Increasing Engagement in Online Learning Environments – Part 1

Online Learning EnvironmentsIn the post-Covid world, universities are increasingly moving to permanently offer blended, hybrid, or fully online programs. However, creating an online course isn’t as simple as copying your in-person content into an online Learning Management System (LMS). Not everything that you do in an instructor-led classroom setting will translate to online learning environments. Take time to think about the many activities that occur during your class and how those activities will work in a virtual class. Being mindful that student engagement should be a top consideration when designing an online course. 

Creating Online Learning Environments

To increase engagement in online learning environments, you first need to have an online environment. Your online learning environments should be more than just a static repository for documents; it should be housed  in a Learning Management System. Learning Management Systems (LMS) are robust educational platforms that help you organize your virtual content into meaningful sections, allowing students and professors easy access to the information they need. There are many learning management systems to choose from, each with its own advantages. 

Adding Engagement and Connection

Once you’ve identified a suitable LMS for your project and you’ve set up your online environment, it’s time to look at engagement. How will you create a sense of community, connection, and social constructivism? An engaging virtual space lets students ask questions and learn from their peers. It’s also crucial for the students to feel connected to the professor when taking an online course.

Where do your students need to be engaged? The short answer is: everywhere. Each piece of content should have an element of engagement and purpose. Adding engagement requires intentionality as you design your course. 

Types of Connections

Here are some of the connection types to consider when designing your online course:

1. Lectures (Live and Recorded) 

When it comes to lectures, live is great. Live class sessions are excellent for creating a sense of connectedness with everyone in your class.

Recorded lectures are the second-best option for creating a student-teacher connection. Recording lectures should be authentic to your class, with you on the screen or performing a voice-over during a presentation. The students will hear your voice, which helps make a connection. 

Canned videos are videos that were pre-recorded by someone other than the professor. Examples include video content found on YouTube, Vimeo, or LinkedIn Learning. Canned videos can be useful, but they are not always as engaging as live or recorded videos created specifically for the class. Students can get video fatigue quickly,  so be mindful and very intentional when you pick canned material. 

2. Discussion Posts Help Boost Student Engagement For Online Learning Environments

Discussions are an excellent way to build community and engagement in an online course. Many Learning Management Systems come with a built-in discussion forum feature, making it easy to add this functionality to your course. Additionally, some professors use video tools, like Zoom, that include chat features and breakout rooms.

Once you’ve selected a tool or technology to use for discussions, your next decision is to determine the logistics. This is critical for maintaining student engagement. A typical format for discussions is to have each student create one initial post and then reply to two of their peers. Replies should offer constructive feedback that contributes to the discussion, shares insights or feedback, and stimulates additional conversation. 

How much should you engage your students during these discussions? The answer: it depends.

If the professor intrudes too much, the discussion shifts to being between the student and the professor. If the discussion is between the students and the professor, the professor needs to respond to almost every post. This can quickly become unmanageable! If discussions are peer discussions and you act as the guide, you only need to respond between 25% and 50% of the time. We often recommend that professors respond with summary responses. For instance, the professor can take what two or three students are saying, summarize their position(s), then ask a question around that position.

This is a good stopping point for Part 1. Please see Part 2 as we discuss interactions with the class, touchpoints, videos, maintaining the work you are doing, and setting boundaries and expectations.