporate digital pedagogy into their teaching. But that doesn’t mean that they have to submit to the dehumanizing effects of technology. There will always be ways to humanize digital pedagogy. 

Here are some ways on how teachers like you can keep that ‘human’ element when teaching online:

Table of Contents

Simplify and be Flexible

Given how complicated almost everything is nowadays, requiring your learners to be fully integrated online in just a few days is very unreasonable. Expect that it will take weeks before they can fully transition into online learning. 

You can’t also expect that they will allocate a lot of time to learn as well. This calls you to simplify the transition by only asking them what is really needed. 

Simplifying things and being flexible keeps the human element by helping your students stay on track. When giving them assignments or projects, make the deadline flexible, if possible. Also, do not limit the modes to which they can reach you out. 

It is okay to require your students to be available online at a specific time sometimes. But, requiring them every day is a different story. It may just cause an additional burden to them or to the people who assist them when learning online. 

Seeing or hearing from each other on Skype or Zoom is a good thing. It is very useful during a discussion and for social connection as well. But these things should only be optional. 

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Keeping the human element when teaching online is a challenge that every online teacher faces.

Don’t Expect That Your Students Have a Reliable Internet Access 

We may be in a digital age, but do not expect that all of your students have access to a reliable internet connection and a working computer most especially nowadays. Most people are facing a crisis as companies and businesses shut down due to COVID-19. 

This means that a lot of people are cost-cutting and in most cases, paying for an internet connection or buying a computer is not on the list of their priorities. And who knows, your students might be living in an area where internet connection is slow that videos are inaccessible. 

In such cases, the best thing that you can do as a teacher to help your students is to find out the gadget that they have. Afterwhich, give them low-tech and low-bandwidth options where they can use the most basic tools in completing your class requirements. 

Don’t Expect that Your Learners will Easily Understand the Digital Tools that You Will Use

It would be unreasonable to expect that all of your students are tech-savvy. They might be the so-called ‘digital natives’, but not every one of them has mastered everything technology has to offer. 

Do not expect that your learners will automatically know how to use the digital tools that you will utilize. This is especially true when your learners are the younger ones. 

Helping your learners adapt and learn effectively is a must regardless of their age. This is possible by giving them the time and resources they need to have a good grip on the digital tools and the lessons. 

Give them tutorials they can easily access even when their internet connection is unstable. Be patient with them and answer their questions as soon as you can. In as much as possible, be available whenever they need you. 

Build an Online Community 

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Video conferencing with your learners is an effective way to make online teaching more human.

Moving online takes a lot of work, but it will be beneficial if you create a space where your students can connect and collaborate. In a way, you are giving them the opportunity to do peer-to-peer learning. This also serves as a ‘socialization’ for them and they get to know more about each other. 

Creating an online community is not as complicated as it sounds. This can be done by simply dedicating an online discussion forum where you or your students can post and answer questions. This could also be an avenue where students can exchange contact information such as email addresses, Facebook, Twitter, and others. 

Social media platforms are very powerful in building connections. But that does not necessarily mean you need to have every single social media platform your students are using. That is because students use social media primarily to connect and share information with one another and not attend online classes. 

It would be a little restricting and uncomfortable on their end if you break into their space. Simply knowing where they are and letting other students know it is already a good start when building an online community for your class. 

Keep the Big Picture in Mind

A good teacher responds to the needs of the learners by relating the lesson to the current situation. As an online teacher, you should acknowledge what is happening right now and accept that this is a difficult time. 

To ease the tension and keep things lighter for you and your learners, try sharing positive stories only. If not, giving them the information that they need in times like this would be helpful. It would be even better if you give them information about where they can get mental and overall health support, financial assistance, and the like. 

It is expected that the screen time of everyone will increase in times like now. So, it is somewhat your responsibility as a teacher to balance your students’ screentime by not requiring to be online all the time. Remember, being in front of the screen is not good for anyone’s overall health. 

Be Present

It takes a lot of work in order to create a student-centered online class. You might spend a significant amount of time on this. Besides, you may not be able to reach your goal with the constraints that online education is facing. 

But being present whenever they need you is somewhat more feasible. Instead of giving them notes, why not make short video clips instead? You can use this when giving instruction or feedback. This way, your students will not feel that their teacher is a computer which makes the class more human. 

Using videos makes your students more connected to you which results in more learning. This gives a more personal interaction most especially when the videos that you make are made individually for each of them. 

When making your course syllabus, make it more humanized by shooting a welcome video using digital tools such as Dropbox and Cloudflare. Creating videos will also help you show how passionate and eager you are to share what you know to them. 

Show Empathy

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Showing empathy when teaching online helps your students be more comfortable.

It is harder to ask for your students to open up or share when teaching online. But in case they do so, make sure that you understand their feelings, you do not judge them, you communicate how you understood the situation, and you see the situation through their eyes. These are the four things that you should always keep in mind in order to be emphatic. 

It is not impossible to show empathy even when you are not physically in front of your students. Yes, it is hard but certainly not impossible. 

Being one with your students with everything that they are going through is more preferable. This will help you relate more to them. And, through this, you are able to address them in a gentler and lighter way. 

You can also show empathy in your online classes by being not that strict and giving them considerations. Anticipate that some of your students will not be able to meet your demands. Such actions are not good and should be reprimanded but make sure that when you reprimand them, you are not being too hard on them. Also, never ever reprimand them in front of everyone. Do it as private as you can so that you won’t embarrass them. 

Be Aware

The first few days or weeks of transition is not easy for your students. The same applies to you. Online education can become exhausting to them. It can even overwhelm them. Therefore, being aware of who your students are will help you know how to approach them in your online classes. 

You can do this by asking them to fill in an online form using Google Forms. In the form, you can ask them the most basic questions about themselves to the most complicated ones. Just make sure that you draw a fine line between what you should and should not know. 

You can also ask them about their needs or by asking them what they feel about online learning. This way, you can identify which student needs more help or attention. This also allows you to focus your time and attention to these students. 

Simply letting them know that you support them will already help them feel better. If you are not aware of who you are and what they need, then supporting or helping them would be impossible. 

Use Journaling Instead of an Industrialized Curriculum

Using readily available resources and tools online might be the best option when you’re in a rush. Yes, these web-based tools might make things lighter for you. They make online teaching more manageable, but that does not mean that your lesson should start and end in there. 

Using technology with the current situation is inevitable, but as a teacher, you can use this opportunity to assign your learners’ complex instructions, journaling with or without pictures, open-ended tasks, and so much more. 

Journalling is an excellent way to bring out the innate skills your students haven’t manifested yet. It could be their way to unleash what they really want. Who knows? One of them might be into creative writing but hasn’t discovered it yet until you assigned them to such tasks. 

Keep in mind that when assigning activities like these, you should have a rubric at hand. This will help you give your students structured feedback which can hone their skills more. And once your students have finished, you can ask them to share it with one another, which imitates a physical classroom discussion. 

Create an Interactive Class

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Meeting all of your students every once in a while is a must in order to make online teaching more human.

It is expected that not all your students have a stable internet connection or so. But it is ideal to at least connect with them every once in a while. Better yet, meet all of them at a certain time which suits all of you.

This is because having this so-called social interaction in your class is very important. Besides, it is known as one of the critical components of complex instruction. This makes dialogue and discourses a must in online classes, most especially in times of isolation from the world. 

You can make use of the readily available video or audio apps to have a live meeting in your class. This will make your class more ‘normal’ and natural. It also maintains the pillars of a good classroom discussion—dialogue and discourse. 

But connecting to them is not enough. You must build a deep-rooted connection between and among you in order for true learning to occur. This is only possible through conversation and having a strong human connection. 

In order to keep online classes more human, you should use these readily available materials as a tool only. You should not let them take over your class. 

Give them the Chance to Reflect

In the midst of this pandemic comes a time for reflection. Parents, educators, and students alike should reflect on what learning is really all about. This time is a reminder that education is more of the process than the product. 

This means that giving your learners piled up activities is not a guarantee that they will learn. Much more than those activities should be life-long learning. The lessons that you should give whether you are teaching online or not should teach them a skill that they can use whenever and wherever they are. 

Life-long learning comes with a lot of reflections. It is not necessary that you have your students directly reflect, but you can embed it into your lessons instead. 

For example, you can give them open ended-questions before they watch a short video clip that is related to your lesson. They should be able to find the answers to these open-ended questions after watching. Such open-ended questions could be the following:

  • What is the best thing that you have realized in the video?
  • How will you apply it in real life?
  • If you are in the situation, what will you do?
  • Has the video/ lesson changed your thinking? If yes, how?
  • If given the chance, will you do things differently? Why or why not?

Asking these questions will give your students the idea that what they will learn today has something to do with what they will learn in the future. This will help them relate classroom learning to real-life learning. 

In addition, this will make them reflect that applying what they have learned today into their future lessons is a must. 

Highlight Students’ Individual Experiences

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Learning from the different experiences that your learners have makes online teaching meaningful.

Online classrooms and physical classrooms are alike but not exactly the same. In an online classroom, your learners are not just in one place. They are in different places, living different lives. 

As a teacher, you should encourage them to share their different experiences, which can spark a rich online discussion. This will make a way for your learners and for you as well to know more about the background of each one of them. 

Furthermore, this will help you understand your learners more. You will have an understanding of where they are coming from or you could get an explanation about why they are acting up that way. Your learners will also be able to keep the vibe with their fellow learners, too.

But you should always know your boundaries. Do not cross the line. You should consider and respect the privacy of your students. When asking questions, do it in the nicest possible way. Remember, your students are sensitive, more so with the information about them or the experiences that they have. 

Know when to ask and when not to ask. If you think your students’ are comfortable and are ready to share, then do so. But if they are agitated or hesitant if they should share their experiences or not, then respect them. Do not force them to share what they are not ready to open up. You might just end up scaring them or giving them the wrong impression. 

Maximize Engagement with Non-Task Interaction

Non-task interaction refers to activities that are not exactly part of direct learning. This type of interaction builds a supportive learning community in an online classroom. They can be facilitated through different social media networks where learners can create study groups or special interest groups. 

On an important note, using these social media networks as an interaction tool requires a lot of planning and on-going maintenance. These social media sites can be a haven of different non-academic activities; thus, teaching your learners to be responsible for their actions is a must. 

You are also not guaranteed that they will use it for learning only. So, the best thing to do is to keep them busy by frequently updating your content and asking them to contribute to the content as well. Updating your content could be done on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis but the most ideal option is daily. 

Use these social media networks as a tool where you can assign activities. They can also be used as a means for your learners to discuss and contribute to the lesson. 


Technological advances are so fast. These advancements came off so fast like how COVID-19 has spread. In times like this, when everything is almost closed and physical human interaction seems impossible, keeping the human element through the different digital technologies is a must. 

As an online educator (as of the moment), giving your best to at least make your students feel that everything is going to be okay and that they can rely upon someone in the form of you is very helpful. This will give them the hope that everyone needs in this seemingly hopeless case. 

Related Questions

Why is it important to keep the human element when teaching online?

It is very important that you keep the human element when teaching online in order to be a more effective teacher. This will also help your students be more comfortable and focused. Keeping the human element when teaching will make you not appear like a robot to your learners. 

It will make them feel that they are not interacting with a robot but with a real person who shares the same feelings and sentiment with them. This will also help you establish a stronger connection to them and in return, they will learn more. 

What does “meaningful learning” mean?

Meaningful learning means that your students did not just simply learn the lesson, but they have applied it to a real-life situation. It means that your students have successfully achieved the skill that is underneath the lesson. 

In order for a lesson to be meaningful, your students should manifest the skills and the attitude that you aim to achieve with every lesson that you are teaching them. Their learning should not stop once they go out of the classroom. Instead, their learning continues and expounds even after your classes. 

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