It’s no secret that children’s screen time has increased with modern technology and a year spent primarily learning online. Coupling additional screen time with other distractions can cause students to lose focus. This is a concern shared by parents and schools who are deciding how to best implement virtual options for the upcoming school year. So, how do we keep students engaged when they’re learning in front of a computer screen?
For anyone considering virtual learning, or instructors looking for strategies to engage students in their online course, don’t worry. A bit of innovation will help keep students engaged and interested in learning online.
Use various forms of media
Today’s students are very attuned to the latest technology. More students spend time creating digital content and expect to use these multimedia resources to learn since they are familiar with the platform. In fact, 40% of K-12 students said they find online videos help them better understand concepts they are learning in school, according to a survey conducted by Project Tomorrow.
Apart from videos, teachers can use animations, music, polls and other forms of media to enhance the learning experience. We’re past the era of PowerPoint slides with endless blocks of text. Students need something more engaging to stay interested in the lesson.
Connection to instructional design standards
In addition to various forms of media, effective online courses utilize instructional design strategies to keep students engaged in the learning process. The National Standards for Quality Online Courses provides a benchmark for quality online learning design practices. Standard C, Instructional Design, provides helpful indicators to address media/materials and enhanced engagement in the online course.
One example is indicator C6 states, “the online course provides learners with multiple learning paths as appropriate, based on learner needs, that engage learners in a variety of ways.” Courses designed to provide students with several ways of expressing knowledge allow for learner voice and choice. One example of this is for teachers to provide modified instruction to meet each student’s personal needs.
“Online course instructional materials and resources present content in an effective, engaging, and appropriate manner,” is indicator C9. This is achieved through providing accessible, appropriate, and relevant materials to diverse students and communicates course content in an effective way to master concepts. An example of this indicator could be presenting images by well-known painters, such as Van Gogh, to illustrate painting techniques used.
How skills learned apply to the real world
Just because students are learning virtually doesn’t mean they need to feel detached or isolated. Building teacher-to-student and student-to- student relationships are important for a successful learning experience. Include opportunities for virtual synchronous class discussions to show your students how to apply skills they learn online outside of class.
These real-world applications help prepare students for college and future careers. In the hands of well-trained and knowledgeable teachers, digital learning has the potential to support the following, according to the International Literacy Association:
- Personalized and self-paced learning
- A positive emotional climate
- Social and emotional learning
- Authentic real-world learning
- Collaborative learning
- Data gathering, analysis and timely feedback
When students understand how the skills they learn online apply outside of the classroom, they’re more involved and better prepared for life after schooling.
Even though students are learning asynchronous most of the time, teachers can implement several strategies to stay connected with the students, guide their learning and keep them engaged.
Here are some ways to maintain connections with students, based on Virtual South Carolina’s Delivering Effective Digital Instruction guide:
- Check in with students daily via web conference, email, and/or telephone
- Use humor and share stories.
- Be transparent with the students and let them know that this is as much of a learning experience for you as it is for them.
- Use students’ names during your live sessions, in written communication, and in assignment feedback.
- Utilize video conferencing tools for face-to-face meetings or pick up the telephone to call students – especially when they need assistance, when you need to explain complex concepts, or when you sense a disconnect.
- Contact parents and guardians regularly to ensure they know what is expected of students and to assuage any concerns they have.
- Remind students and guardians that this is a different mode of teaching for everyone. Allow them grace and ask for grace in return.
- Follow up on all communication as soon as possible to keep the lines open.
- Keep a record of all communication you have with students and parents. A log will be a useful reference in case issues and questions arise.
How parents can help
Some students may need more assistance and education management, and that’s where parents can help. One way is to set guidelines for smartphone use. A major focus in daily life, phones can distract students when they are not physically in the classroom. Powering down phones and putting them away limits distractions if they aren’t needed for online sessions.
Just because online learning can be done from home doesn’t mean routines should go out the door. Helping your student set up a routine will help them stay focused on learning. For example, eating a good breakfast before starting any lesson can boost a student’s performance. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day and helps with focus and eliminates multi-tasking during class lessons.
Keeping students’ attention in such a tech-centric environment can present challenges but none are insurmountable. Working together with students in the virtual classroom can aid educators in deciding which online learning tips work best for them.
Key words: engaging, media, videos, smartphones, virtual, learning, skills, technology, online, students