Student Engagement in Online Learning
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.
When determining how to make online learning more engaging and effective for students, instructors should consider the type of students they teach. For example, engaging STEM students requires tools and techniques different from those that are needed to teach humanities students. While increasing student engagement is easier said than done, you can get on the right track by strategizing around your students’ needs, accounting for their preferences, and learning from others in your space. Seeing what has worked—and what hasn’t—for other instructors is a great way to start formulating some ideas and putting those ideas into action.
One of the most popular learner engagement strategies in online class environments is using discussion boards to facilitate and inspire regular interaction between students. Just because they’re learning online does not mean that students should feel disconnected from each other. By prompting students to post to discussion, you can help create connection among students, help students share their thoughts, and keep them more engaged.
You can also view some of the latest research and literature on the topic. Wiley Online Library’s article “Student Engagement in Online Learning: What Works and Why” describes the modern digital learner . This also describes some of the best practices schools should follow to keep up with today’s students in the digital age. It can be a great resource for educators and administrators as they design curricula and determine how to deliver course material to best meet students’ needs.
While the impact of online learning on student engagement and academic success is still being studied, one thing is clear: students benefit greatly from regular interaction with peers and instructors. By offering your students plenty of opportunities for engagement, you can create a more cohesive classroom environment. Unlike the physical classroom settings, where instructors can control engagement more directly, instructors have to work a lot harder to engage students in the digital realm. For this reason, instructors and school administrators should stay on the look for innovative solutions to increase learner engagement online.
What is Student Engagement?
So what exactly is student engagement? What does student engagement look like, and why is student engagement important? Student engagement refers to the process by which students are immersed in the course material. This typically involves peer-to-peer interaction and the use of various tools and technologies to deliver course material that is both educational and intriguing. For example, polling is one of the most popular student engagement activities. It is a great way to gather student opinions, kick off new topics, and assess how well they’re absorbing course material.
Other types of student engagement center around collaborative activities, like peer review, and individual mentoring with instructors. There are many different ways to boost student engagement in higher education, allowing for a wide range of creativity in how to design courses.
Importance of Student Engagement in Online Learning
The importance of student engagement in online learning cannot be overstated. But what is student engagement in online learning? In online learning, student engagement describes the way in which students interact with instructors and classmates to improve learning outcomes. It measures the extent to which students are connected and involved with course material.
Even more so than in face-to-face courses, students in online courses need to be able to interact with peers and instructors; they need to be able to discuss the things they are struggling with and share their ideas to help others in the class. Students who are disinterested in the material or learning activities will disengage, which leads to apathy and, ultimately, poor performance.
The need for online student engagement became especially apparent throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Because the transition to online learning happened so abruptly, instructors had little to no time to prepare to teach the course in the digital landscape. The initial lack of student engagement in online learning left educators and students understandably frustrated. With the spotlight now on student engagement, institutions were tasked with finding ways to keep online students involved in course material. They quickly realized the value of peer-to-peer and peer-to-instructor interaction, even with remote learning.
To improve student engagement, institutions began investing in video tools and related technology so that students and educators could remain in close contact. Even with the pandemic abating, and students returning to in-person classes, institutions are continually looking for ways to improve online student engagement and student outcomes. There are a number of reasons why more and more students are opting for online and hybrid learning models, and institutions need to be flexible in order to keep up with the demands of today’s modern learner.
The importance of student engagement in online learning should not be underestimated. Supporting faculty professional development in this area is essential. Many educators participate in student engagement training and workshops in order to learn how to increase engagement in their online courses. Education today is heavily dependent on technology and is likely to become even more tech-based in the near future. It is incumbent on educators to keep up with the latest tools to facilitate engagement in the digital classroom. By doing so, they can work to create better learning experiences for their students.
How to Increase Student Engagement in Online Learning
Learning how to increase student engagement in online learning is vital to creating and sustaining an effective digital learning environment. By prioritizing students’ engagement in online learning, instructors can create a more positive experience for everyone involved and help students sharpen their communication skills. It’s important to lay the groundwork for implementing effective engagement strategies in your online classroom.
Many factors affect student engagement in online learning, most of which are detailed in leading literature on the topic. Lack of access to internet-capable devices is among the top factors negatively impacting students’ success in online courses. Institutions should be mindful of the tech-related challenges faced by students. Poor learning habits and lack of self-motivation should also be taken into account. Many students struggle to keep up with self-paced courses, and so providing additional resources and course delivery methods is important.
Deploying a survey of student engagement activity is a great way to better understand student engagement and determine how to increase their involvement in online courses. Your survey might touch on topics related to tech accessibility, communication with instructors, and any learning difficulties they may be facing. The results of your survey can be extremely helpful when developing student engagement strategies and planning activities to engage students in online learning.
Other tactics to consider implementing when improving student engagement online:
- Use emotion-based, multimedia & student-facilitated discussions for better student engagement in online learning
- Design online collaboration activities like peer reviews
- Create milestone due dates that guide students through a series of assignments, serving to keep them on track
Different institutions serve different types of students and can benefit from different student engagement techniques. For example, institutions with large class sizes can help get students involved in group projects. Those participating in smaller classes may be put into pairs or small groups for more personal engagement. Small class sizes allow for more one-on-one interaction between students and with instructors.
Regardless of class size, students can benefit from tools like chat and multimedia integration. Being able to converse with their peers and instructors can help keep them involved and engaged in course material. Additionally, by incorporating relevant media into their class discussion posts and assignments, they can more easily convey ideas and help their classmates understand complex topics. These strategies promote student engagement and are shown to be highly effective at keeping students interested.
Online Tools for Student Engagement
Harmonize offers a range of student engagement tools to improve retention, including rich multimedia discussion and Q&A boards, polling, chat, and more — all of which allow students to participate in the ways that work best for them. Using online tools for student engagement increases the quality and quantity of student-to-student, student-to-content, and student-to-instructor interactions.
- Rich Multimedia & Annotation
- Built-in Chat, Polling & Q&A
- Tagging, Notification & Reactions
- Streamlined Grading to Save Instructors Time & Focus on Feedback
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 the student engagement software is 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. To do all of this, some institutions rely on a variety of disconnected tools that aren’t fully integrated with the LMS — creating additional barriers for instructors and making it more difficult to create a cohesive learning experience that engages students.
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.