Teach podcast

#24 Make Virtual Learning Fun (again?)

April 4, 2023 | By



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Best practices for Teaching Remotely with Dr. Malathi Srinivasan

Listen as our esteemed guest Dr. Malathi Srinivasan (Stanford University) discusses how to make teaching engaging on any virtual platform. We cover how to turn your in person lectures into digestible, entertaining virtual content, while reminding yourself of the reason you are teaching in the first place.

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Show Segments

  • Intro, disclaimer, guest bio
  • Guest one-liner/ Best piece of advice
  • Picks of the Week
  • Case from Kashlak Memorial Hospital 
  • Elements Unique to Learning Environment
  • Optimize your PLACE
  • Use the 4 Rs to prepare yourself
  • Connect with your learners and Engage your learners
  • Adapting In Person Lectures to Virtual Platforms
  • Using Virtual Tools
  • Challenges to virtual Teaching
  • Importance of feedback
  • Take home points
  • Outro

Virtual Teaching Pearls

  1. Teaching online is at its core just teaching.  Use your skills and passion as an educator to engage remotely and build knowledge with your students.
  2. Optimize your  PLACE: Privacy, Lighting, Arranging self/Audio, Connection, Equipment
  3. Prepare self using 4 R’s: Relatable (sharing about yourself/green dot staring), Rested, Readiness/Resources,  Relaxed (be yourself)
  4. Online learning and teaching has a higher cognitive load.  Be ready to narrow down teaching goals, build in time for connection, and break up prolonged screen time.
  5. Online tools are just that- only use polls, breakout rooms, etc if they are going to add value to your teaching technique.

Make Virtual Learning Fun (again?) Show Notes 

Tips for Tackling the Unique Aspects of Virtual Learning 

Dr. Srinivasan recommends doing three things: Prepare, Connect, Engage.

Prepare your Environment and Yourself

Optimize P.L.A.C.E.

  • Privacy- Ensure you have a nice, quiet place free from interruptions and background distractions.
  • Lighting- Figure out lighting that is good for your skin. Too blue, too dark, too light all lend to poor video quality.  Keep your camera clean.
  • Audio/ Arranging self- Dampen audio that is not relevant by putting blankets over hardwood floors or anything that can reflect sound.  Make your visual image simple, nondistracting, but able to be clearly seen.  Do not have hair blended into clothing or distracting backgrounds. People want to see your face and expression!
  • Connection- Check bandwidth 
  • Equipment- make sure you have the equipment you need at the ready

Prepare Self using 4 R’s

  • Relatable: Be willing to share something about yourself.  Look at green dot for eye contact.  Use body language, move arms, be expressive when you can.
  • Rested (NEST): Nutrition, exercise, sleep, time management.  Be prepared ahead of time.
  • Readiness/ resources: Will you be using breakout rooms? Do you need a teaching assistant to help you? Do the students need prior reading materials? Zoom links? Who will be monitoring everybody in the educational session? 
  • Relaxed- Be yourself!! Connect with the learner.

Connect with Learners

Francis Peabody said “the secret of the care of the patient is in caring for the patient.”  Dr Srinivasan adapts this to teaching by thinking of it as, the secret of the care of the learner is caring for the learner.  She uses  Dan Pratt Five Teaching Methodologies and focuses on Nurturing: Effective teaching assumes that long-term, hard, persistent effort to achieve comes from the heart as much as it does from the head. 

Make the same effort (or more) to connect with learners in the virtual setting that you would in person.  Show learners that you care.

  • Build community in the chat
  • Share personal anecdotes.  Encourage others to share personal thoughts, and use these to ground or illustrate the points that you want to make.
  • Set expectations prior to starting.   Hopefully negotiate that this is a video on session to reduce passivity and encourage interaction.
  • Cut down the total amount of content and make it digestible. 
  • Build in physical breaks. I.e. stretch breaks, standing, bending. 
  • Make eye contact- look at the green dot

Engage Learners

Typically when teaching in person, the educator can build off learner energy.  In the virtual setting, teachers give energy first and can set the tone of the session.  Dr Srinivasan encourages us to ask ourselves: What would draw you in as a learner? Is there something in the lecture that makes your learner care?  Would I be happy receiving this content? 

Try to streamline your session.  If possible, go higher on Bloom’s taxonomy– toward synthesis, application, and creativity (Adams 2015).  Try to keep learning active instead of passive.  Push yourself to lecture less.   Think about how can you get the students to share more.  Tips below! (Haras 2021)

  • Start with a 5 minute lecture on the topic and then get into an interactive case
  • Demonstrate a skill, for example inhaler use, incorrectly and then how to correct in respectful way
  • Create 5 different breakout groups with different assignments–providing a chance for students to be creative with varied content
  • Turn off your slides during parts of your lecture, they don’t need to be on all the time.
  • Save time for report out 
  • Utilize pre-made videos to drive home a point (ie how to quickly interpret PFTs)
  • Use think-pair-share to solidify information, via chat or breakout rooms.
  • Know your material well enough that you don’t need to give a monotonous lecture, try to speak directly to each learner, have a conversation

Challenges with teaching remotely

Multitasking is one of the biggest difficulties for the educator (being aware of your content, chat, learner responses while trying to look at the green dot to maintain eye contact).  Practice integrating these streams of information- it’s a different set of sensory inputs than we are used to, but in clinical or hospital practice most of us are adept at channeling these different streams.  We can become skilled at this too.

It is harder to read the energy of the classroom, especially if learners keep their cameras off.  Tap into learners’ sense of professionalism to focus on the learning and not multitask, especially with active and small group settings.

In Dr Srinivasan’s opinion, teaching in a dual interaction setting (some people remote and some people in person) is almost impossible, in the majority of our current room set-ups.  We would need to re-design classrooms to make dual interaction settings equitable.  Having a TA available to help with remote breakout rooms is helpful, and educators should advocate for appropriate technology to make these sessions more feasible if expected.

Adapting Lecture into the Virtual Environment 

Dr. Srinivasan encourages educators to think about their educational product, recognizing how much effort went into creating the in-person lecture. Doing so can reinvigorate educators, reminding them of their passion and experience that can be used to further inspire others to learn new things. Now, we just have to take the content and make it digestible on a virtual learning platform.

Format dictates content and style

Learning over video is often a higher cognitive load on both learner and educator.  A higher cognitive load spent on navigating and interpreting information from the virtual environment can reduce the amount of content learners can process (Hickam 2022).

Be aware of group dynamics, if this is a new group of learners make sure you save time for the team to get to know each other, a few minutes for breakout room transitions and ice breakers.  Make sure you have a report out after breakouts.

Technological tools for online lectures

What is the added value of the technological tool you want to utilize? Will it drive home a teaching point? Are you trying to get the temperature of the class? Using it as a step-off point? Technological tools are not necessary to a great online lecture.  Technology can be a nice add, but the learning does not occur through features. The features are just tools. Nothing will be a good substitute for a good story  (Said 2021).

There are some unique aspects to teaching online that you can use creatively.  Use video clips, encourage learners to search for different things independently, use breakout rooms working on different cases.  

Importance of feedback

Practice makes permanent. Feedback makes perfect. 

If you set up a good learning environment and have trusted learners, asking for feedback directly from learners can be helpful.  Having a peer educator watch your teaching and give you specific feedback (and then reciprocate!) can be very valuable.  Keep an open mind and stay humble.

The Johari Window  is a model of awareness and communication by Joseph Luft and Harry Ingham (Esposito 1978). We all have blindspots.  Feedback allows us to view those blindspots to grow and improve, adapting to the ever changing learning environment.  

Known to SelfUnknown to Self
Known to OthersPublicBlind
Unknown to OthersPrivateUnknown

Take home points

Anyone can do this.  There is nothing secret about teaching online.  Trust that you care about the people you are teaching and the content you are teaching.  Prepare, connect, and engage.  Practice and get feedback.  Spend more time building your community to allow people to come together and feel accountable and professional.  Education is fun, carry that joy forward!

Dr Srivinvasan recommends- Stanford’s 6th annual Medical and Bioscience Education Day SIMEC on 5/13/23 to celebrate medical education.


  1. Dr Srinivasan’s book recommendation:  The Lincoln Highway: A Novel by Amor Towles
  2. Era’s Pick of the Week: the quote from Bruce Lee, “Be water, my friend
  3. Molly’s Pick of the Week: This Land Podcast


Listeners will appreciate the nuances of the virtual learning environment and how to make remote teaching engaging for learners on various levels. 

Learning objectives

After listening to this episode listeners will…

  1. Recognize the elements involved in teaching remotely and effectively and the pitfalls that can occur during virtual learning
  2. List best practices for successful remote teaching and strategies that educators can employ to harness the attention of the audience when teaching remotely and effectively deliver didactic content
  3. Describe a framework or approach to use when creating virtual curriculum or adapting previously created materials to the remote learning environment. 


Dr Malathi Srinivasan reports no relevant financial disclosures. The Curbsiders report no relevant financial disclosures. 


Srinivasan M, Heublein M, Kryzhanovskaya E. “#24 Make Virtual Learning Fun (again?)” The Curbsiders Teach Podcast. https://thecurbsiders.com/teach. April 4, 2023.

Episode Credits

Claim free CME for this episode at curbsiders.vcuhealth.org! Website | Instagram | Twitter | Subscribe | Patreon| thecurbsidersteach@gmail.com | Free CME! Credits Producer/Hosts/Writers: Era Kryzhanovskaya MD ; Molly Heublein MD Show notes, Cover Art, and Infographics: Megan Connor Audio Editor and podcast support: PodPaste Guest: Malathi Srinivasan MD

CME Partner


The Curbsiders are partnering with VCU Health Continuing Education to offer FREE continuing education credits for physicians and other healthcare professionals. Visit curbsiders.vcuhealth.org and search for this episode to claim credit.

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