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Get (and Give) More From Remote Training
Most of the content in this article is based on Alex Meaney’s contribution to the HVAC School podcast in the October 2nd, 2020 episode: “How to Get The Most From Online Education,” which you can listen to HERE.
Attending a class from your bedroom or home office sounds very convenient, right? That was probably what many Americans would have thought several months ago. Now, many of us shudder at the thought of learning remotely. With distractions and technical difficulties galore, many students and trainees have struggled with online education. Maybe you are one of those people, but fear not! Rock Star HVAC design educator Alex Meaney addresses the challenges of online education and offers advice for struggling students and educators alike. He has provided some crucial tips for overcoming the obstacles of distance learning and getting the most from your online education.
Take advantage of early reading
It’s a good idea for educators to provide educational materials before an online training session or class. If students or trainees have access to readings and videos ahead of time, they may enter the class or training session with a basic understanding of the concepts. Educators, it’s on you to set your students up for success.
Students, I’m afraid you aren’t out of the woods yet. It helps to go into a class feeling prepared. You may want to familiarize yourself with heat gain/loss equations before entering a psychrometrics class. That way, you will be ahead of the curve and won’t have to waste valuable time memorizing formulas.
Meaney also stresses the importance of learning vocabulary before attending a class. It helps to feel like you “speak the language” of the topic before attempting to grasp challenging new material. For example, you don’t want to look like you’ve seen a ghost when the educator says a word like enthalpy.
Look for opportunities to tutor difficult subjects
Meaney also gives a seemingly counterintuitive piece of advice for students: seek opportunities to tutor confusing subjects. Tutoring increases a student’s investment in the subject by making them accountable for their classmates’ successes.
Some of you may enjoy the added pressure, and some may not. Regardless, you will obtain a more in-depth understanding of the material if you teach it to others. It also feels great to help a friend grasp a tricky topic. Who doesn’t want to feel like a good person and benefit from the experience?
Take a class with a friend
Taking a class with a friend is also a good strategy for getting the most from remote education. Studying with a buddy is useful for filling the gaps in learning. One person may better understand a topic than the other and vice versa.
Manhattan Institute lists a few other benefits of friendship in education. Even in the virtual classroom, friends provide comfort and security. You may feel more comfortable asking questions or requesting clarification if you aren’t afraid of being judged by your classmates.
Friendship is also a source of support in the learning environment, even in nontraditional, remote settings. Students reinforce their learning when they tell their friends what they found exciting or challenging about a class.
Educators: show your faces
Educators can create a more engaging environment for their students by adding a video of themselves explaining the content in videos or PowerPoint slides. Although these learning formats do not compare to lectures in real-time, it’s nice to see a human face among diagrams and charts.
Work in a clean, distraction-free zone
This is a big one. Maintaining an organized workspace is a must for students and educators. For most people, this means limiting distractions and maintaining the cleanliness of the workspace.
Putting away cell phones is a good start. Putting the cell phone away minimizes the temptation to look at text messages or social media during class. The last several times I checked, #HVAC wasn’t trending on Twitter anyway.
It also helps to remove irrelevant documents and materials from the workspace. Paying bills is essential, but nobody wants to think about that while they’re trying to learn a new skill. Even if you just need to shove them on the floor for a bit, it’s better than keeping them in front of you.
Closing background programs and internet tabs on the computer eliminates clutter on the screen. We know you enjoy listening to HVAC podcasts and checking out family photos on Facebook, but class time is not the time for that. The web pages will still exist when the lesson is over.
Meaney also recommends taking notes with a writing utensil, not on a phone or tablet. Involving the hands in the learning process is an excellent way to engage the body while taking in new information, especially for those fidgety hands-on learners. (If writing is not required, try squeezing a stress ball while you learn!)
Ensure a stable internet connection
Anyone who shares an internet connection with other people may consider minding their bandwidth usage. This means ensuring that other people in the home or office don’t stream videos or play video games online.
Many people love watching The Mandalorian and playing Grand Theft Auto V online, but heavy bandwidth usage strains internet connection. A spotty internet connection can result in long download times, buffering, and disconnection from online lectures.
It would be best to let roommates and family members know when it’s class time. That way, they can do their part to respect and support your remote learning process. Netflix, Disney+, and the PlayStation Network can wait.
Set aside additional time to ask questions
Even with scheduled classes, students can benefit from managing their time. Students could consider reserving some time after a lesson to ask questions or do some independent learning. (For example, a student could set aside 2 ½ hours of their day for a 2-hour class.) If you don’t end up using the additional time, then it becomes free time. You can study some more, walk the dog, or take a nap. It’s your time. It is better to set aside more time than necessary than to plan poorly and need more time.
Consider using the extra time to take advantage of the instructor’s availability. Ask questions! They love helping students understand their lectures. After all, they would not have chosen to teach if they did not enjoy helping others. There are plenty of jobs that pay better.
Don’t be tempted to skip material
It may be tempting to skip through sections of pre-recorded videos or speed up the playback, but it’s best to refrain from zipping through the first playthrough. Yes, the educator may talk slowly. Yes, you may already know what they’re talking about. That could change within seconds, and you don’t want to miss out on new information you’ll need later.
It’s okay to jump around and bypass some sections on subsequent playthroughs. You may choose to skip around the learning materials to focus on specific topics. Still, it would help to understand the terms and general subject before turning your attention to individual parts.
Take care of yourself
Not many people think about comfort in the learning environment, but it can significantly help the learning process. Exercising self-care is vital for getting the most from remote education. Hunger and thirst can ruin your mood and make it more difficult to concentrate.
Bring a glass of water to class and have some snacks within reach. After all, eating or drinking during an online lecture is not as disruptive as eating in a classroom or auditorium.
Be aware of your microphone and webcam status
Students and educators can benefit everyone in the class by being mindful of their video and audio settings.
Webcams are great because they can add a social component to distance learning. However, they can also disturb other students. Please wear appropriate clothing and monitor the activities of pets or other background distractions. Yes, everybody would love to see Fido and tell him he’s a good boy. No, he is not helping anybody learn about Manual J.
Students should ensure that they remain muted unless they have permission to speak. Even though we are strong proponents of staying comfortable in class, nobody wants to hear you crunch Doritos. Everyone’s online learning experience will improve if everyone makes an effort to be considerate and use technology appropriately.
Have faith that you will learn
The best thing students and educators can do to get the most from remote education is to remind themselves that we are all capable of learning. Distance learning is difficult for many people, and anyone who struggles with it is not alone.
Getting the most from remote education primarily entails limiting distractions and temptations. Students can succeed with a healthy amount of educator guidance, discipline, and self-compassion.
The industry leaders are seeing positive trends and have faith in you, too. Dominick Guarino, the chairman and CEO at National Comfort Institute, acknowledges that the HVAC industry is a little behind in online education. However, he and other industry leaders are optimistic about the progress contractors have made in distance learning over the past year.
We sure covered a lot, haven't we? Let's sum it all up:
Educators can do the following things to maximize the effectiveness of their online classes:
- Provide preliminary readings or vocabulary lists
- Attach their face to the content to boost engagement
- Make themselves available to answer questions
- Be honest with what they do and do not know; follow up with students who ask difficult questions
Students can do the following things to get the most from their remote education:
- Study materials and learn vocabulary ahead of time
- Take a class with a friend
- Seek opportunities to tutor difficult subjects
- Set aside more time than the class itself
- Ask questions!
- Stay disciplined and committed to learning
Educators and students can benefit from:
- Keeping a clean work environment
- Minding bandwidth usage within their homes
- Being aware of their microphone and camera usage
Remote education is efficient and cost-effective, but it presents a unique set of challenges for educators and students.
To succeed in an online curriculum, students must hold themselves responsible for their learning. Taking responsibility includes limiting distractions within the workspace: putting away cell phones, closing unnecessary applications and tabs, and removing workspace clutter.
Students should also challenge themselves and take advantage of opportunities to maximize their learning potential. These opportunities include tutoring other students, learning with a friend, asking questions, and setting aside additional time to learn the material.
Students will learn to prepare themselves for class, manage their time, and take care of themselves in a challenging, unfamiliar educational environment.
Educators can improve their students’ learning process by providing videos of themselves explaining the content, providing preliminary reading materials, and following up with students who ask complicated questions.
The biggest thing is to prepare and be intentional as we learn how to learn in this brave new world we find ourselves in.