Will remote learning ever be as good as the real on-campus experience?
There are some hurdles to overcome when addressing how to engage students online. When the pandemic forced an abrupt shift to online learning, many instructors struggled in their new digital milieu, and students often suffered from lower motivation.
Before lockdowns went into effect, earlier research showed that dropout rates were higher for distance learning courses than traditional face-to-face environments.
But remote learning is here to stay — even as universities and colleges prepare to open their doors again.
Online courses can open up a world of possibilities to people from all types of backgrounds, whether it’s a single parent who needs more flexibility or a time-strapped business manager. As real-world skills requirements change rapidly in a global market, the demand for remote learning is only going up.
As a result, the number of higher education institutions offering programs that are either entirely remote or follow a hybrid model of remote and in-person learning is set to increase dramatically. In some cases, this transition has been in the works for years that was merely accelerated by social distancing rules.
So despite the challenges, remote learning is here to stay.
Online learning will probably never be exactly like “the real thing.” And that’s okay. With the right approach, higher education institutions can make remote learning highly effective and engaging.
The upside is that there is a growing list of apps available to enhance the learning experience. By using digital tools to turn online learning from a solitary passive exercise into a dynamic and social experience, higher education institutions can create more opportunities for student engagement.
Here are 6 ways to do that:
Picture this: An instructor is lecturing about an exciting new concept but looks out and faces a sea of….blank stares. So she slows down, asks a few questions, and gets heads nodding again.
This kind of adaptive teaching style is something many gifted lecturers do intuitively, and it’s not something to take for granted. When a student feels overwhelmed, it can lead to disengagement.
It can be harder to read students’ visual cues in online synchronous learning environments and gauge comprehension effectively. Polls and surveys are an excellent way to address this challenge. Socrative, for example, is an app that enables instructors to quickly assess on the fly how well students are grasping the material so they can immediately adjust how they teach based on the results.
Several studies have shown that active learning influences whether students choose to stick with their institution. Giving students the opportunity to ask questions, learn from their peers, and debate issues they are passionate about can help foster a sense of community and engagement.
The benefits of active learning are well-understood for traditional environments, and they also apply to remote learning: One study suggests student discussions via online forums improve learning outcomes.
Higher education leaders will need to ensure that instructors are well-versed in stimulating interactions through online discussion forums. Some excellent tips can be found here for managing the size of discussion groups, providing structure, and ensuring everyone has the opportunity to be heard.
Perhaps one of the biggest criticisms of online learning is that it can prevent instructors from developing a genuine rapport with their students, making students feel like they don’t “matter” to the institution. It doesn’t have to be this way.
In one study of 23 online courses at two community colleges, researchers discovered that student success is linked to the level and quality of interpersonal interactions they encounter.
So when designing course content, it’s crucial to think about building in opportunities for instructors to interact with students.
Innovations that enable academics and their students to have discussions within an e-textbook can help to engage students.
Online quizzes are an effective way to motivate students to prepare for class and help with the consolidation of new concepts. In traditional learning settings, students who are quizzed regularly tend to perform better than those who are not.
But technology is changing the face of quizzing and providing instructors with new opportunities that they wouldn’t have in a real-world setting. For example, e-textbooks can provide instructors with the opportunity to embed short pop quizzes into the material, particularly after key passages that delve into complex topics.
By quizzing students immediately after reading a particular passage and giving them results right away, instructors can provide students with an opportunity to assess whether they are retaining new ideas and participate in a more dynamic experience as they absorb new content.
Libraries are the cornerstone of a solid on-campus learning experience, and until now, it has been challenging to replicate this experience online.
But the edtech market has evolved, and with a learning enablement platform, institutions can now provide students with 24/7 remote access to library content. Delivered via an e-reader app on any mobile, tablet, or desktop, the most robust digital textbook solutions (like BibliU's learning enablement platform) integrate fully with library and university systems.
By removing time and location barriers, organizations can help keep students focused on their studies — and not on the things that get in the way. A digital library can be a powerful tool for creating a learning experience that is efficient, effective, and equitable.
Technology is not just about trying to replicate the traditional in-person experience. In many ways, it takes higher learning institutions even further. For example, data points like student help desk tickets, LMS engagement rates, and content use statistics can yield valuable insights about student engagement.
It is not enough to rely only on end-of-course evaluations to improve the quality of course material and ensure it meets student needs. When using a learning enablement platform, you can dive into this data to ask questions like: How is the new module impacting student engagement and performance? This will help instructors and higher education leaders adapt to meet student needs.
Remote learning does not mean higher learning institutions must sacrifice essential elements crucial to student engagement like instructor feedback, interaction with peers, and access to quality content.
Surveys, online discussion forums, in-book discussions, and quizzing apps are all tools that help with these goals. And with digital textbooks and data analysis, higher education institutions can take learning to the next level while ensuring students have opportunities to learn when they want and how they want.
Perhaps the question of how to engage students online isn’t so complicated after all.
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