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4 Tips on Nonverbal Communication in the Online Classroom

4 Tips on Nonverbal Communication in the Online Classroom

As a teacher working from home, you may have found yourself receiving feedback on your working environment, your lighting, your facial expressions; all of which support the limitations of online communication.  

In fact, 93% of human communication is thought to be nonverbal. This is a common interpretation of a study performed by Mehrabian (1971)*. The actual percentage has been disputed but the message is still relevant: humans communicate in ways other than what they actually say and we place a lot of hidden value in this. 

Here are some examples of nonverbal communication methods: 

  • Expression
  • Posture
  • Clothing
  • Gestures
  • Eye contact 
  • Movement and body position
  • Distance

According to research by Willis and Todorov (2006)#, it takes just one tenth of a second to judge someone and this is usually based on what you see. Wherever you choose to teach from, your students may have some expectations for the environment that all relate to good teaching and learning.  In this blog, we gathered four top tips from the online teaching community for excellent online classes: 

1. Find a neutral background to avoid distractions 

  • Students’ attention should be drawn to the lesson content or to your movements in the camera, depending on where you choose to draw their attention to help them learn. The human eye tends to be drawn to movement so be sure that any movements in your background are intentional and not caused by busy surroundings.

2. Use front lighting and centre yourself in the frame 

  • Without proper lighting, you may end up as a silhouette 
  • Front lighting ensures that you are fully visible. This will help your students read your facial expressions and give you the feeling of real-life presence. If you are lit from the back, you won’t be properly visible.

3. Use your facial expressions 

  • Try to respond as you would in real life. If somebody says something interesting, raise an eyebrow.  
  • If they’re making an error in a controlled practice session, use your expressions to give you a hint. 
  • If they’re using the language well, give them a big smile and nod 
  • Again, people notice movement in their periphery and they will be drawn to you. 
  • There can be a temptation to treat video calls as calls, in which we aren’t visible. 
  • Support your students by using your face as well as your voice. 

4. Use Gestures

  • Give them a thumbs up if they’ve just finished a successful utterance  
  • Use hand gestures to indicate uncertainty, the need to pause or stop – these can be useful tools to give your student feedback without speaking 

While you may feel that your online migration has resulted in a loss of some opportunities for communication, we hope that these top tips set you up for success. 

*Mehrabian, A. (1971). Nonverbal communication. Nebraska Symposium on Motivation, 19, 107–161. 

*Willis J, Todorov A. First Impressions: Making Up Your Mind After a 100-Ms Exposure to a Face. Psychological Science. 2006;17(7):592-598. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9280.2006.01750.x


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