Terrific Tips for Engaging Students With Your Online Course
According to research taken from the Lander and Clemson universities, student engagement can have a positive impact on everything from understanding of course materials, to knowledge retention in online classes. In fact, by ensuring your students are engaged, you're actively increasing the chance that they'll successfully complete your course in the long run.
Although achieving the ultimate level of engagement from a diverse selection of students can be challenging in any learning environment - online education can introduce further obstacles. While, in face-to-face scenarios, instructors can observe and evaluate student's motivational levels and attitudes, online students are practically impossible to read because you may never actually meet them in person. That's not to say that engagement isn't possible in online courses, however. You may simply need to be a little more creative when it comes to connecting with your students.
Defining Student Engagement
According to the article "What is Student Engagement anyway?" by Linda Deneen, student engagement is a relationship between learning techniques and digital tools that excite students. However, the best way to think of it, perhaps, is a learning condition in which your students are energized, attentive, and motivated to learn. As such, an engaging online course must be:
Challenging: Students are more likely to become engaged with educational activities that focus on an achievable, yet challenging goal.
Collaborative: Most engaging classes leverage collaborative activities that prompt students to work together to solve problems and learn new skills
Participatory: Engaging courses allow students to participate in the process of learning, by interacting with their instructor, the lesson content, and each other.
So what can you do to create and maintain a learning environment that facilitates all of these essential points?
1. Get to Know Your Student's Goals
Knowing what your students are working towards is a helpful way to develop and deliver successfully engaging course materials. What's more, if you know what matters to your students, you can transform lessons to make them feel more personalized, as you're helping to deliver the learning your class wants, not just the learning they need to achieve a certain certification or passing grade. This makes for a more exciting class experience, where students are motivated to keep learning.
Being able to understand your students also helps to narrow the gap between teacher and learner, as when you ask them about their goals, you're showing an interest in their lives. As such, you may find that the people taking your course feel more comfortable in approaching you with questions and concerns.
2. Encourage an Environment for Sharing and Solving Problems
Learners are diverse—regardless of the topic in question. For example, if you sign up as an eCoach on eCoaches.com, your students will be a vast selection of different people, all from different walks of life. As such, things that are easy to understand for one individual, may be particularly challenging for another. A good way to encourage community and engagement at the same time, is to ensure that your students have a platform in which to talk about the concerns, work out problems, and access help for particularly tricky assignments.
Although it's important for your students to know they can turn to you for help if they're struggling, pointing them towards a social group where they can discuss ideas with other people taking the same course will help to create a friendlier learning environment. Sometimes, in online learning environments where students don't interact as often with their classmates, they can feel as though they're the only one having difficulties. Providing an online forum can help to reduce feelings of isolation, which may otherwise stifle engagement.
3. Take Part in the Discussion
Discussion is at the core of most online courses. If you can create a thriving discussion, you'll find the pulse of your class there. If you're hoping to engage with your students, then it's a good idea to listen to what they're saying, and get involved in the discussion where it's appropriate. If your students are part of a Facebook group, keep an eye on what's going on and make comments every now and again to reinforce a point, or help navigate students towards the right learning outcomes.
At the same time, if you're involved in the discussion, you can watch out for questions that go un-answered by other students. These questions may help you to discover the parts of your course that are causing your class the most trouble, and could give you the perfect opportunity to write up a new email or post clarifying the issue.
4. Consider Flow and Pacing
If you want your students to stay engaged with your course, then you need to ensure they can keep up with the information you're providing. While it's important for the work to be challenging enough to spark interest, it's also crucial that the lessons you provide are digestible. In other words, instructors shouldn't simply shovel new information on students day after day, instead they need to give learners the chance to process what they're being taught, reflect on it, and practice it in an interactive setting.
A good tip is to create regular quizzes or questionnaires that allow students to test their knowledge. Not only will this help to provide confidence to students who may not be sure how well they're doing in the course, but it will also give you an opportunity to see where your learners are excelling, and where they may need extra help.
5. Offer Motivation, and Be Human
Finally, remember that everyone appreciates positive feedback, and in an online environment, motivational messages can be crucial for preventing dropouts. Research has shown that classes wherein students received a conversation starter and motivational emails had lower failure and withdrawal rates than those that didn't. However, your motivation doesn't have to stop at emails. You can send praise to your course-members on social media, too.
Whatever your method, remember to be human. In a pure virtual environment, the teacher needs to bring a breath of humanity to proceedings for students to feel engaged and part of a living, breathing society. Remember to ask questions, use people's names, share things about yourself, and speak in a friendly tone. Students are more likely to engage with a person, than an anonymous fountain of knowledge.
Teaching Online is a Lifestyle
One thing to keep in mind when teaching online, is that the job is more of a lifestyle than an occupation. As a committed instructor, you'll find your own ways to personalize and improve your courses, while reaching out to the students that you interact with.
Often, the more engaged you are in teaching the course, the more engaged your students will be when it comes to learning.