Remembering that there are many types of online courses, many disciplines, different delivery methods as well as different types of online learners, here are techniques you can use to increase learner engagement in your online course.
Set clear instructions
“I had absolutely no idea of what I had to do apart from submit a final assessment by the end date.”
People tend to be cautious if they’re not quite sure what they have to do. Include clear and timely information on what they need to do, why they have to do it, and what type of outcome to expect. The marking/grading criteria needs to be clearly stated and accessible at all times.
Make sure that the learner knows how to navigate the course by providing simple navigation information prior to the formal start of the course.
Build in opportunities for communication
“Quite by accident I found out that there were other students studying the same online course at the same time as me … I bumped into one of them in the uni coffee shop.”
Make personal contact with the learner at the beginning of the course as well as at key stages throughout the course. Contact can be in the form of a welcoming email, a personal message or even a friendly phone call.
Consider including an ‘ice-breaker’ activity at the start of the course. Ice-breakers are especially important in the online environment because the social interaction typically found in a face-to-face environment is not readily available. Use the technologies available to you to include ice-breaker activities such as personal introductions, sharing of information and experiences, online games and puzzles. This type of activity also gives the learner the opportunity to practice using some of the tools prior to starting the ‘guts’ of their course.
Build in opportunities for interaction at regular intervals throughout the course. Provide learners with the opportunity to communicate and interact with each other by using tools such as chat and discussion forums. These interactions can be included for pure social contact between course participants or structured in such a way that they contribute to part of the overall course assessment.
“Text, text, text and more text! You might as well have sent me the course in the post!”
Activity design is all about how the learner applies or interacts with the course content. The focus is on getting the learner to use and engage with the course content in a variety of ways that enhance their learning experience.
Consider using different types of activities such as:
- Case studies
- Scenarios – branching activities
- Problem solving activities
- Synchronous and asynchronous activities – chat sessions and discussion forums
- Sharing of work to the group and/or instructor
- Group work / collaboration
- Opportunities to give and receive feedback
- Opportunities for self evaluation
Control the pace and flow of information
“Each section took me so long to complete. It was one hard slog!”
Break your content into chunks and give the learner time to process the information before moving onto the next section. Material should be presented logically, but learners should be able to move around freely.
Consider using learning techniques and activities such as reflection, discussions, chats, etc. Build these into key points of your learning objects/content.
“It was like being in one of those websites that made it to the top 10 worst websites list.”
People are attracted to things that look interesting. Your goal is to pull the learner into the course first by capturing their attention and then by creating a learning environment that is both relevant to the content and engaging to their senses.
Determine the look and feel of your course. A visually appealing course can give the message to the learner that what they are doing is important and worth their time.
Consider ways in which you can present the text information in a more visual format such as diagrams, charts, symbols, and icons. The simple use of graphics and icons can indicate activity types eg ‘Read’, ‘Discuss’, ‘Reflect’, ‘Test’.
Reward your learner
“What reward? My reward was finishing the course and never having to go online again!”
Rewards don’t have to be tangible items; they can be timed challenges, reaching a certain level of achievement, earning points or badges, or simple things like affirmation and encouragement from an instructor.
Build in feedback
“I had no idea how I was going – no feedback from the lecturer, not even a simple ‘Well done’ at the end of the course.”
Feedback needs to be done in a manner that is appropriate. It is important to create a learning environment where the learner can safely fail or make mistakes, where they can be challenged and engaged in the learning process.
Feedback can be built-in automatically using the quiz functionality in Moodle. Individualised and more personal feedback can also come through the instructor.
Identify key points in the course and provide opportunities for self-assessment. Make it easy for the learner to be able to contact you.
Future posts …
Learning management systems are becoming popular in schools with teachers putting up ‘content’ and creating ‘courses’. But … did anyone bother to ask the students how they want to use the LMS? What is the ideal online learning environment for a typical high school student? The ‘Brightcookie kids’ will share their thoughts and ideas with you!