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Engagement Techniques for Online Education

By Linda Craig / October 2015

TYPE: PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT
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High-school teachers, college professors, their assistants, online tutors…all educators face a serious challenge: How to elevate the degree of interest, attention, passion, and involvement of students toward the learning process? This goal is even more difficult to achieve for online teachers, since this environment does not provide in-person contact between educators and students.

By now, the online learning industry has adopted techniques that enable teachers to develop closer connection with their students, such as interactive video lectures and discussion boards. Nevertheless new trends can contribute toward the development of online learning as one of the most effective manners of spreading knowledge across the world. There are several methods online teachers can adopt with the purpose of boosting levels of student engagement: gamification of the learning process, podcasts, live chats, different ways of providing feedback, and addressing each student's professional needs. Here are seven strategies to taking online instruction to the next level.

Gamification

Since the earliest adoption of online education, the system followed a rather traditional pattern. Motivational games were intended for the youngest generations of learners, while high-school and college students were expected to approach the process from a more serious angle. Keep this in mind games enable all students to put the knowledge they've gained into practice. The inclusion of games and fun quizzes in online curriculums is one of the most practical ways of improving the level of engagement in the program.

Some "serious" games for students include WolfQuest, PowerUp, and HumanSim. If you are looking for a way to motivate your virtual students to apply their skills and knowledge into practice, you should do your research, test the options, and implement properly vetted games into the program.

Micro Podcasts

The main factor for low engagement among online students is the lack of connection with the classroom environment. Students need to hear the instructor's voice. That's why many online educators share full-length lectures via podcasts. However, this lengthy audio material doesn't contribute toward any participation, since students lose their attention somewhere along the way. What can you do to make the lectures more engaging? Breaking lectures into a series of shorter podcasts no longer than five minutes will inspire students to analyze the concepts and ask questions. You can link each podcast into a single lecture, or you can focus on different aspects and create independent microcasts, which would enable students to gain knowledge in short bursts.

Online Chats

Do you expect all students to send their questions and engage in the learning process via email or discussion boards? Some of them will over-think the structure and content of their messages, and end up not sending them at all. Instead consider inviting students to an online chat. Live chats bring the instructor closer to the students. You can discuss issues in real time, better understand each student's needs and struggles, and evaluate their engagement in the learning process. Allow yourself to be informal, so your students don't perceive you as the scary instructor who's difficult to approach.

You can use weekly online chats as a way to provide an overview of the assignments for the upcoming week, discuss previous tasks, and offer tips for improvement. The best way to boost engagement even more is to invite smaller groups of students to online chats, so you can pay attention to each individual. Yes, this will take more time, but no one ever said online teaching was easy.

Consistent Feedback

In a traditional classroom setting, teachers can instantly discuss students' achievements and provide feedback on their performance. If you fail to bring that effectiveness into the online environment, your course will not entice a decent level of engagement. You don't have to spend the entire day writing long messages to each student. Offer brief opinions through live chat or email, but make sure to keep them flowing.

When a student works on an important research paper, for example, they won't be able to do everything on their own—even if you provide detailed guidelines. Once the student shares their initial attempt don't delay in providing feedback. If they have to wait for your feedback, they won't be able to get back to work and fix the issues because the spark to write a stellar paper may be long gone.

The Internet provides you with tons of opportunities for instant feedback, for example, I>Clicker or Socrative. Use them.

Focus on Students' Professional Needs

The main characteristic of an online student is practicability. They are usually not interested in learning tons of things they won't be using in real life. Steer the discussions in the direction of their professional goals. Ask them to think about ways the current topics relate to their professional vision.

If they feel the online learning process contributes toward their long-term goals, they will be inspired to participate in discussions. Aligning their interests with the curriculum can increase the effectiveness of your online course.

Call on Your Students

In a physical classroom, a teacher makes students part of the lesson by asking them questions. The same technique can be used during a live web cast where you have a captive audience. Instead of asking a question and having people raise their hands (as in regular classrooms), call on your students and ask them questions directly. There are a number of students who you can call on to answer a question, pick one at random. Asking a mixture of various open and closed questions will help keep the students on their toes, and asking questions about student's opinions will also help keep them engaged with the lesson. Sometimes the threat (for want of a better word) of being called upon is enough to keep students engaged and focused.

Storytelling

People learn better through stories. The philosopher Nassim Taleb and filmmaker Andrew Stanton (TED speaker) have proven that people learn better through stories, and part of the reason is because people can engage with stories. It is easier to understand why a person thinks they way they do, when you hear stories of how they spent their time in a basement reading old newspapers, or when you realize, that a person created Toy Story plot. Turn a series of facts into a story, or at least give the facts some context with a little background information.

Even small children will listen if you have a story to tell, and most people remember stories far better than they remember a series of connected or unconnected facts.

About the Author

Linda Craig is writing enthusiast and a professional editor at UK assignment service http://www.assignmentmasters.co.uk/. Her passion is modern British Literature and digital education tools.

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