Engaging Online Learners

Reader Mailbag - Summer 2014, Issue 5

Mahalo for all the questions submitted to the reader mailbag highlighted in our Spring 2014 newsletter. The most common question received through the reader mailbag form was:

“How do I increase engagement with my online learners?”

Wahoo! Starting out with a big one. I am going to resist the urge to write 20 blog posts on this question and stick to 2 main ideas: 1) giving students choice and 2) making learning relevant.

Give Students Choice

Video games, twitter, facebook, social networks, texting and a host of other technologies are giving students opportunities to make more choices than ever before. Yet this change is in stark contrast with the typical instructional setting. For example, video games encourage players to make decisions every 7-10 seconds while the typical classroom only requires this effort once every 25 minutes*.

Here are 2 examples of choice-enabling designs:

  • Allow students to write essays or complete projects on a topic of interest to them while still showing they understand your material. For example, in “ETEC 612: Introduction to E-Learning”students are asked to design an e-learning experience utilizing the basic framework we have provided to assist with thinking. The specific content, structure and implementation are completely up to them.
  • Author and educator Howard Rheingold explains in his podcast (#7) numerous methods he uses in his instruction such as asking students in the first day of class what they want to learn (or be able to do) by the end of the course. He then incorporates those ideas into the instruction.

Making Learning Relevant

Having students create content that is valuable outside of the classroom can increase learning engagement. Designing instruction this way provides students with great resume items, leverages the benefits of learning while doing and promotes community involvement.

Here are some examples:

  • Have students write a blog post or update existing content in Wikipedia to share what they’ve learned. The open textbook project provides free e-books that can be modified specifically for your course. Why not have the students update the book each semester so it can be shared back to the community and always kept up-to-date!
  • UHM School of Nursing & Dental Hygiene students are asked to create “SOAP notes,” documents that facilitate communication of clinical events. In order to enable sharing and discussion around these documents the mobile application, Advanced Practice, was developed. The free app allows students to comment on each other’s work and test their own knowledge by answering what they would do in the same clinical situation.
  • The Connected Learning Alliance has a nice list of problem-centered instructional examples showing assignments that are relevant to the learner and impactful to the community. See more examples at their Making Learning Relevant Campaign.

Please comment below with your own ideas on how to engage online learners and share additional resources you think may help other readers. We look forward to your future questions!