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Overcoming Communication Barriers in Online Classes


Learning Bytes Blog - Overcoming Communication Barriers-1Many students struggle to retain information, focus and fully understand material while learning remotely. Studying successfully in an online environment is even more challenging when you're learning a new topic in a language other than your native tongue. Ms. Melodie teaches in English while many of her students' first languages are Tagalog or Spanish. Bill Kohler, a former Business Writing instructor who taught students of many different linguistic backgrounds, shared some helpful strategies online learners can use to absorb what they're learning and overcome communication barriers in online classes.

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Miss Melodie (MM): I have started noticing that English is the second language of almost half of my students. So what are some of the things that I can do to help them interact with me more and to feel more comfortable? If they're a Spanish speaker or a Tagalog speaker, not only is the culture new but the words are new and the technology is new.

Bill Kohler (BK): You have a triple threat there and there's anxiety associated with all three of those factors. I'm somewhat anxious about just the technology that we're facing today. Fear inhibits learning, so one thing I've learned in dealing with students of a second language is to choose your vocabulary carefully. Simplify your language. For example, in one class I taught, there were Japanese, Mexicans, Argentines, Colombians, and Europeans. In this class, I would never say turn to page "one hundred and eleven" or turn to page "'one eleven" because I don't know if they know "eleven." But if I say "turn to page one-one-one," then they'll hear "page one-one-one" and they'll more likely understand that. They might not even know the phrasal verb "turn." To turn means to go right or left. So instead, I might say "see page one-one-one."

As you know, body language is a major component of communication because so many people will say something but their body language is completely different and the body language supersedes verbal communication when it comes to truth. If you watch somebody and they're saying one thing, their body may be telling you something different. For example, I spent 25 years in sales and I learned in sales that if anybody touches their eye, they do not agree with you. If anybody touches their mouth when they're talking, they are lying almost a hundred percent of the time.

MM: I hear you coming back to the whole relationship idea of building that relationship and I'm just struck by that because I hadn't really thought about it before but I think one of the reasons our students like our cohorts is they see the same instructor every day. In fact, my students quite often pop in early just so they can have a chance to visit not just with me but with each other and I encourage them to try to network with each other because you never know who has a connection that can develop into a career opportunity. I've had very interesting connections develop once the students start talking to each other.

How do you learn?

BK: Find out what kind of learner you are. A lot of people think if they just read the book and take notes and write bullet points and memorize those, they're learning. I know that if I can't explain something to you, then I don't know it, much less, understand it. But if I can explain it to you, I know more about it and feel like I can manage it. So when I listen to a lecture or when I listen to a sermon or when I listen to somebody tell me something, I try to pretend that there's somebody outside the room that can't hear any of this and I've got to explain it to them when I'm done and that helps me listen with a focus. I try to think of the three main points coming through to help me remember what's going on.

It's difficult to take notes and listen at the same time because you're actually doing one or the other, not both. So you might learn you are a visual learner or a kinetic learner, meaning you physically have to get up and walk around to do something. If you have to hear something to learn it, that means you're an auditory learner.

Recently a young man showed me how to do something on the computer the other day and he grabbed the mouse from me and I said "No no no, let me do it," because then it was embedded in my mind. It helped me so that when I went back and did it myself, it would be my second or third time doing it.

Discover for yourself what kind of learner you are and then what are some little tricks you can use to help you learn.

Studying Skills

MM: It sounds to me like you're talking about a lot of study skills. One of the things that we have started doing is frequent, short quizzes in order to test comprehension. I also see if they know something by if they can explain it back to me. So they can take the quizzes three times so they can see what they missed. It's very low-risk test-taking.

Vocabulary is one of the things that the students push back on a little bit. I change the words in the review and the test so that they truly know the concept and are not just memorizing. This challenges them to look at all the words carefully and to try to understand the whole picture.

Microsoft does this intentionally and that's what we're trying to prepare them for. Microsoft has a way of asking indirect questions, which can be especially challenging if English is your second language. For example, Microsoft has a term called "banded" which means every other row is jaded. So if you were taking the test, they might ask you to shade every other row and all they're asking you to do is turn on the banded option.

This pushes people to see the language from lots of different synonyms and different perspectives. There isn't an A-B-C approach to technology, you need to know it all around.


Making Learning Fun

MM: You've given us some great ideas. We need to slow down, make sure that people have time to process the information that they're hearing, use simple language to make sure that they're not having a barrier, giving them the opportunity to learn and try something and fail but fail in a way that's safe to fail. They can master it without worrying about being perfect.

BK: You also want to make it fun if you can and give it some level of enjoyment because the fun takes the fear away. It's hard to fear something when you're laughing and when you feel safe.

Questions to Consider

What else can you do to learn efficiently in a remote environment? You can rely on what you've learned in your current and previous roles and think about other careers that would match your skills and abilities.

Education is the key to career advancement, but you don’t need a college degree or MBA to get ahead. IT training and career training are efficient and proven ways to advance your career and acquire new job skills. Ask these questions when considering career training programs.

Looking to further your career? Consider these questions when looking into further career training programs. Download Checklist >>

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