5. Learner Engagement

5. Learner Engagement

Concepts are driven home when course activities contribute to learners’ achievement of the stated course learning objectives through active learning. Aligning course activities with course outcomes encourages students to think and practice using concepts in new ways that construct and cement learning. For example, if learning outcomes require applying leadership skills, then activities could include decision-making scenarios, organizing effective teams, and creating a motivational strategy.

Learning activities provide students with opportunities for a variety of interactions that support learning, such as student-content, student-faculty, and student-to-student activities. For example:

  • Student-content activities can include data gathering, viewing explanatory videos, or analyzing case studies.
  • Student-faculty activities include an assignment submitted for faculty feedback or student-faculty discussion in an online forum.
  • Student-student interaction could include engaging groups in discussions, peer reviews, immersive situations, or scenarios.

When creating learning activities, consider your audience. Online programs attract adult learners, who are more effectively engaged by problem-centered and experiential activities, rather than a content-oriented approach to course design.

The key is very simple: active rather than passive; students are using new knowledge to collaborate, build skills, and actively work on something, which will greatly enhance learning.

For more ideas, read 10 Steps to Better Student Engagement courtesy of Edutopia.

Effective Practices for Online Interaction

Discussions are a great way to generate effective student-to-student interaction in distance education courses. But how do you know your students are really learning and benefiting from online discussions? What is your role? You can make your discussions more valuable by following a few simple rules.

Open Ended
To get students to interact freely, discussions should be a safe place where they won’t be judged. Use an Introduce Yourself discussion that asks students to describe their background, interests, and career goals, to begin building trust. Make subsequent discussion questions open-ended to invite many different correct responses.

Discussion questions should be interesting and applicable to the course learning goals. For example, post a fascinating problem, scenario, or dilemma that mirrors what students are learning, and then ask how they would go about solving it. Pose a challenge that causes students to rethink assumptions, and inspire them to support their statements with research.

Ask timely, compelling questions that motivate students to want to discuss them, such as a related current event or news item. This gets students thinking about how they can apply what they are learning to new situations.

Instructor’s Role
Be a frequent contributor in your online discussion boards. Establish a positive (but not intrusive) presence, and model responses that question, enrich, and guide the discourse, just as you would in a face-to-face class. As a wrap-up, consider posting a video summary of final thoughts and takeaways from the discussion forum, to reinforce learning.

Finally, think about giving participation points for discussions. Making it optional can send a message that it’s not important.