Though the concept of online learning has been around for quite some time now, most families were not even aware of it until they were thrust into a virtual classroom in March 2020. Now, I want to emphasize that this method of instruction was more of what I like to call “crisis learning”, not true online learning, as online learning has a set curriculum, standard of instruction, etc. However, one thing was for certain during this time of crisis learning: engaging the online learner is an entirely different beast than being live in the classroom.
Let me start by saying that engaging the online learner, while different than engaging live learners, can be done! Below you will find a few tips and tricks for engaging the online learner. However, before we jump into the meat of the article I want to point out that engaging the online learner is more difficult than engaging a student in the classroom and more difficult than engaging a student that is not in the virtual classroom.
Student Interaction: Live vs. Online
The first difference between engaging the online learner versus engaging a live learner is that online learners are generally lacking interaction, which to them can be very frustrating. In class settings, there are 3 main types of interaction (student-to-student, student-to-teacher, student-to-content) that students use to build knowledge. Of course, there are multiple other types of interaction and sources of engagement, but the 3 main types of classroom interaction.
Student-to-student interaction is engaging because it allows students to learn from one another. They can converse with one another about the topic at hand and even converse with other students in the past that had similar questions, etc. Student-to-teacher interaction is engaging because it allows for feedback from the teacher on a live lesson or assignment. It also helps to alleviate any student worries about making a mistake or getting something wrong. Finally, student-to-content interaction is engaging because it allows for a hands-on learning experience when engaging the topic. The student is able to learn more about the subject matter by engaging with the content rather than just merely reading text or watching a video, etc.
Now, all of these 3 types of classroom interaction can still happen in an online setting. However, they need to be emphasized and encouraged much more than in a live classroom setting. For example, engaging a parent with their child is very important to keep in mind for engaging the online learner. There will be less of that interaction between the parents and the student.
One method to incorporate or encourage this type of engagement between a family member and the child would be to set up a Google calendar and encourage parents of online learners to check the child’s calendar after the lesson has been completed. This is engaging because it makes the parent aware of what their child learned during that session, as well as allows for a more hands-on experience with real-world application.
Another difference between engaging the online learner and engaging a student in real-time is that engaging an online learner allows learners, especially older learners, to go back and review videos and assignments at their own leisure. This can be frustrating for the students because oftentimes they will want to come back and watch a video or assignment after being engaged in an activity for hours.
The downside of this is that now the student has to wait even longer for the next lesson, assignment, or video. However, engaging the online learner by allowing them to go back and review a video or assignment after engaging in another activity is engaging because it allows for more learning and less frustration on the part of the student.
Another big difference between engaging an online learner versus engaging a live student is how teachers respond to questions. In an in-class setting, students often come up with many questions during a lecture. Most of these questions are engaging because they help the learning process by allowing for further discussion on the topic at hand. However, engaging the online learner allows for more relaxed responses from both students and teachers. If a student has a question about the lesson being taught or if they need help with an assignment, engaging an online learner encourages students and teachers to just ask away.
In engaging the online learner, it is difficult for them to receive immediate feedback on their questions. They must wait until after engaging in another activity before engaging again. However, engaging an online learner allows for more open discussion on the topic at hand. This is engaging because it allows teachers to be honest about their students and what they know about a specific subject matter. It often gives both the teacher and student a better understanding of how much knowledge each holds regarding a certain topic.
There are ways to work around this (live chats, polling software, etc.), but that is something the teacher would need to set up ahead of time and then monitor throughout. If a class is fully digital, this is easier to accomplish than if a class is hybrid.
The biggest barrier I face engaging the online learner is the lack of human interaction. When engaging an online learner, there are many ways to help make sure that they understand and process the material being taught in addition to engaging with them even though there is no live human interaction.
Students can be engaged through social media, engaging them through their peers or engaging them through interactive, engaging programs like Khan Academy.
Students can respond to real-time conversations or they may be engaging with a review of material that has been previously covered. It is important to make sure that assessments are engaging; if the assessment is engaging, then students are more likely to apply what they have learned into their lives.
Online learning systems allow for engaging students through the use of both virtual and real-time content. These engaging tools can be used to engage students, as well as assess their knowledge.
Depending on what engaging online learning platform is being used, it may offer several engaging ways for students to receive feedback and assessments.
Online learning systems can be engaging as students gain a sense of accomplishment from completing their lessons. Students in engaging online learning environments are also free to learn at their own pace, engaging them in the material on a personal level as well.
An engaging-learning system can take more than one form and may include aspects of several other engaging strategies. An engaging system may take place over the course of a semester or a year. It may include engaging in real-time by engaging an online learner, engaging in virtual environments, and engaging through discussion boards and other e-tools.
Each engaging strategy can be used as part of one cohesive engaging system or separately to help engage students who are engaging online.
At the end of an online lesson, students should be able to apply what they have learned in a real-world setting. There must be ways to assess the students learning at each stage of their education and engaging them for further instruction when needed. This is absolutely vital in the success of online learning. It can be argued that a teacher needs to be even more in-tuned to where a student stands academically while online learning, which is a double-edged sword when it seems that the learner has disengaged.
Engaging and Retaining the Online Learner
Creating an engaging learning system requires a lot of work in order for it to be successful, creating engaging learning experiences takes patience. The most engaging way is through the use of virtual “societies” where students are able to interact with others who share similar interests. There are engaging ways of creating and engaging in these virtual societies. These engaging ways need to be carefully planned out beforehand so that the final outcome is engaging for all students.
Some engaging learning systems include a reward system or competition where students can engage with each other and learn from one another. A student will be more engaged if they are competing or engaging with other students.
Another engaging strategy is engaging the online learner through outside-of-school activities that relate to class material. An engaging environment may include a combination of engaging tools such as econometrics, professional development websites, and blogs or digital libraries/databases. Many times when engaging students through hands-on activities they will engage with the material more thoroughly.
Students may take engaging activities and engage with engaging tools that relate to an engaging learning system. Educators must be willing to learn how this works since it is a skill set of its own nature. An engaging learning system requires engagement from all involved: the learner, educator, and/or administrator. If one person is disengaged from the process, the system is likely to fail.
If engaging tools are used in an online learning environment, students can learn outside of school while engaging for further instruction when needed. A learning system like this will engage students with real-time and virtual material by presenting them with engaging questions that relate to what they have learned.
Engaging the Online Learner with the 4 Keys
There are four keys to student engagement that I discuss in my video training challenge that releases twice per year. It is called “Finding Your Student Engagement Formula” and it walks you through those four keys and how to implement them in the classroom. If you are interested in registering (it’s totally free), visit the Finding Your Student Engagement Formula Challenge registration page and you will be notified the next time the series is available.
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