Online Meeting Formats That Aren’t 1:1 Lessons
“I teach English online.”
When you said this in 2013, which was the year I first started learning and teaching online, what most people imagined was a teacher talking to a student over Skype.
At that time, it was a pretty accurate picture. Teaching online was the equivalent of live video meetings – especially when it came to teaching languages.
Sadly, for many people, the way they imagine online teaching hasn’t changed a lot since then, although the online world looks very different from the way it looked 2 years, let alone 8 years, ago. And so does the online teaching industry.
As someone who has spent almost 8 years observing the online teaching world from all angles — as a student, a teacher/coach, and someone who has seen the insides of tens of online teaching business (I co-run a community for online language teachers and help online teachers and coaches with marketing, branding, and design) — I thought it would be interesting to write a series of posts about the state of online teaching in 2021 and all the different forms online teaching takes now.
Because nowadays, teaching online can mean so many more things than giving Skype/Zoom lessons. In fact, many online teachers, including language teachers, run their businesses without ever meeting their clients face to face.
But because online meetings still are, and will probably always be, the most common way to work with clients online, I’d like to start the series with this topic and show that an online meeting doesn’t have to mean only two or more people talking to each other via video chat.
What most people imagine…
And what an online teacher’s client meeting can ALSO look like:
Online meeting trends: It’s time to stop teaching online like it’s 2013
Nowadays, thanks to technological innovation (especially smartphones), the growing role of social media, and other factors — such as the global pandemics and the “new normal” — the online teaching industry has matured a lot in the recent years and months.
And as online teachers are getting more and more tech- and business-savvy, they no longer buy into the shortsightedness of “making money online giving ESL (or whatever) lessons” advertised by big online teaching marketplaces and are building independent businesses instead.
So before I get into all the different ways you can meet your students online, I’d like to talk about the main trends when it comes to online meetings in the context of the online teaching industry as such, especially in comparison to how things used to work a few years ago.
Here is what has changed:
1. The meeting isn’t the end product
Unlike several years ago, when teachers would simply sell “1 lesson for $20, 5 lessons for $90” and during the lessons work on whatever the student needed, for as long as the student was interested, meetings are rarely the end product now.
Teachers no longer sell their time; they sell the experience and the result. So online meetings, no matter what format they take, tend to be a part of a larger experience — a teaching package*, online course, program, community, and similar.
*A teaching package has a set number of lessons, a defined learning outcome, and learning resources that support student autonomy and accountability (session recordings, workbooks, homework, and more).
Teachers no longer sell their time; they sell the experience and the result.
2. Scalability is a thing now
It’s clear that there is only one of you and your time and energy are limited. So when you build your whole business around working with clients one on one, which is what most teachers used to do, your revenue is limited, too. In other words, your business isn’t scalable.
Even when things go well, sooner or later, you hit the ceiling: You aren’t able to take more clients, and each time you — or your client — take time off, you lose money.
I fell into that trap myself when I taught English online. And that was years ago. Nowadays, “thanks” to the health crisis and the unpredictability of our lives, teachers need to be smarter than that.
Thankfully, nowadays, from what I have seen, teachers are smarter than that:
- “Tailoring the lessons to student’s needs” is no longer the main selling point. Your whole business should be designed for a specific group of people with specific learning needs (that’s your teaching niche) so you don’t have to reinvent the wheel (i.e. lesson plans, learning materials, etc.) for each new student and can always deliver exceptional service and results without running yourself into the ground.
- Teachers come up with creative ways to experiment with meeting formats, length, and frequency to take their time back. Online meetings aren’t school lessons; they can last a few minutes or several days (more on that below), and they don’t have to happen every working day, either.
- Teachers are also giving themselves permission to rethink their role and let the student do most of the work (see the next point about autonomy).
In summary, teachers who are serious about their business and are there for the long run always think about how to take advantage of technology to work more efficiently so they have time not just for preparing lessons, but also marketing, growing their business, creating other income streams, and taking time off. Because, as I said above, life is unpredictable, and your most precious resources — your time and energy — are limited.
3. Student autonomy is a big deal
But the business owner’s interests, like business scalability or saving your time and energy, aren’t the only reasons for rethinking the way we run online meetings. The thing is, giving the client more space and time to work on their own is good for them, too.
Turns out, when you replace hand-holding with holding space for the client, you help them grow faster: Students who are given just enough time with their teacher or coach and just enough learning resources are more likely to take ownership of their progress and less likely to get overwhelmed and quit (see the Dig deeper section at the end of this article if you want to learn more).
That’s why more and more teachers are experimenting with different ways of enabling the students to work on their own and, when possible, with each other, both during and in between their meetings.
To show you specific examples, below is a list of different online meeting formats. It’s not the ultimate list, just things that I have experienced as a student, a teacher, and someone who has been helping online teachers run their businesses for the last few years.
I hope that you’ll find some inspiration for your own client meetings there, too.
Turns out, when you replace hand-holding with holding space for the client, you help them grow faster.
Online meeting formats that are and aren’t 1:1 lessons
Synchronous online meetings
Let’s start with the most familiar format. During a synchronous meeting, both the teacher and the student(s) are in front of their computers at the same time.
1. One on one meeting
This is the most common way to run an online lesson or coaching session: The teacher meets with the client one on one in real time, usually via video chat such as Zoom or Skype. Alternatively, they can only use audio or even text-based chat.
The default way used to be meeting with your client for an hour so once or twice a week. Now that teachers are offering much more than one on one lessons, they can get more creative here.
2. Group meeting: Teacher to students
The teacher meets with a group of students in real time, usually via video chat such as Zoom or Skype. Students should have a chance to interact with each other (why else would they want to attend group lessons?), but the teacher is still in charge of what’s going on most of the time.
3. Group meeting: Students to students
The teacher meets with a group of students in real time via video chat, but this time, the main point is for the students to interact with each other.
The teacher is there mostly to facilitate the discussion, give students prompts and instructions, encourage them, and (more or less) monitor the discussions and provide feedback.
Semi-asynchronous online meetings
During a semi-asynchronous meeting, the teacher and the student(s) are in front of their computers at the same time only for some parts of the meeting.
4. One on one retreat / one on one intensive
Instead of meeting with your client for an hour every week, you can also schedule a whole day together (6 – 8 hours). This works well if the goal of your work together is a project (prepare for a conference talk, write a book outline, create a business plan, etc.) rather than a learning outcome.
You both commit to clearing your schedules for the given day so you can focus just on the project and get it done in the given time frame.
Of course, during the retreat, you aren’t on Zoom talking to each other for the whole time. There is time for silent brainstorming, writing, thinking, homework, but also snack breaks, nap breaks, or exercise breaks.
5. Group retreat / weekend lock-in
Imagine a weekend virtual retreat where the members of the group work on their own projects while regularly checking in with each other and the teacher (the facilitator) using Zoom or chat apps. They share their progress, help each other, and keep each other motivated to get the project done before the end of the retreat.
This is a good example of a highly scalable online teaching format, because, think about it: The more students you have, the more money for you, but without more work for you. I have experienced this in action as a student (it was a business “lock-in”) and I loved the experience.
Asynchronous online meetings
Meetings can also happen without the participants having to sit in front of their computers at the same time at all. This works well for:
7. Homework and feedback
If the thing you teach requires a lot of individual practice on the student’s side, there’s no reason you have to meet with them in real time. No matter if you’re teaching creative writing, photography, Instagram marketing, or English conversational skills, you can come up with homework assignments that provide a lot of practice and that can be delivered to you in the form of video, audio, text, images, or answers to reflection questions.
Free cloud-based collaboration tools (such as Google Docs for writing assignments, SoundCloud for recording audio, Loom for recording video), chat apps (Telegram for voice messages, but also Messenger, WhatsApp, Slack, and more), and email make it really easy for the students to hand in homework in all forms and for the teacher to provide feedback – both of them working in their own time (and time zone).
8. Check-ins and accountability
Sometimes, all the student needs is someone to check-in with them regularly, hold them accountable, and provide feedback. Again, you don’t need to sit with them on Zoom for an hour a week to do so.
Regular check-ins, pep talks, and food-for-thought questions can be sent to your student via email or chat apps, in the form of text, workbooks, questionnaires, voice messages, or video messages.
Of course, when you have a teaching niche, you can have templates for everything so that the asynchronous back-and forth with multiple students takes you minutes while providing them with hours of learning and doing the work.
Well, that’s it! Now, these are just a few types of online meetings, and online meetings are just one of many ways to teach online. We are going to address the other ways in the future parts of this series. In the meantime…
If you’re getting started building your online teaching business, check out Opted Out of the *Real* Job. It’s a beginner-friendly, actionable book that I co-authored with Elena Mutonono.
If you want to know more about student autonomy when it comes to teaching adults online, check out Breanne Dyck’s book Beyond Satisfaction. You will see what I meant by giving students just enough of everything instead of overwhelming them with too much one on one time and too many resources.