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The Wired Classroom: Leveraging Technology to Engage Adult Learners

The EvoLLLution | The Wired Classroom: Leveraging Technology to Engage Adult Learners
Across the board, postsecondary educators could do more to engage their students by leveraging technology in new and innovative ways.

Learners and educators alike are often intimidated by—and even resistant to—the use of new technologies in a classroom setting.

To the learner, placed in a classroom where they’re learning new concepts, sitting in tests and evaluations, and having to navigate a new social environment, the addition of technology can often feel more like a burden than a blessing. For the educator, there is often fear that learning technologies will displace some aspects of teaching or make them obsolete. There is also some resistance to change, or the feeling that, “If it isn’t broken, why fix it?”

While the hesitations on both sides are understandable, I have found clearly and on multiple occasions that the benefits of using technology purposefully in a classroom setting vastly outweigh any hesitations I may have about employing it. From the opportunities for spontaneous or just-in-time learning to providing unique experiential learning opportunities to understanding how my students are interacting with my course material, there are many different opportunities to increase learner engagement by strategically employing technological tools.

In this article, I will provide three specific examples. Firstly, I will talk about the use of the social media platform Twitter as a classroom discussion tool. Secondly, I will discuss how simulations can transport students from the classroom to the workplace. Finally, I will discuss how the humble learning management system can take your teaching to the next level.

Twitter: Meeting students where they already are

While not all students regularly use Twitter, the majority of our students use some type of social network. They are accustomed to posting online, and often prefer the anonymity of online interaction to the social awkwardness they feel in interpersonal communication. In fact, a recent report by the Pew Internet and American Life Project indicates that 65 percent—or nearly two thirds of American adults—use social networks, with 90 percent of people under 29 doing so. Using any social networking tool in the classroom represents an opportunity to meet students where they already are.

In my experience, Twitter offers two distinct benefits to engaging learners. First of all, it allows learners to respond to classroom discussions in a way that feels right for them, offering shy or introverted students a chance to participate in the class discussion without having to speak in a public forum. Secondly, it allows students to continue the conversation after class is completed, posting relevant links to course material, and reaching out to you (the educator) with additional thoughts or questions. The best way to encourage this type of participation is via a course specific hashtag, offering participation marks to those people who choose to engage this way. I have found that once students get in the habit of using a tool like Twitter for the course, they often continue to reach out, long after the course has ended. Now that’s what I call lifelong learning!

Simulations: Digital Experiential Learning Opportunities

As educators, we often strive to engage students by providing them with opportunities to learn through doing. In fact, experiential learning has proven to be very popular because it is effective, especially for adult learners who bring a wealth of experience with them into the classroom. Experiential learning, however, isn’t always able to provide students with the feeling of being in the workplace. Simulations that can provide digital experiential learning opportunities help to bridge that gap.

New technologies are able to create immersive experiences for students, while making learning more engaging through the use of game mechanics and real time feedback. Some even encourage social innovation, such as the Global Social Innovation Game, which was developed by professors at Ryerson University and encourages high school students to think about social entrepreneurship. In my experience, while games and simulations can initially be intimidating to set up, students report high levels of engagement and enjoyment when learning this way. For younger students, simulations offer a chance for real experience, and for older students, simulations allow them to learn in a comfortable, familiar and relevant environment.

Learning Management Analytics: Get the most from your LMS

Most of us are accustomed to posting grades or course outlines on some sort of Learning Management System. However, for many educators, that’s as far as they go. However, no matter the LMS, most have capabilities that go far beyond entering grades or posting assignment instructions. Modern LMS’s contain learning analytics that help educators get the most from the tool, and bring a new level of engagement into the classroom.

Using the analytics available on my LMS, I am able to see who has viewed the presentations I post, how many times students have downloaded readings or other content, and what time they’re accessing the course material. I can run tests or quizzes in the LMS and use the analytics to better understand what questions are working and what questions are not. I can build in a survey question on the course material students are learning in real time to test understanding of a concept. I can also solicit anonymous feedback from students to ensure the course is working for them

Each of these points of information I bring back into my teaching, learning when to clarify concepts, or how to better structure a lecture. I can offer tips to students if I see that their study techniques aren’t working, and I can customize my course in a way that meets the latest recommendations for teaching and learning. This shows that an LMS is so much more than just a place to store information. It is a source of real time research about your course and your students that is just waiting for you to engage with it.

Improving Learner Engagement

Social media, simulations and LMS analytics are only three examples of how technology can provide opportunities to increase student engagement. What we can learn from all of them is that thoughtful application of the right tools is not something to be feared, but instead an opportunity to create lasting and meaningful learning experiences.

While I never recommend adopting technology for it’s own sake, I do believe that we can use it for new opportunities to reach our students and improve our teaching practice.

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