Educators offering online courses are always searching for ways to increase learner engagement. Despite the obvious benefits of convenience, economy, access, and opportunity, online learning has struggled to capture and maintain the attention of its intended audience. A recent analysis of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) suggests that the average rate of completion hovers around 15%.
It was previously assumed that simply incorporating an abundance of rich media (e.g., video) into courses would be sufficient for online learning to rival the completion rates observed in traditional classrooms. This has not proven to be the case. The problem with online courses, it seems, is not a lack of media but a lack of interactivity.
The surge of interest in gamification in recent years has been driven by the belief that, rather than attempting to replicate the physical classroom online, educators should be using “tricks” and techniques native to the digital world. Opinions differ as to the effectiveness (and the appropriateness) of this approach. Whatever your feelings (and understanding) on gamification is, the problem of maintaining the engagement of online learners remains a real challenge for educators.
Many potential remedies have been explored, but it is becoming increasingly clear that there is no panacea for solving the issue. One of the best approaches to understanding and addressing the issue of engagement is to explore the aspects of classroom instruction that are absent on digital platforms.
#1. Real-time, Face-to-face Interactions
Nothing facilitates the rapid exchange of ideas better than gathering in a shared physical space. Interactions that take place in moments in a traditional classroom can take days to unfold using forums and message boards. It’s no wonder the interest of participants is poorly sustained.
Plugins such as BigBlueButton, however, go a long way toward bringing the dynamic of the classroom to online courses. Live video is combined with tools that enable learners to signal their desire to speak. There’s also a chat function to pose questions and feedback for the instructor to address. An additional advantage is that everything is recorded for review at a future time.
Audio and video recording tools, when placed in the hands of learners, can also bring a higher level of interactivity to courses.
#2. Instant Feedback
There is plenty of evidence (PDF) to indicate that feedback is most effective when it is given in a timely manner. the Quiz Module or Activity on your LMS offers a variety of configurations that allow students to check their responses, get hints, try again, and receive feedback specific to an individual question. While it may take additional time to provide this level of interactivity, it’s well worth the effort.
Plugins that take advantage of speech-to-text APIs, such as Poodll, can match a learner’s oral responses to models and provide immediate scores and other forms of feedback. These can be especially helpful in areas such as reading instruction and language learning.
It’s difficult to overestimate the value of praise and recognition in helping learners to stick with a course of study. Digital badges have been a part of elearning for years, but many admins and teachers have yet to take advantage of them. Marking important course milestones with a digital badge is a great way to help students maintain motivation.
Certificates have long featured in traditional courses as a mark of achievement. Why not do the same for your online courses? If you require convincing of the power of certificates, just consider how often you’ve seen them framed and prominently displayed on the walls of professionals in every sector.
Leaderboards ignite the spirit of competitiveness in learners and provide them with an extra push to finish their studies. The popularity of Level Up!, a gamification plugin that awards learners points for undertaking certain actions in Moodle, is a testament to how effective introducing a bit of competition can be in enhancing engagement in online courses.
Educators offering their courses on a digital platform face an uphill battle when it comes to helping their learners reach the finish line. Although there’s no magic bullet to solve the problems observed with MOOCs and other online courses, a broad arsenal of tools is available in Moodle to help educators tilt the odds in their favor.