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?

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