At present, many of the schools and universities have moved their courses and programs to a totally remote model based on the use of technology. Schools that provided tutoring and preparation services for standardized tests, such as the GMAT and GRE, have chosen to offer their courses virtually. However, a program that was originally designed to occur face-to-face in a classroom, cannot be transferred directly to virtual environments, hoping that the learning objectives will be achieved as well.
In the case of face-to-face education, there are instructional programs with good results, which are based on a series of sessions in the classroom where the instructor presents the contents and poses exercises that are then solved on the blackboard. These schemes also include the use of exercise guides to be solved independently, task type, and, if doubts arise, they are clarified in later sessions in the classroom.
The global situation, in the context of the pandemic, has made it impossible for these face-to-face sessions in the classroom, which use resources such as blackboards, to occur regularly and has forced them to be transferred to videoconferencing spaces, such as Zoom, Webex, or even Facebook Live. These adaptations do not necessarily consider elements of interactivity, indispensable in online sessions, which are not so relevant in traditional classes.
Student attention time is reduced by being in front of a device in a physical space other than the classroom. For this reason, the instructor requires specific skills for the use of electronic whiteboards and to moderate the interaction with the participants, either in writing or orally. The effective minutes in a face-to-face session turn into much less productive time in virtual lessons, so the difference in results between the original program and the one transferred to the online world is very noticeable, despite the fact that the student continues to invest the same time to prepare.
There are several factors that make virtual teaching occur in a very different way from face-to-face education, which shows why you should have a structured planning of the content to be taught online. This type of education has existed since the 90s, through different platforms and with the use of various resources, which have been modernizing and adapting to current needs. What are the points that make an online course effective? They are described below.
The programs that are created to be taught online since their origin, contain elements that make them robust and fluid, in which the student is placed at the center and as the protagonist. These include work prior to class sessions, real-time sessions with direct contact with the instructor, practice exercises and interactive explanations, among others. This series of resources is the one that takes the individual by the hand through various activities and experiences, in which you acquire knowledge, apply it and have the opportunity to practice it. For this to happen, there must be a perfect planning of the time that you will dedicate to the study through different components, considering the learning sequences with which you can internalize knowledge to develop the expected skills.
The real-time sessions must be preceded by an individual study and preparation that allow the student to have the bases of what will be addressed in the sessions. Specifically in standardized test preparation courses, such as the GMAT and GRE, the groups are very heterogeneous, coming from widely varied backgrounds and disciplines. The previous work allows each student to take the time necessary to address the basic topics and master them, thus guaranteeing that in the synchronous sessions the expected level can be reached without losing the attention of the participants.
The real-time session must be dynamic and interactive, with an optimal balance between the teacher’s guidance and explanation, and the practice or “hands on” activities where the student can take action. Ideally, each practice or activity should receive immediate feedback so that the student has the opportunity to ask any questions and measure their progress.
Practice and mastery
At the end of the sessions, students should have access to exam-type exercises that allow them to put what they have learned into practice. In addition, a valuable resource, which is not available in a face-to-face class, is access to the recording, where the student can review an explanation or retry an exercise, moderating the time allocated to it.
Each student will be able to invest the necessary time in practice and progress independently in their study, having access to some method to clarify doubts or comment. The programs that have been designed from their origin to be offered in virtual environments, contain components such as forums, communities or virtual sessions, where the students themselves dictate the pattern of the topics and the rhythm. This, taking different roles when asking questions, answering questions from other colleagues, or commenting on alternative processes for solving certain tasks or exercises.
Additionally, a well-designed online program perfectly understands how each individual learns, and is flexible and versatile enough for each student to get more than they need.
For example, for some, the explanatory videos will be very clear and direct to understand the strategy. There are other types of students who better assimilate the information when reading explanations or diagrams of the process to be solved. When planning an online program, various elements and formats are considered that can be consulted individually, attending to different learning styles.
Asynchronous content platforms and applications, mainly videos and exercises, probably build on some of the elements that technology provides, by putting many versions of exercises and giving students unlimited access to listen and read explanations. You’ve probably checked out sites like Khan Academy to learn or practice a math topic. The way in which the content is explained and exercises are presented is quite effective to have the knowledge bases, but to be able to deepen the competence and master the strategies, much more effort and mastery of the subject is required.
On the other hand, the work done in an online course could be a lonely process. It has been shown that interaction with peers is beneficial for the development of the reasoning skills on which the GMAT and GRE are based. Therefore, an online program must have resources where this interaction can take place in a coordinated and assertive way, as naturally happens in a classroom.
All the elements mentioned above make up a set of tools that influence the success of an online program. All the resources that are made available, as well as the class plan and activities that are proposed, are the result of hours of design by a team of experts, which includes teachers specialized in teaching a certain topic, content creators and, in many cases, instructional designers. The latter work in a solution or learning system, with a central axis that is normally synchronous sessions, supported by many other components that will make a robust and efficient process, considering tools that maintain the interest and motivation of the learner.
In virtual environments, everything is more planned and controlled, leaving less space to improvise or solve on the fly, as in some face-to-face courses. The materials have been created and carefully validated to meet instructional objectives, which guarantee the development of skills that result in an advance in the score of the various sections of the exams.
If you are considering preparing online to present the GMAT or GRE, we recommend that you carefully review the elements included in the preparation and know the structure of the program, taking care that it has been designed to be taught in this format, and is not the extrapolation of a face-to-face course delivered through videoconferencing platforms.
We know that many of the students preparing for graduate school entrance exams have personal and professional commitments that limit study and practice time, so preparation must be focused and strategic. An online course brings together several elements that help to achieve the objective, since the sessions are very intentional, and the practice through exercises on smart platforms will present the students with the actions to follow to progress consistently, making every minute invested in the preparation be effective.
Before starting an online course, review well beyond class hours : review the content, access to forums to answer questions and get the support of your peers, have practice exercises and advisory sessions that serve as guide to know how to invest your time and measure your progress. View your investment of time as the most valuable resource you have as you prepare for this challenge.