february 1


connecting with the instructor

Why are you uniquely positioned to deliver the curriculum of your online course to your learner?  

THE INSTRUCTOR is the 4th of the 5 Pillars of Content and the other main character in your course narrative. The role of the instructor in engaging the learner can not be understated.  The instructor offers the most direct connection between the learner and the course content. The instructor isn’t only the content expert but also an aspirational figure, a person who has accomplished the learner outcomes of the course and is social proof of the course promise. Let me give you an example from the Google IT Support Professional Certificate that we produced for Grow with Google on Coursera back in 2018.

Each course of the certificate is taught by an actual Googler who got their start in IT Support even though many of them didn’t actually create the course content. We worked closely with the on air instructors during the scripting stage to include their personal stories. They shared everything from how they first became interested in technology, their career trajectories, successes and failures along the way, and how they use the curriculum in their day-to-day as IT professionals. As is evident from the comments on Coursera, the learners saw the instructors as both friends and mentors on their learning journey.

I reached out to Alisa Acosta, the Director of Research and Education at the Blockchain Research Institute to ask her about her experience as an online course instructor. Alisa was one of three instructors in the Coursera Specialization Web3 and Blockchain in Global Commerce

Why did you decide to be the on-air instructor in your course (as opposed to hiring an actor)?

Alisa: I’ve been an educator for over fifteen years, and while most of my previous teaching experiences have been in face-to-face contexts the decision to step into the role of online instructor stemmed from a combination of professional curiosity and a desire to embrace the challenges of online instruction. Since I was also the designer of the course, I found that taking on the role of instructor allowed me to integrate my in-depth understanding of the course content with the delivery method. I also had experience observing the filming sessions for previous courses, which enhanced my comfort level during the filming process and gave me confidence in the professionalism and expertise that the Edios team brings to their projects. All of these things reinforced my decision to take on the role of on-air instructor.

What level of personal anecdotes or experience with the subject matter did you include in the scripts? 

Alisa: Our scripts were crafted in a conversational tone, but personal anecdotes were actually fairly limited. While sharing such stories can humanize the learning experience, deciding which stories are appropriate to share becomes more challenging in an online context compared to a face-to-face context. Our analytics dashboard opened our eyes to the fact that learners were joining our courses from all walks of life and all corners of the globe. Personal anecdotes, while meaningful to some learners, may inadvertently assume a certain level of privilege or create feelings of exclusion for others due to cultural or geographic references. 

Instead, to enrich the learning experience our scriptwriting team showcased a broad range of experiences from various organizations and business leaders, going beyond the experiences of the course instructors alone. As well, our team deliberately crafted the scripts to recognize and celebrate the rich diversity of our learners, creating a space where everyone could feel a connection to the content—a sense of seeing themselves in the learning journey. Here’s a snippet from a script that embodies this idea:

“Maybe you’re an entrepreneur looking for different ways to grow your business in the global economy. Or you’re from a farming community looking for ways to tap into global food markets. Or you’re a medical professional and you worry about the quality of drugs available to your patients. Maybe you’re a conscientious consumer, and you want to buy ethically sourced products. Or you’re a travel agent looking to keep track of bookings or set up digital passports for easier border crossings. Or you’re a citizen, fed up with the lack of transparency and accountability of government leaders. We’re all looking for ways to build trust and get at the truth. Whatever your role in life, you’ve come to the right place to learn and get fresh ideas.”

What is some of the feedback you’ve received from learners about you as the instructor?

Alisa: The feedback that my co-instructors and I have received has been very positive and encouraging. Some learners have taken the initiative to share their experiences through the “Learner Stories” feature on Coursera. These stories serve as poignant testimonials, reflecting not only on the effectiveness of our instruction, but also on the overall value and impact of the course design. It’s particularly gratifying to read about the real-world applications of the course content and how it has made a positive impact on their professional or personal lives.

I also get super excited when I get tagged on LinkedIn posts in which learners share their course certificates, experiences in the course, and/or express their gratitude to the instructional team. It suggests that they see real value in the skills and insights gained from the course and they’re eager to showcase this to their professional network. This is a gratifying and dynamic aspect of the teaching experience that extends beyond the traditional boundaries of the virtual classroom.

Looking back at your course, is there anything you would’ve changed about your performance or the content you shared as instructor?

Alisa: Absolutely. It wasn’t until I reviewed my footage during post-production that I realized how serious my facial expressions were! In part, this speaks to the unique challenges of teaching to a camera compared to a face-to-face setting. Whereas in a traditional classroom I would rely on visual cues from students to gauge their engagement and adjust my delivery accordingly, in the absence of this real-time visual feedback it definitely felt more like talking into a void than engaging in a dynamic conversation! While scripting does have its benefits—like enhancing the clarity, structure, and timing of the course content—in my case I felt it led to a more rigid presentation style than I would have preferred. Going forward, I would aim to strike more of a balance between preparedness and spontaneity. I recognize the value of incorporating elements that make the learning experience not only informative but also enjoyable. This might involve incorporating more humor, adjusting my facial expressions to convey a friendlier tone, and allowing for a more dynamic and natural delivery.

Do you have a memorable instructor from your past?  If so, why were they so memorable, influential? 

Alisa: I’ve been fortunate to have had many great instructors from my past, however one of the most influential was Dr. Jim Slotta—a professor at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at the University of Toronto. Jim was also my PhD supervisor. One of the most remarkable things about Jim is his ability to establish real knowledge communities—groups of people that come together, whether as part of a course or a research group, to build knowledge, exchange ideas, and solve problems collectively.  For example, he established the Educational Network and Community for Open Resource Exchange (ENCORE) back in 2006—originally as a community for open source development and exchange in the learning sciences, but which has since evolved to other domains (e.g. critical action on pressing global problems, such as climate change, pandemics, and social justice). Many, like myself, joined the ENCORE community as grad students but have remained active and connected with this community long after graduating. (I graduated over five years ago and just last week was sharing ideas and resources with an ENCORE member around blockchain and assessment). It’s a rare thing to create such a sustained sense of belonging within a community long after a learning/research experience has ended. I haven’t encountered this elsewhere. This is 100% Jim.

A great instructor has the power to change lives.  For me, it was my 11th grade literature teacher, Mrs. Marcus.  She taught me to understand literature in the context of both history and global movements of thought and art.  She challenged my point of view and in doing so, opened me up to the world.  Think about this awesome responsibility when you are developing your next online course, and take the time to include THE INSTRUCTOR as a key piece of your course narrative. 

Coming up next: The Lessons – How your learner will achieve the course promise


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