How to teach digital skills online

I’ve written a few blog posts now on online learning, especially with adults who have limited educational background or digital skills. My last one focused on what digital skills learners need for online learning. This post focusses on how to teach those digital skills from behind a computer or mobile screen, where the luxury of demonstrating face to face is not possible. It is based on reading I did whilst completing my MEd Technology Enhanced Language Learning module at University of West of Scotland last autumn. Highly recommended. And there’s funding available if you live in Scotland.

Use a platform they know

The number one aim of the online language class is for our learners to learn English. Teaching digital skills online can distract from the language objectives of the lesson, so it can be wise to start with a platform they already know (e.g. Whatsapp) and check-in frequently with learners individually to encourage them ask any questions or raise any concerns.

Drip feed the digital

So you’ve started on familiar territory. Students feel calm and confident about their learning, but ideally, you want to add variety to their learning experience and develop their digital skills.  In a wonderful webinar for MN ABE Professional Development in 2020, Amy Van Steenwyk advised teachers to keep online tasks simple and allow students to master one online activity at a time.

This is very much my recommendation too.  Think about a skill and break it into smaller sub-skills. These would be my steps in Zoom:

Start with downloading Zoom > logging in > click link to login > turn on/off sound > turn on/off video > use chatroom > use annotation tools > use breakout rooms > share screen in break out rooms > conquer the Zoom world.

Conquering the world of Zoom, one digital skill at a time.

Use familiar language

One of the first things a trainee English language teacher learns is to modify their language so that students understand their instructions. This should also be the case when teaching digital skills. Consider using the colour of the button or its location on the screen rather than the jargon. For example, Amy Van Steenwyk advises telling students to ‘click blue’ rather than ‘join’ when using breakout rooms, a word which they may not know. The need for this can, of course, be avoided if you automatically assign students to breakout rooms, but the principle applies for giving instructions.

Teach unknown language

The digital world is full of jargon: breakout room, sign-in, register, join, annotate, comment. Teaching these terms is often the first step in teaching digital skills. Before asking learners to perform a task online, think about what language they might need for it. I like to keep a Google Slides doc full of helpful icons and vocabulary that I can quickly refer to during class. I drew this visual to teach the term ‘Breakout room’. You may recognise it is from my previous post on Tips for Online Teaching. Feel free to use it with your own learners, or better, copy the simple drawing yourself.

Visuals help learners to understand digital jargon.

Use instructional videos and screenshots

Instructional videos can be super handy when training learners with technology. When making these, I find it helps to focus on one thing (e.g. annotating) as it’s easier to find and share the one you need at the time you need it. If a learner just needs a refresher on accessing the annotation tool, there’s no need to send them a 40 minute epic on how to do EVERYTHING on Zoom – a screenshot with a comment or a short video will do. One skill at a time. Even better if it’s in their first language. In general, videos should be less than ten minutes. Think TED Talks. There’s a reason they are short and sweet.

Encourage first language & peer support

If you wanted to learn digital skills, would you do it in your L1 or a language you are learning? I’d certainly do it in my L1! Allowing learners to access devices and instructional videos in their L1 can be immensely helpful. Encourage learners to support each other in their first language when and if necessary.  This could be in class, or asking students with strong digital skills to support their peers. I’ve also found family members living with students to be incredibly helpful.

Refer to digital skills courses

The world of digital skills training is not just in English. There are plenty of courses available for learners to access in their first language. My previous blog post has a list. If you know of any more, I’d be happy to add them!

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Digital skills courses for ESOL learners

Even prior to the online teaching boom, I noticed that my ESOL Learners often had limited digital skills. In the good old days, I’d refer students to community libraries and educational organisations offering courses such as ‘Getting started with computers’ or the ‘European Computer Driving Licence’. These were popular with students, but have ceased during the pandemic. Now that learners need digital skills more than ever, I wanted to find free (or affordable) online digital skills courses in a variety of languages.

Through various online searches, and utilising my online network, I found these courses. Thanks to everyone who contributed (you know who you are and you are all wonderful). I’d love to hear from you if you know of any more or if you can find translated links to these in other languages:

Microsoft (available in multiple languages):

https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/digitalliteracy

 

Microsoft web apps training:

www.alison.com/courses/office-365-web-apps/content

 

Google:

English: https://applieddigitalskills.withgoogle.com/s/en-uk/learn

Spanish: https://applieddigitalskills.withgoogle.com/c/es-419/curriculum.html

French: https://learndigital.withgoogle.com/ateliersnumeriques

 

Open Doors Plymouth:

Some wonderful instructional videos in various languages:

https://www.youtube.com/user/opendoorsplymouth

 

Sarah Queen’s fabulous blog post about ICT in ESOL has some great links:

https://www.esolqueen.co.uk/2020/08/introducing-ict-to-asylum-seeker-and.html?m=1

 

Typing and mouse control skills:

https://www.typingclub.com/

https://edu.gcfglobal.org/en/mousetutorial/mouse-tutorial/1/

 

The Department for Education’s Essential Digital Skills:

This programme offers courses in using devices and handling information, creating and editing, communicating, transacting, and being safe and responsible online. Suitable for A2+ learners living in the UK. 

Essential Digital Skills

 

Learn my way/Make it click:

Lessons such as ‘Introduction to email’ and ‘How to create a document.’. Suitable for B1+ learners.

https://makeitclick.learnmyway.com/directory

Learn My Way – Internet Skills

 

Computer coding/Code your Future:

I love everything these guys do! I even cycled to IATEFL in Liverpool to raise money for them a couple of years ago! They offer free computer coding classes for refugees and disadvantaged people: https://codeyourfuture.io/

Khaled, a graduate of Code your Future created videos in Arabic about computer coding: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCbQpxSFueTnQz5peofVo4yg?app=desktop  

Do you know any more free online digital skills courses suitable for English language learners? Or (even better) in another language? Please share them via comments or tweet me.

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