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Increasing Engagement Rates in Online Learning

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With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the online education market went through a rapid growth spurt, with cutting-edge technological advances and the development of innovative design strategies. It is estimated that by 2026 the industry will be worth $457.8 billion

Yet institutions and educators still face the same age-old challenge of keeping students engaged, both in the traditional and virtual classroom. In face-to-face lectures, it is not uncommon to see students falling asleep at their desks or distracted by their phones. Likewise, in the online learning environment, students often struggle to stay focused, failing to participate fully in activities and learning materials.  

However, due to revolutionary innovations in the online learning space, a number of tools and possibilities for overcoming this challenge have been developed to keep students engaged. 

Why is student engagement important? 

When students actively engage in a course it leads to an increase in focus and motivation, which in turn translates to higher grades and higher student retention. The connection between student engagement and student success was examined by Sage. The study concluded that “student engagement is a key factor that contributes to the success of students on online courses.”  

Conversely, a decrease in student engagement inevitably leads to lower grades and is a contributing factor to absenteeism and high dropout rates. A study that explored high student drop-out rates concluded that online students are 2.5 times more likely to drop out than on-campus students. A Forbes article addressing online learning and the ability to gauge the remote learning experience of college students also revealed dramatic figures, with 52% of students stating they learned less in 2021 due to the remote learning environment.   

The lack of personal interaction and accountability in the online space often leaves students feeling isolated in their studies and many struggle to self-motivate without the infrastructure of a shared physical space and community. Adding to this challenge is the fact that students face constant distractions with the proliferation of online content and social media vying for their attention.  

Still, online learning is a reality for higher education institutions of the future. So, it is essential that institutions stay up to date with e-learning trends and find solutions to increase student engagement. Fortunately, there are many online teaching and learning tools and techniques available to help educators overcome these challenges.  

The challenges institutions and faculty face  

The transition from traditional to online learning methods continues to pose numerous challenges for educators, learning designers, and institutions. For many, online learning is still a relatively new approach. Adapting face-to-face methodologies to an e-learning environment requires experiential knowledge to create effective and engaging content.  

It also requires access to the necessary resources, as well as guidance and support within the institution. Some institutions may not have partners like Hubble Studios, who can assist with upgrading their systems as well as their design and content solutions. 

Luckily, there is a wealth of knowledge available to educators to help them upskill and adapt to the online learning environment. Based on our notable experience in the industry, these are some of the online student engagement tools that will help you build innovative and engaging online courses for your institution.  

Engagement strategies and tools 

At the core of current e-learning engagement strategies is the philosophy of ”less sage on stage and more learning by doing”. Learning should involve the student as an active participant in their studies. While lectures will always have their place, how we deliver them and support them with other online learning activities is beginning to evolve toward more interactive approaches.  A balance of synchronous and asynchronous activities should be utilized to engage the learner in different ways – both in a more formal online classroom setting and a social “outside the classroom” setting.  

Synchronous Tools 

Synchronous learning occurs in real-time and gives students the opportunity to feel connected to others. This sense of connection is key to student engagement and can be accomplished in a variety of ways.  

  1. Web conferencing 

Over the last two years we have all come to experience the ease, convenience, and effectiveness of tools such as Zoom and Google Hangouts. These platforms enable students to connect with classmates and instructors in virtual face-to-face interactions. They feature practical tools which emulate the classroom and are thus key to student engagement. Web conferencing tools can include features such as: 

  • Breakout rooms: Creating breakout rooms fosters more personal social connection and facilitates more interaction and participation in smaller sub-groups.  
  • Whiteboards: Whiteboards encourage students to participate and give them the freedom to express themselves in the live room through words and pictures.  
  • Live chats: With the global, widespread usage of applications like WhatsApp and Telegram, we are all familiar with live chats. This is a medium that enables instant communication and puts students at ease.  
  1. Office hours:  

Students should be given the opportunity to connect with their instructors one-on-one as they would in a traditional educational setting. This creates a sense of accountability and serves to make each student feel seen and heard. Institutions can utilize the same Web conferencing tools that they use for classrooms for this purpose. Some platforms enable calendar synching so that students can book slots for office hours online.  

  1. Webinars:  

The online space offers students new tools that were not available in the traditional classroom. Students can use dynamic tools such as webinars to collaborate on projects, meet informally for study or social sessions, and deliver presentations to their class in a live virtual room. They can also interact with their classmates via the chat sidebar and can use screen-sharing functionality for collaboration.  

Asynchronous Tools

Asynchronous tools are especially useful as they encourage engagement for those who have schedule limitations, are studying in different time zones, or have limited bandwidth. They also help those who lack the confidence to interact in real-time to engage with the course content outside of the classroom. These tools include: 

  1. Discussion boards: Discussion boards are a key element in online learning. They encourage three different interactions for students: those with the learning material, their peers, and their instructors. They give more reticent students the chance to express themselves with ease and find their voice. They also provide safe spaces for students to discuss their studies. It is important that lecturers set ground rules upfront and provide feedback and guidance in the discussions at regular intervals. Liezl Kruger of Hubble Studios believes that is essential to engage students using real-life examples. She advises: “Use open-ended questions and ask for real-life examples. This ensures a diverse range of responses, which will contribute to the learning value of all the learners reading the responses.” 
  1. Blogs or wikis: Blogs and wikis are interactive by nature and foster a sense of community. They can be used by students to create reflections and online portfolios and can serve as collaborative writing spaces where multiple students can contribute to a piece of work. 
  1. Podcasts: Podcasts help instructors connect with students in a less formal way, creating rapport. They can be used by instructors for teaching purposes or for providing students with general feedback. They help students feel less isolated in their learning experience.  
  1. Videos: Videos also add an individualized touch by emulating a classroom scenario. The ability to see and hear your peers and instructors is essential in promoting online engagement.  
  1. Quizzes: Quizzes encourage students to engage with the learning material, gauge their understanding, and feel a sense of achievement. It is important that quiz questions are written clearly, are positioned at the appropriate level of difficulty, and that they require students to exercise practical application. Detailed automated feedback to quiz responses also plays a vital role in optimizing these as learning tools.  
  1. Journals: Journals help students to engage with the course content. They provide a space where students can reflect on what they’ve learned as well as record their learnings. These entries/notes can be used for future reference, for example, when preparing for an assessment.  

Additional methods to engage students 

There are numerous other factors and tools that come into play when creating a highly engaging course. A solid course structure and achievement of milestones should be communicated to students at all stages in order to keep them motivated and engaged. Equally important are active learning opportunities, such as project-based learning experiences, that are relevant to students’ lives and that remind them of the value of what they are learning. Additionally, timeous feedback, a strong instructor presence, and building a sense of community should always be considered as priorities by learning designers, instructors, and institutions.  

How to navigate the way forward 

While the online learning space poses some challenges, it is also a highly innovative space that offers many opportunities for connection and engagement that were not available in the past. Tools and techniques for online teaching and learning can enable institutions and organizations to offer experiences that give students the best chance at meaningful learning.  

Hubble Studios has in-depth experience in the corporate and Higher Education spaces, and we’ve worked with some of the best institutions in the world in designing and delivering high quality and engaging learning experiences. We provide instructional design, content development, learning platforms, and student support. Contact Hubble Studios today to increase student engagement and enhance your organization’s offerings. 

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