Embracing Change Without Breaking Stride: Seven Strategies to be an Adaptive Instructor

Woman jumps over break between cliffs and makes it to the other side

The pandemic took us all by surprise, and it completely turned our education world upside down. Without many options, instructors had to make extreme adaptations to their instruction to continue learning online.

Now that we have all had a moment to wrap our heads around the changes that have taken place, it is crucial that we, as online instructors, have a go-getter attitude when it comes to the new norm of online teaching. Without this mindset shift, you might get left in the dust. 

Here are seven strategies to ensure that you embrace the future of online instruction and demonstrate your willingness to learn and adapt in these times of significant change. You do not have to be a tech-pro to implement these easy strategies to meet the needs of today’s online learners.

1. Diversify your content and delivery

There is an amazing and endless world of online academic content available to you and your students. If you are not tapping into these resources, then it is time to rethink how and what you are teaching your students. Just posting your Powerpoint slides and nothing else is not going to cut it for your online students. Your students need variety, creative engagement, and up-to-date materials. 

Instructor-created videos are a unique way of engaging with your online students and boosting your online teaching presence. Plus, you are the expert and your students ultimately want to learn from you! Here are a few more recommendations on how to diversify your content

Mapping out your course is a helpful way to see what content you are using and areas you might need to develop further. Check out this free downloadable Course Map Planning Workbook to help you plan out your course. 

2. Use templates for course materials

Consistency. Clean and easy to read. Accessible. Timesaving. The list goes on and on as to why using templates is a great idea in your online course.

When students come to your in-person class, they know what to expect from you. Give your students the same consistency in your online course. To do this, develop a structure and format for your module overviews, learning materials, learning activities, and assessments. Then use this same format for each module or unit within your course. Your students will be impressed with the consistency and readability of your course. Save this structure as a template file to be used repeatedly, saving you tons of time when it comes to creating content. 

Not sure how to make a template in your institution’s learning management system (LMS)? No problem. You can create your own templates using proper headings in a word processor and saving as a PDF. Or reach out to your institutions’ Instructional Designers or LMS managers to learn more about templates available in the LMS you are using. 

3. Seek professional development

There is no question you are an expert in your field of study, but when was the last time you had the opportunity to learn about best practices in course design, instructional strategies, or online teaching techniques? 

I encourage you to seek professional learning opportunities that provide you with a rich toolbox of online teaching resources, technologies, and knowledge. These can be learning opportunities your institution is hosting, conferences, or even online professional development courses. 

The beauty of participating in an online professional development course is that it can often be completed at your pace and convenience. It also gives you an idea of what it is like to be an online learner!

4. Follow influencers and stay relevant

You are already establishing this a habit by visiting Faculty Focus often to read, learn, and find helpful tips and tricks when it comes to navigating the instructional world. This is great! It is important to find a few reliable resources to help you keep a pulse on what is happening in the online education world. 

By following industry leaders, such as Faculty Focus, you are staying current, expanding your knowledge, and enhancing your skills as an online instructor. Be sure as you come across great articles, helpful tips, and useful resources to save them to reference later. A Pinterest board is an easy way to do this. Check out and follow my Digital Learning Academy Pinterest Boards for inspiration. 

5. Be willing to learn from your students

Want to know what is genuinely working well and what isn’t in your online course? Ask your students.  Create anonymous surveys asking for feedback on specific elements of your online course. Take that feedback and use it to adjust and go again. 

You do not even have to wait for the end of the semester. You can send out short surveys throughout the semester if you are unsure if something is working well for your students. While surveying your students, construct survey prompts that ask for positive feedback about what elements of your course are working well. Try not to let this turn into a negative option dump station for your students. 

6. Share your skills

One quality of a standout online instructor is one who is willing to share what is working well in their online courses. If you are comfortable with sharing your online teaching golden-nuggets, please do! Look for opportunities to share your knowledge; this could be 15 minutes at the next department meeting, a virtual workshop, joining or creating a new committee, or a coffee break with some colleagues. 

If the suggestions above are a bit too much, but you know you still have great things to share, think about creating a shareable document or a Wiki (a collaborative web page/space, MS Teams has a Wiki tool). You can share all your great tips and tricks for online teaching with other instructors and even get their input as well. This can then develop into a very helpful resource for anyone teaching online. 

7. Find your community and engage

The beauty of online teaching and learning is that distance and time truly are not a problem. There have been so many great online communities created due to recent events, and these communities have so much to offer. If you are on social media, I encourage you to search for and join academic groups that match your interests. Two groups I enjoy following are Pandemic Pedagogy and Instructional Designers in Education. 

There are some great conversations within these communities, amazing resources being shared, and new friends and networking being fostered. If you can’t find a community that speaks to you, think about creating your own! Starting an institutional community group is a great place to start.

Jessica Evans is an instructional designer for Colorado Mesa University and creator of Digital Learning Academy. She strives to provide support, encouragement, and useful real-world advice to online instructors. Evans has a background in course design, ePortfolio assessments, faculty support, continuing education, elementary education, and special education.