In the 1990s, Cyberschool launched, one of the first virtual high schools. At the time, I was a graduate student and new middle school teacher doing research on the potential of online learning for middle and high schools. As part of this research, I emailed the lead of Cyberschool, and it was a fascinating exchange. Out of everything he shared, one idea continues to stay with me. “I believe,” he said, “that the teacher of the future will be an independent contractor.” Almost twenty years later, his prediction makes even more sense, as a growing number of educators are seeking outlets to share and teach across organizations, time, space, and traditional boundaries. Perhaps you are one of those educators. If so, then know that I am writing this article especially for you.
You’ve probably heard of a personal learning network. Most definitions of a personal learning network (PLN) focus upon what you can learn or gain from other people, groups and resources. However, for one to have a valuable PLN, it requires that other people are committed to sharing what they learn. Toward that end, how about creating a Personal Teaching Network? Or, better yet, how about a Personal Teaching and Learning Network? Of course, a good PLN involves give and take, learning and teaching, and a community of learners. Nonetheless, I’m using a PTN as a way to explore how to network online with the goal of teaching others. After all, good digital citizenship and the spirit of the web 2.0 world depends, in part, upon people who are willing to share with others.
My definition of a teacher is simple. A teacher is someone who loves to learn and help others learn. Some reserve the title for the person who leads classroom learning activities, who has formal training in education, or who has some sort of formal teaching role. Yet, one can pursue teaching as a vocation or avocation. It can be paid or voluntary. What matters is that you love to learn and help others learn. With that in mind, here are ten simple ways to start teaching (and learning) online. This is not an article about how to make money, although many of these ideas have options for monetizing your efforts. Instead, this is about finding new outlets to do something that you enjoy.
1. Start a blog. Pick a theme about which you are passionate, preferably something that you already study and explore. Then create a blog using a hosted solution (Blogspot, Tumblr, Typepad… There are many free options.) or self-hosted solution. People blog for a variety of reasons, but you don’t have to create a huge following for it be valuable to you and others. Simply start writing about and sharing what you are learning around that theme. Then share your articles using your favorite social media outlets (Twitter, Google+, Facebook, Academia.edu). Those who friend and follow you will see your articles and some will check them out. For me, it is rewarding to share ideas and then learn that others found value in them, especially practical value for current or future endeavors. After all, this drive to help others is what inspires the teacher inside many of us.
2. Write as a Guest Blogger. This is just what it sounds like, writing articles for other blogs. It is a great way to help out others, gain an audience for your ideas, and connect with new people. The Ultimate Guide to Guest Blogging is a great resource to get you started.
3. Create a thematic Google Hangout. Pick a theme, question, problem/solution that interests you and others. Then select a time and invite people to a Google Hangout. The worst thing that could happen is that nobody shows up. No worries, try another time or topic. I find great joy in connecting with diverse people around the globe who share a common interest. It is yet another way to build new connections, learn, and get a chance to share a bit of what I’ve learned.
4. Build and offer an independent online course. Udemy.com is a free and easy way to do this. Pick a topic of interest, sign up with an account, and follow their simple instructions on how to build a course. There is even a course on how to build a course. You can offer it for free or a fee. Another great option is to join the open learning movement by taking and creating courses at P2PU.org.
5. Consider becoming an online tutor. There are dozens of companies that offer online tutoring and many of them are seeking tutors. A quick search for “online tutoring services” will give you countless options to consider. If you want to meet people from around the world, take a look at Livemocha.com. You can sign up to be a tutor for people seeking to learn a language that you know, but you can also learn about other languages and cultures. Another possibility is to advertise your own individual virtual tutoring services through area newspapers or Craigslist.
6. Become an adjunct online teacher at an existing school. Online learning is one of the fastest growing sectors of higher education, and many middle and high school online teaching options exist as well. Job requirements vary significantly, although a minimum of a master’s degree exists at most higher education institutions, with many preferring progress toward or a completed doctorate. You can search for such jobs through higheredjobs.com or sites like Online Adjunct Jobs. Another option is to search for a school that offering online courses and programs, find the right contact, and send them a résumé/vitae and cover letter. A personal call or email and good timing may be all that you need.
7. Join Linkedin.com groups and take part in the group discussions. Listen, learn, ask questions, and share what you know. I mention LinkedIn, but there are plenty of other similar communities out there. I am especially fond of LinkedIn groups because the conversations focus around people with a common interest or association, and they are often related to people’s needs for “just in time” help with something. More than once, conversations in LinkedIn have turned into wonderful extended private email exchanges, Skype chats, phone conversations, and even an occasional cup of coffee in the physical world.
8. Become a “tweacher” or a Twitter teacher. Twitter is all about sharing, connecting, and learning from one another. Simply connect with others and share what you are learning. When people tweet questions or requests, help out. You may even want to experiment with starting your own Twitter chat. You might want to experience some of the existing ones first. In fact, joining an existing chat is a great way to learn and help others learn. Here is a great place to find Twitter chats that meet every day of the week on a variety of topics.
9. Host webinars. This one takes more time to garner interest, get the word out and prepare. You can offer them for free or a fee on a variety of topics. You want to do your homework on this one before to start with it, unless you already have connections with a group of people who have interest in what you have to offer. He is one of several helpful guides to get you started.
10. Present at a virtual conference or virtually at a traditional conference. Just do a search for “virtual conference” and a topic of interest. There is a good chance that you will find one. Scan the site to find out how to submit a proposal. Even if they don’t request proposals, an email to the coordinator might be all that it takes. Some of these even pay you for your services, although many are voluntary. You may also want to visit the sites for traditional conferences of interest. More of them include an option to present remotely. Six years ago I had to cancel my presentation only a week before the start of the conference. When I talked to someone at the conference, I asked if there was any chance that I could present remotely. She was willing to give it a try, and I presented to a full room via Skype. Now, such options are built into the choices for how to present at many conferences. If you are really adventurous, you might want to explore how you might start a new virtual conference. I did that one a challenge from a co-worker five years ago and we are now going on our fifth year.
11. Create a Youtube channel. Sharing short 3-5 minute videos can give you a great opportunity to share what you are learning with others. Once you’ve created them, share links through your social networks, your blog, or elsewhere. If you like, you can even create an entire lesson around your Youtube video using Ted Ed. Just watch their introductory video for a glimpse of what is possible. There are plenty of alternatives to Youtube as well. You might want to try Vimeo or Teachertube, for example.
12. Become a Content Curator. This is a person dedicated to sifting through new and emerging web content around one or more themes and putting the best resources into a form that others can read. There are a number of great tools that can help you gather and share what you collect. Here is a great article that gives more details about what it means to be a content curator and useful tools for curating.
13. Write for Open Access Journals. Of course, you can submit articles to traditional journals as well, these these journals allow free and open access, which allows you and others to easily share what is published online. This allows for the wider dissemination of your ideas in the digital world.
14. Create and Share Infographics. If you have a concept that you want to share, you can always share it via video or an article, but if you can represent the key ideas in a visual, then it can be a great way to get the idea quickly shared with other in the social web. Here are some tools to get you started. I’m definitely not a graphic designer. Nonetheless, when I include a summarizing infographic or visual representation of key ideas, the idea almost always garners more traffic, and it tends to be shared more. For example, the blog post with this simple visual about silence in online courses become one of my most visited blog pages. By the way, once you start creating a few of them, consider storing them on Flickr and/or Pinterest so that others are more likely to find and share them.
Perhaps you are not interested in all of these, choosing a few of them can give you a great platform for building your personal teaching network. It will help you build connections with new people, learn from others, and become established as a freelance educator in the digital age. Again, while you can monetize some of these things, I’m not promoting this a way to earn money as much as a way to do what you love…to teach.