Teaching a live online lesson requires us to consider some workflow, setup, and communication protocol that is unique to the medium.
Room setup and lighting
Look in the self-view of your video chat application before starting a lesson. You can instruct your student along these same lines:
Start your lesson by looking at and speaking to your student
Consider the physical lesson--the student and you first meet face to face, discuss the past week's goals, practice sessions, challenges, discoveries. If you like to focus a webcam on your hands or instrument and you’re only using one webcam, be sure to start a lesson with this face to face communication and then reposition your webcam as needed.
Advise your student regarding their set up and webcam position and communicate with them as you would at the beginning of any lesson before switching to an instrument-focused view.
This is one reason some teachers use multiple webcams and switch between them with a physical switcher or an on-screen tool. A “communication” camera and a “demonstration” camera can be an effective starting point.
During the Lesson
Communication via webcam has fundamental differences from a physical environment. For example, we can’t simply bend over and point to a place on the page and say “start here” or make pencil marks on the student’s page. Therefore, some things to consider:
Lesson follow up
Establish a communication flow with your student for the period between lessons. This will assure that they don’t abuse your time by over communicating with you electronically about insignificant items, and also that they understand to what extent your channel is open and what kind of response time they should expect.
The live online music lesson format also makes it convenient to schedule mid-week “check ins” or short sessions to make sure that student practice habits are on track. I’ve considered how a highly iterative music learning process might work in previous posts, and I think this is one of the many great benefits that the live online lesson medium offers--the possibility of more frequent feedback and interaction between student and teacher.
Please discuss and comment. What are some ways you as an online teacher optimize the experience, setup, and communication?
You’ve made the leap. Perhaps you’re already teaching your music lessons online (Skype lessons?) or you’ve decided that it’s for you and you’re ready to go. You’ve got your webcam set up and optimized, your studio is looking great, your Internet speed is screaming. Now what?
The title of this post sounds like it may be about how to price your lessons. My intention, however, is for it to be a consideration of how you spend your time and what your priorities are.
Unless you’re simply transferring your physical teaching to online, you need students. Your online teaching studio lives in the virtual world, so despite the “viral” nature of that world, you’re probably not going to be getting student referrals from fellow teachers, through your friends and family network, your Yellow Pages ad or even, believe it or not, from your website. It’s a massive space--full of possibility, but also chock full of great ways to waste your money and valuable time!
You absolutely should have a website, write a blog, frequent the websites rich with music teaching information and resources. But don’t rely on your website to attract significant traffic that will convert into online music students--this doesn’t happen without a large investment of time and money. Professional marketers make a daily habit of studying the ever-changing and latest SEO (Search Engine Optimization), writing and buying effective digital marketing ads, understanding the analytics of search behavior, and optimizing, optimizing optimizing--sometimes many times each day.
Additionally, you’ll want to have great resources for your online teaching--a robust solution for delivering the video/audio, tools that enhance the online learning experience, resources for best practices and a community of professionals who understand and support what you’re doing. Skype is a tool best used for weekend cross-country family get togethers, when all the throttling and inconsistency can be tolerated. You’re a professional though, and you can’t tolerate this for the learning that you want your students to achieve.
My suggestion: focus on what you makes you special and valuable: teaching music! Trolling the Internet and spending hours posting on listservs for answers, dealing with the trial and error of various software solutions, trying various marketing gimmicks...is this really what you want to spend your time doing?
So, you may ask, where does this leave me? How do I find these online students? How do I keep up with the state of the art in delivering online lessons? I’ve outlined a number of tips here, and will continue this series by sharing specific ideas and solutions about how you can build the best online teaching studio that connects you with the students who are the best fit for you.
So maybe you’ve heard about the growing wave of music teachers moving their studios into the virtual world but...you’re not there yet. Perhaps you’ve thought about it. “This online music teaching thing, is it for me? Can I actually do this? Does it really work?”
Is it for me? Can I actually do this?
Fear not. This isn’t rocket science. There are some common technical “must-haves” and other considerations, but most importantly: you’re already a great teacher! Teaching online requires certain rules of etiquette and adaptations, but those who have made the leap find that it’s really quite easy and the benefits can be extraordinary. Here are some things to consider, from basic technical issues to your presence in the digital world:
Do you have adequate high speed Internet?
Kind of an obvious practical one here, but live videochat relies on a good connection (test here) If you’re not “up to speed” with your Internet, it’s not an insurmountable issue.
Consider this: if it’s available in your area and investing in better Internet service is the barrier between you and even one student, the math should answer the question. Another $30 or $40 per month for better Internet service means a student paying you $30 or $40 per week? Sounds like a deal to me. Chances are though, as long as you have broadband you’re probably in pretty good shape already.
Have you used your webcam for Skyping or other video chat applications?
This is your fundamental communication tool--how you and your student see and hear one another. The basic webcam setup for teaching music lessons is really quite accessible. Using a relatively new laptop with a built in webcam, you can deliver music lessons online. Here’s a video where I describe the simple tools and setup for live online music lessons.
Are you active online?
If you’re at home in the Internet environment and spend time building your digital presence by curating a website, writing a blog, posting videos to YouTube, posting in forums...you’re well on your way to being a Virtual Teaching Superstar. The experience and knowledge you gain from promoting yourself and creating content has already built your savvy in the virtual world and marketplace.
Not an Internet star? Again, not a deal breaker. If you have all technical basics for online teaching (you’re already a great music teacher!) but don’t have much of a digital presence, you’ll simply need to take the leap and build that presence around your online studio. In future blogs, we’ll talk more about this--how to market yourself and understand your prospective student in the digital world.
Does it really work?
Most definitely. Thousands of teachers are actively conducting “Skype lessons”, and while there is yet to be a definitive study of the results, there’s a ton of anecdotal evidence that online lessons are highly effective. Concert artists like Jeffrey Biegel and music technology guru Hugh Sung are some high profile examples, and you may find that the piano, guitar or voice teacher down the block has a thriving online studio. I’ve considered the actual advantages of online music lessons over physically present lessons before, both from the teacher and student perspective.
It’s a nascent field for sure--and ripe for you to make a difference and make yourself known. It’s also a heck of a lot of fun!
We’ll look at some more questions in future posts, such as:
Observer of the world of music, performance, learning and technology. Performer, Producer, Recording Artist, VP Community and Content-Zenph Inc.