Widely embraced as a complement to traditional classroom learning, online learning programs now have more than 5 million students enrolled in at least one digital course, according to a 2015 Babson study. Since 2012, online enrollment has experienced an average 3.7 percent year-over-year enrollment growth compared to overall higher education year-over-year enrollment growth of 1.2 percent.
The demand for digital learning offerings presents new challenges for educators and administrators. One of the biggest is keeping students engaged. In one survey, 74 percent of students reported that the Internet distraction was “significant” and “worrying.”
Educators have an opportunity to structure online learning environments in a way that addresses how students already interact online, and in a way that also reduces distraction and increases engagement. Here are four ways to get started.
Assess Skills to Establish Metrics
Understanding what learning styles, resources and structure motivate and drive student participation in an online environment helps educators develop more customized lesson plans and establish individual goals that closely align the capabilities, needs and pace for learning of each student.
Online learning platforms give educators a unique advantage to assess student engagement and learning needs through quantitative data. Many tools today offer analytics dashboard that allows educators to examine students’ online learning behavior, including how frequently they interact with their peers and what types of online material they engage with best. Checking up on these data points throughout the course can ensure that class time is used effectively for instruction.
Personalize Options to Keep Learning Flexible
By understanding students’ learning styles and performance indicators, educators can create different assignments to drive more student activity, engagement and participation.
Some ways educators can incorporate personalized learning elements into the online classroom:
- Give students the flexibility to work in breakout groups for some projects and independently on others. This helps students analyze their own strengths and weakness pertaining to an assignment, as they are tasked with deciding when to engage peers to support a project or when they can handle the work themselves.
- Keep it engaging with virtual gaming, peer-to-peer learning groups and speakers. Diversifying the content delivery allows students to engage with learning beyond simply watching a video.
- Provide students with the option to create a flex-class schedule and students untethered access to the classroom at any time. This gives late risers and early birds alike a way to participate when they’re most rested and alert. (Research from the University of Michigan found that the amount of sleep a college student gets is one of the strongest predictors of academic success.)
Encouraging students to make personal educational choices through a variety of learning options motivates them to take charge of their success early on.
Go Mobile to Power Up the Second Screen
While variety helps draw the student in, it’s also important to tap into his or her natural communication preferences. Knowing that today’s college student owns an average of seven mobile devices and spends nearly four hours a day using a smartphone, encouraging the use of mobile devices allows them to learn and collaborate in a way that’s most native to their personal socialization habits.
Similar to how popular TV shows like The Walking Dead use second screens to drive groundbreaking viewer engagement and build loyal fan-based communities, educators can offer the same opportunities to support instruction and increase peer-to-peer engagement.
In the online learning environment, second screens can be used to drive self-directed learning and discipline-centered skills like creating live video breakout study groups, participating in real-time polls and quizzes during discussions, reading electronic textbooks, performing real-time research and more.
Make It Experiential
Personalizing students’ path to learning with the proper structure, flexibility and technology is just one aspect of driving higher engagement in online learning. It’s equally important to give them the time needed to practice what they’ve learned in a way that best suits their needs.
Education that’s interactive, collaborative and built around experiencing concepts gives students the freedom to explore and draw their own conclusions about the content being learned. By encouraging students to engage in lively peer-to-peer video debates or face-to-face mentorship sessions rather watching a lecture, educators ensure more active participation and quicker mastery of concept among students.
According to a 2013 EDUCAUSE study, college students feel more connected to online classes when they are chatting with peers and instructors during lectures, participating in real-time polls where they can see instant results, reading electronic textbooks and video conferencing live with their class.
While educators will continue to search for new ways to engage students in the online setting, these strategies offer a starting point to foster greater student interaction, participation and overall success.