What is learning? How do we improve student engagement?
Questions like these often come up in academia, as we come to realise that traditional education models no longer serve us well.
In fact, I was debating these questions with a private tutor. I enjoy debates, and the twenty-four-year-old PHD student was giving me a run for my money, as we debated what education could be like in the future, especially in the context of online learning.
“People need to learn on their own time,” explained the student. “And in a style that works for them, online learning is great for that,” “We are social creatures,” I replied. “There needs to be some form of social engagement, otherwise, people will have a hard time learning.”
“Then, you are just turning online learning into a normal classroom,” said the student. “How else can you improve learning and engagement with online learning, if you are not catering to the unique needs of each student?”
While I will not disparage the fact that each student has their own strengths and weaknesses when learning, I will refute the idea that custom learning models are the only way to improve learning and engagement.
I believe it’s possible to improve learning outcomes and increase student engagement in an online classroom using different techniques.
Pay attention! Keeping students engaged
An online classroom provides you with several dynamic tools to improve learning and engagement.
Using the chunking principle to distribute course material
If you a private tutor or involved in education in some way, then you would have heard about the chunking principle. For those of you who don’t know, the chunking principle refers to a series of learning strategies that better reflect how the mind processes information.
Studies show that the human mind processes information better in chunks, rather than large blocks. So as tutors, we should use this principle to improve learning in online classrooms. In fact, an online classroom is perfectly suited for this because we can set learning material in chunks, instead of blocks.
Most students have an attention span of about 10 minutes, so spacing out content puts more focus learning.
Incorporate social learning
An online classroom is the perfect place to build an online learning community. Even though people might be sitting miles apart from each other, there are plenty of opportunities to create a thriving community with your students. Several studies have shown that social learning improves student engagement.
Social learning also creates a more interesting learning environment (people process information better when they are listening rather than reading). Some of the best online classrooms encourage this social element with tools like forum discussions and Zoom integration to facilitate discussions.
It is difficult to keep students engaged when they don’t know where they are excelling and where they are struggling. I believe that feedback is one of the most powerful instruments in education because it keeps students motivated, and a motivated student is an engaged student.
Feedback is important because it gives students the feeling that they are making progress. But why stop there? You can make the feedback even more useful for students by setting goals to complete so that they make progress in their own way.
This will be difficult to pull off in a conventional class, but in an online classroom run by private tutors, delivering goals for each student should be easy.
Class is now in session
As our understanding of the human mind grows, we owe it to our students to create an environment that promotes learning and engagement over dated education models. Improving learning and engagement, not only benefits students, it benefits us as well.
An online classroom has all the tools students need to improve learning and engagement. The question is, how do we use the available tools to create the right learning environment?