Five Ways to Keep Students Engaged in their Online ClassesKevin Toney | Public Relations Specialist, Utah State University Online
Online education has many benefits, but, as everything does, it also comes with its own set of challenges. Professors may struggle to find ways to keep their adult students engaged in the course since they don’t actually go to a classroom, and the adjustment from in-person interaction does take effort to overcome. However, online education can be just as rewarding for students and teachers alike.
It’s worthwhile for institutional leaders, too, to help faculty overcome these engagement obstacles. After all, improved online student engagement boosts retention rates, which has a direct impact on revenues. Additionally, improved retention—which drives improved completion rates—can help your school stand out to prospective adult learners seeking out an online program for their own education.
While online college courses might require a different approach to classroom engagement, it is certainly possible to get students invested in the learning process. Use the following tips to help your students stay actively involved in their education.
1. Keep Work Relevant
Adult students usually have a lot on their plate; school is likely not their only (or likely most pressing) responsibility. Many students may have jobs, families and bills all competing for their time. If the assigned work does not seem relevant both to the course and their future career, it likely won’t make it to the top of their ever-growing to-do list.
This doesn’t mean that every assignment needs to perfectly correlate with a day on the job, but students should be able to easily see how coursework will prepare them to qualify for and excel in future positions.
Make sure professors explain how even worksheets or reading assignments will build relevant skill sets and set students up for future success. Put everything in the context of how it applies to their real lives because, unlike grade school or high school students, professors’ pupils will already be living in the real world.
2. Provide Prompt Answers and Feedback
Some students, especially if they have never experienced online education before, may feel separated from the class and the teacher at first. Delayed communication can increase these feelings of separation and lead students to stop engaging.
Encourage instructors to answer questions via email or other messaging systems quickly. When your students can see that teachers are available and invested in their learning and success, they are more likely to be actively engaged in the process.
When providing feedback on papers or assignments, it’s important for instructors to get back to students quickly. When possible, they should provide immediate and detailed feedback in order to optimize their ability to learn from mistakes or questions, engage with the course in a meaningful way, and ultimately master the material and skills the class has to offer.
If teachers notice mistakes when discussing the work with students, they need to point out those mistakes immediately and respectfully. Correcting errors early on can help students perform better, but make sure the class discusses it in a way that leaves them encouraged, not embarrassed.
3. Get Mobile
As mentioned before, your students are likely balancing many responsibilities each and every day. In this digital age, it’s important for adult learners to be able to complete assignments on-the-go.
There’s a good chance several of your students are doing their reading and coursework on a mobile device during a lunch break or while their kids are napping. Make your deliverable material mobile friendly whenever possible.
If you want to engage your students in the learning process, you’ve got to make sure the resources are where they spend their time. While most of them won’t carry around a laptop or be near a desktop, many of them will almost always have their mobile devices on hand. Make it easy for them to pull out their phone and work on their homework or reading wherever they are throughout the day.
4. Remember Your Medium
Remember, your students will be engaging with content via a screen. This presents two challenges—screen fatigue and tiny screens. Back-lit screens will tire eyes out far faster than books will, and small screens on mobile devices will make normal textbook paragraphs seem like impossibly large blocks of text.
Format your materials to accommodate on-screen learning. Use short, concise paragraphs. Make sure your screen contains a lot of white space. If you are using colors, make sure to use a simple color palette and avoid overly loud colors like bright orange.
Try to make all of your materials visually compelling. Include useful charts, images and more. Infographics can be a great way to give online students a lot of simple information in a memorable way.
5. Create Social Spaces
Online students can benefit from the social dynamic of a classroom on their own terms. This is a huge benefit if used correctly.
If your institution’s platform allows for interactive posts, consider requiring students to engage in the conversation. While their first comment may be obligatory, many students might find themselves engaging in conversations more fully than they would in a crowded classroom. If you consistently create conversations the students are invested in, you’ll find that many of them will be willing to participate.
For further engagement, consider using social media as a tool. Facebook, for example, allows users to create private groups where your students can hold conversations in a familiar setting. They’ll get notifications from the group and any conversations in which they commented.
While online students might not think to go to discussion boards in your program of choice, many of them are probably already looking at Facebook and other social media platforms at least daily.
Author Perspective: Administrator