It’s easy for students to feel anonymous when learning online. Here are a few ways to make the experience more engaging.
Online courses offer higher-ed learners of all stripes a flexible and accessible means of achieving their academic goals; however, they can run the risk of making students feel isolated and disconnected since offline interactions often aren’t a part of the package.
To avoid that pitfall, professors can personalize the learning experience to better engage their online students and help them succeed.
Here are four ways you can make online learning more personal:
Connecting students and instructors
In online courses – especially large ones – it’s easy for students and instructors to remain anonymous. Creating a forum where they can interact is a great way of making the course experience more personal.
By sharing thoughts, images, videos and links – and encouraging students to do the same – in discussion boards, you can help students get to know you, and each other too.
Click here to find out how a teacher at the University of Akron helped her students feel more connected by “Drawing Inspiration.”
Deliver materials at the right pace and skill level
Logging into a course and seeing tons of materials they need to get through by the end of the semester might be overwhelming for some students. Rather than dumping everything into their lap all at once, manage the pace by controlling the release of content by time or activity.
You might release Module 1 in the first week, Module 2 in the second week, and so on. Or, you might release Module 2 only after a student has completed a quiz in Module 1. Break the course load into smaller, more manageable chunks for students to work through.
Creating extra course materials to address different levels of mastery is another way to keep students engaged. These materials can be hidden by default and shown only to students who fall above or below a certain threshold.
Thresholds can be set for overall performance on an assessment. For example, if a student scores below 70% on a quiz, you might want to serve up extra content or assessments to help them shore up their knowledge on the topic before moving forward.
Or if a student scores above 85% on an assignment or quiz, you might want to provide them with extra articles, videos or other content that challenges them to enrich their knowledge and deepen their curiosity about the topic.
For truly advanced personalization, you can tailor content to students based on their mastery of concepts within the assessments. For example, a student might score 75% on their Physics 101 quiz, but taking a deeper look might reveal that while they scored high on questions relating to “motion” and “momentum,” they didn’t fare as well on questions relating to “electricity.” An LMS that supports deep personalization should be able to identify this level of understanding and segment students appropriately.
Recognize each students’ achievements
Posting announcements to let the class know when they collectively achieve a high average score on a quiz is one way of recognizing hard work, but individual congratulations to each student is even more powerful. However, in online-only courses, sometimes connecting with each student individually just isn’t feasible.
For example, you might want to email students who scored above 85% on the midterm exam to congratulate them. Doing this manually might require cross-referencing exam scores with a class list and sending a bunch of emails one at a time. But if an LMS supports it, you can trigger automatic emails to specific groups of students based on their activities in the system. Rather than doing things manually, an instructor might just tell the system to “send Email X to students who scored above 85% on Exam Y.”
Gamification is another great way of recognizing student achievements. Badging is the online equivalent of the “gold star.” Apps like Foursquare, Pokemon Go, and Fitocracy have shown that badges can incentivize people. Incorporating them into your courses is a simple way to introduce game elements and recognize achievements.
Adding “easter eggs”– such as hidden content or fun videos that only become available to students after a certain activity has occurred – can further gamify your courses.
Explore different approaches to teaching and learning
Alternative approaches to instruction – like competency-based education (CBE) – can help tailor course delivery to students’ needs. CBE focuses not on how much time is spent on the course, but on how well students understand the subject matter. Students may move more quickly through certain lessons or modules than others, but they have the freedom and flexibility to learn at their own pace. The underlying premise of CBE is that most students will succeed because each is given as much time and as needed to master the concepts being taught.
Here’s how you can personalize the learning experience using tools like release conditions and intelligent agents: