Friday, February 17, 2012

4 Fundamental Ways to Engage Students in an Online Course

In my experience as over the last several years, an important part of providing a quality learning experience is engaging students- having them actively interact in meaningful learning experiences. This is particularly important in online courses where students may tend to feel isolated or removed from others. In this post I describe what I call the the 4 fundamental ways to engage students in an online course

Four ways to engage online students, 4 fundamental forms of online interaction
Four Fundamental Ways to Engage Online Students.

There are 4 basic ways to engage students in an online course:
  1. Have students engage in doing real world tasks and solving real-world problems. This provides concrete, meaningful experience for the students and is much more intrinsically motivating to the students than learning content that doesn't seem relevant to them. It means having students do relevant things that they will likely do in their careers or in their lives.
  2. Engage students with the content in meaningful ways. this means having students use course content to solve problems or perform real-world tasks. It means providing students with well-designed multimedia. It means providing students with enough content that they can learn it and use it, but not so much content that they are overwhelmed.
  3. Engage students with their peers. Students should interact with peers in the context of solving real-world problems. Students should present ideas, critique, give feedback, and collaborate together. This interaction builds a sense of community and there is a great deal of peer-to-peer teaching that can take place.
  4. Engage students with the instructor. Students need guidance, support and feedback in the learning process. As one of my students wrote, instructors should "lead us through the fog." The teacher should make themselves available and provide feedback and guidance quickly so that students can progress in their learning.

As I have taught online courses at several universities, I have found that students continually ask for and appreciate these kinds of interaction. And when I design my course to include these kinds of interaction, students seem more satisfied with and excited about the online experience. Students seem to thrive and enjoy with successful, effective, satisfying learning experiences.

What do you think? Are these really the 4 fundamental ways to engage students in an online course? What else would you add? What are your experiences with engagement as a teacher or a student in online courses?


Bruce Daniels said...

Well thought out. I have to agree. Where I work there is a need for some training for production employees. Do you have suggestions or ideas on how to take a dominantly physical skill and creating CBT that integrates a real world activity. Let's say Soldering.

Mark and Cyndy Weiss said...

What are your suggestions for effective design of each engagement pair? Love to join with you on that.

joel gardner said...

Bruce, this is an important question. In an ideal situation you would provide students with clear demonstration of the skill as well as the opportunity to apply what they learn while receiving feedback and guidance. In an online environment, you can still do both but lose the real-world application (unless you have a facilitator on site to make it happen). So, I might do the following three things: (1 - Demonstration) Provide detailed examples of how to solder. These examples should have very clear explanations of what is done effectively, including a clear depiction of each step or component (hand-positioning, safety, etc.) (2 - Demonstration) Provide non-examples which show common mistakes or errors while soldering, including errors for each step or component. (3 - Application) Have students view examples of soldering and identify which are done effectively and which have common errors.

Again, this doesn't give them the opportunity to do the soldering, but it allows them to at least see the the process and the steps of effective soldering, including what is effective and what is not. Hope this helps, Bruce. Good luck- I'd be interested to see how things turn out.

joel gardner said...

Mark, this is a good question. And while I don't have a lot of context, I would state the following as key components of designing effective engagement with peers.

(1) Peer engagement should be based around a real-world problem or task. Students should be working together to do things that give them relevant experience and knowledge.

(2) Peer engagement should be designed to include the efforts of all. Students should not have opportunity to loaf and should be engaged in the task.

(3)Peer engagement should include individual and team application. In this way, the instructor can see how each individual is performing as well as how the team performs.

Again, this is very general because I don't have a context, and I am certain that there are many other considerations. Anything else you might add, Mark? Hope it is helpful.