In thinking of humanising online learning, we need to think of inclusive design. Inclusive design is critical for online learning as it grants pathways to education to people who, otherwise, may not have had the opportunity to access it. Utilising inclusive design principles requires learning design teams to know their audience to personalise the learning journey and create meaningful connections with and for the learners.
With the lack of face-to-face interactions and single-device delivery, online learning can chip away at human connection, turning learners towards screens rather than people. As online learning and blended learning solutions become more and more popular (and depended upon), there is the danger that learners and educators/instructors may lose motivation and grow to feel isolated in the learning journey. But how can you ensure that learners remain engaged?
Engaging learners is not only achieved through rich, personalised content but in how the content is presented. Incorporating interactivity into online courses adds a ‘human’ element by enabling learners to engage with the content, instructors, and one another. While interactivity looks different online than in a classroom, there is a range of tools and formats to achieve it. We will explore some examples below.
Video is a great way in which to present rich and complex content in an accessible way. By switching up the format in which content is delivered, learners can engage with the course in different ways. Since videos can range in quality and resolution, you do not necessarily need to break the bank to produce them. An affordable example of using video in online learning is through screencasts. Instructors or subject matter experts (SMEs) can easily demonstrate a process, the use of a tool, or explain complex information while learners watch and listen. If including videos without subtitles, consider providing transcripts along with them.
Discussion forums and social collaboration tools:
Creating opportunities for dialogue helps to preserve the humanity of learning experiences that happen online. A lot of meaningful learning happens outside of the content, activities, and assessments of a course. It happens in conversations and interaction. When a face-to-face connection is not possible, discussion forums can enable dialogue between learners and educators and substitute for a social interaction component of in-person learning.
Building in opportunities for self-reflection is another way of humanising the online learning experience. This could be a simple prompt to the learner, asking them to write down their thoughts. While there is no guarantee that the learner will do this, it does provide them with the option to step away from their screen.
Incorporating reflection activities in the form of polls and surveys can also help instructors gauge whether the content and methods of delivery are working. By encouraging learners to reflect on what they are learning, and how they are learning, they can be reminded that learning neither starts nor ends with a single activity or course.
In crafting the online learning journey, one size does not fit all. By keeping the learner front of mind, learning design teams can cater to their audience and incorporate content types and tools that will help humanise the experience and foster learner engagement