The most important question to address first is “Who?” Who are your learners? Getting to know your learners is important for several reasons.
One reason that getting to know your learners is important is to establish a personal connection. Whether you plan to deliver your instruction in person or online, forming a connection with your learners will make the teaching more effective and impactful. They will trust you and respect you which will, in turn, keep them more engaged. When your learners see that you care about them, they will care about you and be more attuned to your message.
Furthermore, having a personal connection with your learners is key to empathizing with their situations outside of the learning space.
For instance, you can consider:
What aspects of their life might make it difficult for them to learn?
Are there physical barriers that might restrict their ability to move?
Do they have a newborn that they will need to attend to at a moment’s notice?
Have they been harassed, harmed or discriminated against in a way that has caused them to shut down mentally and emotionally under certain circumstances?
You need to be able to plan strategies for helping your learners through these types of things.
One easy way to get this type of information is through a survey that you send out before your instruction begins.
Edutopia has a few tips on what types of questions to ask:
Important Questions to Ask Your Students
Discovering your students' answers to these questions can help you create positive conditions for learning.
It’s also important to share a bit about yourself. You want your learners to trust you and see you as a real person. Take the survey yourself and share your answers!
Another reason that getting to know your learners is important is that it will help you to tailor your instruction more appropriately to their ability levels. You would never try to teach someone to perform a heart transplant if they don’t know the difference between a scalpel and a scapula. You need to assess the prior knowledge of your learners in order to determine your starting point.
The best way to assess your learner's background knowledge is through a diagnostic assessment. You can think of this as a pre-test. Include an assessment of prerequisite knowledge in order to make sure your learners are prepared to begin. Also, include questions about the content you plan to teach. Perhaps your class has already mastered some of it and you’ll be able to move quickly through those pieces.
For more on diagnostic assessment, have a look at this blog post:
What is a Diagnostic Assessment? - Edulastic Blog
Are students ready for the next unit? What knowledge do they already have about this topic? Teachers who are curious about how much their class knows about a future topic can give diagnostic assessments before diving in. Diagnostic assessments are pretests. They usually serve as a barometer for how much pre-loaded information a student has about a topic.
For a very deep dive into “Getting to know your learners”, check out this ASCD article:
Knowing Our Students as Learners
by William Powell and Ochan Kusuma-Powell It is easy to dismiss the importance of "knowing your students" as either a vacuous platitude or a statement of the obvious. However, the process of coming to know students as learners is often difficult and challenging, particularly if the students are struggling with schoolwork.