Engage the Online Student
When we talk about engaging students in the online classroom, we are talking about engaging them with the content, with each other, and with you — the instructor.
We’re also talking about keeping them engaged and involved in the learning experience throughout the entire duration of the online class.
When your students are in the face-to-face classroom, you can see if they are paying attention, listening, or participating. You may even have developed strategies for keeping their attention, and helping them stay interested in lectures or classroom activities.
In the online space, your students will engage with learning materials – lessons, discussions, activities, assignments – on their own time. Yes, you will set deadlines, but your students will choose their own time to engage and interact with these learning activities and materials.
In many ways, engagement and interaction in the online classroom can be deeper than in a face-to-face class. Students have time to reflect on reading materials, and think critically about discussion questions before they post their answers and responses.
When looking for ways to best engage students in an online course, instructors need to think first about what the course objectives and learning outcomes are. Thinking about how you want your students to succeed can guide the design, development, and delivery of engaging course elements. It also helps to tap into your students’ knowledge, and enable them to share their thinking and experiences as they grapple with the course concepts and try to apply them.
Here are 5 strategies that work to create an engaging learning experiences for online students:
1. Ask them what they know.
Your online students may be coming from different programs or even different schools. Poll your students early on in the course to find out what they do know about the subject you are teaching, and how they came to be taking your course.
2. Keep their aspirations in mind.
If course goals are in alignment with student goals, your students will stay engaged in any learning space. Ask your students what their personal learning goals are. You may not be able to change the course objectives, but you may be able to adjust the approach to meeting those objectives to help your students meet their personal goals and stay engaged.
3. Be interested in their interests.
Connections form in the online space around shared interests. Provide opportunities for students to share what is meaningful to them, and explore ways to contextualize the course content and activities to play off of that meaning. Also provide avenues for students to share their interests with each other.
4. Find out what challenges them.
When students are challenged, and have no avenue for sharing that challenge, they may become disengaged and drop off in the online space. As an online instructor you need to keep communication channels open and reach out on a regular basis to your students – especially the ones who may be having trouble in your course. If a student seems to be up against a challenge, you need to follow up and explore that challenge together. Your online students need feedback to stay on track, and to overcome obstacles and challenges.
5. Model the learning experience.
Your students may be as new to online learning as you are. As an online instructor, you can model the learning experience by participating in learning activities and showcasing your own work alongside the students. If they are doing a project for the first time, provide guidance as to what is good, what is better, and what is best. Let your students know WHY you are having them read, review, discuss, or create materials in your course. When learners know the reason why they need to complete classwork, they will be more interested. When learners understand HOW what they are learning is relevant to their real lives, and how they can apply it in ways that are meaningful to them personally, you have engaged them in their own learning. Relevance is key!
MORE TO EXPLORE
Ten Ways to Overcome Barriers to Student Engagement Online
This article deconstructs obstacles to student engagement, and breaks them down into three areas: social, administrative, and motivational. According to the author, looking at student engagement barriers in this way makes them easier to overcome.
Tools of the Trade: Engaging the Online Learner
In this webinar recording from the International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL)’s 2010 National Online Teacher of the Year presents strategies to engage learners in online classrooms. This presentation covers important strategies teachers can employ to increase online learner motivation in their classes.
Online Student Engagement Tools and Strategies
This report from Faculty Focus includes 11 articles pulled from the pages of Online Classroom newsletter and provides practical advice from online instructors who recognize the value of engagement and its role in learner retention and success.