Improve Online Learning for Students

Tools to help instructors save time and better engage students in online discussions & collaborative work.

instructor typing on laptop

Help students more easily discover and engage with content and their classmates.

Harmonize sets students up for success

Increase student engagement

Harmonize shows students and instructors everything that’s happening, at a glance. As a result, it’s easy for students to discover content and for instructors to monitor student engagement. Reactions and tagging make collaborating in online discussions feel easy and natural for students.

Keep students on the ball by providing more structure  

Milestones, or multiple due dates, help students remember deadlines and engage now instead of at the last minute. Use them to set clear expectations, remind students of approaching due dates, and pull them back into the conversation.

student engagement insights

Monitor engagement and better support students

Engagement Insights show instructors how much — and how well — students engage with course content and one another. These tools make it easy for instructors to see when a student is at risk and to reach out to offer more support.

These features are designed to maximize engagement. And they do.

Streamlined grading

Get all the info you need about student performance in one place. No more poking around the LMS to see whether students posted or commented.

plagiarism detection icon Autograding

When students contribute to discussions, they automatically receive points according to the instructor’s specified grading system.

LMS gradebook integration

Enjoy total integration with your LMS gradebook. Harmonize sends grades and comments to the gradebook, so instructors don’t have to perform duplicate work.

Plagiarism detection

Integration with tools like Turnitin and Unicheck ensures instructors never have to manually verify the originality of students’ contributions.

Engagement Insights

Get a clear picture of student engagement. A comprehensive set of metrics helps instructors gauge performance and identify students who need help.

Effectiveness of Online Learning

The effectiveness of online learning is still being researched. Still — and partly in thanks to the pandemic — the popularity of online courses has grown rapidly over the last two years. Online learning can take a number of different forms. Often people think of Massive Open Online Courses, or MOOCs, where thousands of students watch a video online and fill out questionnaires or take exams based on those lectures.

While the sophistication and effectiveness of online courses and distance education programs continues to increase, there are weaknesses inherent in the use of this medium that can pose potential threats to the success of any online program. In a scan of ‘effectiveness of online learning’ articles, the statement of the problem about effectiveness of online learning include:

Equity and Accessibility to Technology: Before any online program can hope to succeed, it must have students who are able to access the online learning environment. Lack of access, whether it be for economic or logistic reasons, will exclude otherwise eligible students from the course. This is a significant issue in rural and lower socioeconomic neighborhoods. Furthermore, from an administrative point of view, if students cannot afford the technology the institution employs, they are lost as customers. As far as internet accessibility is concerned, it is not universal, and in some areas of the United States and other countries, internet access poses a significant cost to the user. Some users pay a fixed monthly rate for their Internet connection, while others are charged for the time they spend online. If the participants’ time online is limited by the amount of Internet access they can afford, then instruction and participation in the online program will not be equitable for all students in the course.

Computer Literacy: Both students and facilitators must possess a minimum level of computer knowledge in order to function successfully in an online environment. For example, they must be able to use a variety of search engines and be comfortable navigating on the World Wide Web, as well as be familiar with Newsgroups, discussion boards, FTP procedures, and email.

Risk of Disengagement: Less oversight, structure, and a lack of physical location can lead to a growing sense of isolation and increased distraction for online students. To curb these threats to engagement, most online courses have a format much more similar to in-person courses. The teacher helps to run virtual discussion among the students, provides assignments, and follows up with individual students. Sometimes these courses are synchronous (instructors and students all meet at the same time) and sometimes they are asynchronous (non-concurrent). In both cases, the instructor provides opportunities for students to engage thoughtfully with subject matter, and students, in most cases, are required to interact with each other virtually.

Online Learning Effectiveness Research

If you do a search for online learning effectiveness research, you’ll find budding research on the topic, including new research on the effectiveness of online learning in the pandemic, covid-19.. Pandemic aside, in a study on the effectiveness of online learning to students, researchers suggest that the physical “brick and mortar” classroom is starting to lose its monopoly as the place of learning.

The Internet has made online learning possible, and many researchers and educators are interested in online learning to enhance and improve student learning outcomes while combating the reduction in resources, particularly in higher education. It is imperative that researchers and educators consider the impact of online learning on students compared to traditional face-to-face format and the factors that influence the effectiveness of online courses.

This study out of Vanderbilt University examines the evidence of the effectiveness of online learning by organizing and summarizing the findings and challenges of online learning into positive, negative, mixed, and null findings. Particular attention is paid to the meta-analyses on the effectiveness of online learning, the heterogeneous outcomes of student learning and the endogenous issue of learning environment choice. Taken as a whole, findings show robust evidence to suggest online learning is generally at least as effective as the traditional format. Moreover, this body of literature suggests that researchers should move beyond the “no significant difference” phenomenon and consider the next stage of online learning.

Effectiveness of Online Learning for Students

A number of studies have assessed online versus in-person learning at the college level in recent years. A key concern in this literature is that students typically self-select into online or in-person programs or courses, confounding estimates of student outcomes. That is, differences in the characteristics of students themselves may drive differences in the outcome measures we observe that are unrelated to the mode of instruction. In addition, the content, instructor, assignments, and other course features might differ across online and in-person modes as well, which make comparisons difficult.

The most compelling studies of the effectiveness of online learning for students draw on a random assignment design (i.e., randomized control trial or RCT) to isolate the causal effect of online versus in-person learning. Several studies were able to estimate causal effects of online learning on student performance for final exams or course grades in recent years. Many of these studies found that online instruction resulted in lower student performance relative to in-person instruction; although in one case, students with hybrid instruction performed similarly to their in-person peers. Negative effects of online course-taking were particularly pronounced for males and less-academically prepared students.

The effects of online learning on student performance quantitative research by Kofoed and co-authors adds to this literature looking specifically at online learning during the COVID-19 pandemic in a novel context: the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. When many colleges moved classes completely online or let students choose their own mode of instruction at the start of the pandemic, West Point economics professors arranged to randomly assign students to in-person or online modes of learning.

The same instructors taught one online and one in-person economics class each, and all materials, exams, and assignments were otherwise identical, minimizing biases that otherwise stand in the way of true comparisons. They found that online education lowered a student’s final grade by about 0.2 standard deviations. Their work also confirms the results of previous papers, finding that the negative effect of online learning was driven by students with lower academic ability. A follow-up survey of students’ experiences suggests that online students had trouble concentrating on their coursework and felt less connected to both their peers and instructors relative to their in-person peers.

Cacault et al. (2021) also use an RCT to assess the effects of online lectures in a Swiss university. The authors find that having access to a live-streamed lecture in addition to an in-person option improves the achievement of high-ability students, but lowers the achievement of low-ability students.

Effectiveness of Online Classes During Lockdown

When it comes to the effectiveness of online classes during lockdown, it’s difficult not to take into account a variety of other factors. One of the worst pandemics of recent memory, COVID-19, severely impacted the public in general. In particular, students were physically and mentally affected by the lockdown and the shift from physical person-to-person classrooms to remote learning. This increased the prevalence of psychological stress, anxiety, and depression among university students.

In a U.K. study of over 13,000 students on the impact of covid-19 on online education, four in five students said their education suffered during lockdown. And almost half say they have been unable to catch up with learning lost while schools were closed. The findings come after new research published in the journal Educational Researcher found that federal aid in the U.S. was not enough to address student learning loss as a result of the pandemic, just one of the critical problems faced by students in online classes during covid-19.

The U.K. study also found that students from less advantaged households were most affected by lost learning during the pandemic: missing more time of school, less likely to attend schools that offered live lessons and less likely to be able to access online teaching.

Overall, there were clear advantages and disadvantages of online learning during covid-19. While students felt behind, students also experienced new levels of flexibility and independence, which worked to improve time management skills and led to better ways of increasing participation in online courses.

Effectiveness of Online Learning During COVID-19

Using qualitative exploratory research on the effectiveness of online learning during covid-19, researchers from the University of Southern Maine documented the experiences of 90 undergraduate and graduate students on how online education was affecting their learning during the pandemic. Data was collected from School of Social Work students at a northeastern public university in the United States. Their findings showed that participants were unsatisfied with the unexpected disruption to online education. However, they had adjusted to digital learning and stated that they would rather have subpar education than put themselves and others in danger due to COVID-19. The major challenges of online learning during covid-19 that the students encountered were: (a) struggles with online education, (b) difficulty connecting with instructors, (c) lack of motivation, (d) losses, (e) difficulty accessing other learning resources, and (f) unsafe/inaccessible home environment.

From this experience, we collectively asked how to improve online learning during covid-19? What emerged was an opportunity to embrace and apply what we have learned to instructional design, resources and tools, and effective online course development processes — including designing courses with a better mix of synchronous and asynchronous learning activities. With this strategy in hand, instructors can improve the effectiveness of their online courses, focusing on 1) powering collaboration during course prep with faculty and among students in blended courses, 2) creating pathways for multi-directional communication during coursework, and 3) fostering inclusive opportunities by removing barriers, enabling flexibility, and expanding technology access both in teaching and learning.

How To Encourage Students To Participate In Online Class

The key for how to make online learning more engaging and effective for students is technology. Students today expect more from the tech used by their institutions. Today’s college-age students have grown up with technology and social media and are accustomed to learning, collaborating, and communicating online with ease. As such, it is critical that schools learn to adapt to the evolving needs and preferences of those they serve. With the right tools, student engagement in online learning can be improved—it is often a matter of figuring out how to leverage those tools for maximum impact.

Using online tools for student engagement increases the quality and quantity of student-to-student, student-to-content, and student-to-instructor interactions. Harmonize’s collaborative online learning tools are designed to create a better online learning experience for students. They include:

A good student engagement platform also provides tools for instructors to monitor student engagement and interactions to see who needs extra help. For example, with the platform’s activity reports, instructors can view student participation and see who is the most or least engaged in course material. This is a great way to gauge the effectiveness of your engagement techniques and activities. Engagement tools like these can be used to create a more positive learning environment for students and instructors alike.

The bottom line is that having access to the right tools to power effective online learning is paramount. Making sure your technology and student engagement activities are inclusive of different learners’ styles, fosters social connection and community, and is designed to help instructors track student participation could spell the difference between student success or attrition. They’re the key for how to encourage students to participate in class.

Harmonize is a single suite of digital discussion and collaboration tools that integrate seamlessly with your LMS to facilitate a more engaging online learning experience. It’s everything an instructor needs to increase student engagement online and promote inclusive learning, while saving time and eliminating manual tasks.

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