Why Is Engagement So Important To Learning, Especially Online?
Engagement is the degree to which learners pay attention, participate, and put forth effort. One’s level of engagement directly impacts the individual’s ability and willingness to learn and be able to apply the presented information and skills .
If you have taught a course or provide corporate training, you have seen how learners can lose interest or motivation and become passive learners or simply fade away. People are busy with family and job commitments which can make it difficult for them to attend, keep up with required assignments or tasks, and receive needed support. This is especially true of online delivery. The lack of face-to-face interaction and accountability make for struggling learners to go unnoticed. Online courses and training must do more than simply provide information to address the needs of learners.
The value of increasing engagement is that it makes learning more enjoyable and motivating, therefore, helping to ensure learners stay involved, focused, and willing to extend the effort to learn the presented skills and knowledge. Not only does increased engagement help students to be more successful but it also helps with retention which is vital to educational institutions. Increased engagement in corporate training increases employee efficiency, productivity, and satisfaction. Also, positive learning experiences can motivate employees to continue learning on their own and apply their learning in new ways.
Aspects Of Engagement
Before talking about ways to increase learner engagement, it is important to be aware of the different aspects of engagement. One aspect of engagement is demonstrated by the level to which learners show up, actively participate, complete required tasks. A second aspect is the level to which learners put forth the effort to internalize the content, improve their performance, and feel confident in their ability to succeed. The third aspect is the level to which learners have a positive outlook on the learning experience and are optimistic. Simply showing up and participating is not enough for learners to be significantly engaged. When evaluating and increasing levels of engagement, all these aspects should be considered .
Barriers To Engagement
With adult learners, there can be many barriers to engagement. One of these is distractions, especially when learning online. Given text messages, calls, emails, meetings, along with children, pets, and work and family responsibilities, it’s no wonder that learners can lack focus. Ensuring that learning is interactive and engaging can help to improve focus.
Another barrier for learners can be a history of poor learning experiences. These can include bad instructors, lack of support, boring or ineffective methods of delivery, and poor performance. By increasing all aspects of engagement, learners start to have more positive experiences that replace past negative ones.
Learners who do not see the purpose in what they are being asked to learn, typically do not engage in the learning. By ensuring that the activities included in the course or training are not only interesting but meaningful and relevant, engagement can be increased .
Increasing Engagement Through Interactive Activities
One effective way to increase engagement for online learners is to add interactive games, simulations, presentations, and assessments that reinforce the content in a fun and motivational way. These enticing activities can be used not only to provide practice, deliver micro-chunking of content, and reinforce information, but can also replace more tedious rote memorization, worksheets, and PowerPoint-type presentations.
Andragogy principles tell us that adult learners require experiential learning and purpose and relevance in what they are learning. Although many educational publishers offer ready-made interactive learning activities, they may not contain the same terminology, processes, or content that align with the objectives of the course or training. Learners often view these general activities as busywork, which decreases interest in completing them. Therefore, all interactivities should include your specific content rather than “off the shelf” activities that may be entertaining, but of little real value to learners.
Learners are more likely to actively participate, complete tasks, and have a positive outlook if the course or training includes interactive activities that are relevant, support and reinforce the content, and replace boring, tedious, or meaningless tasks. When instructors, trainers, and instructional designers can readily provide interactive learning experiences that chunk content, promote exploration, and help learners connect with the content, all aspects of engagement are likely to be increased.
Many educators agree that courses and training must be engaging to be effective, but also are faced with time restraints and limited development skills. Thankfully, there are a variety of development tools that can be used to create learning interactives; however, many are very complex and time-consuming. It is important that the development of time as well as the level of required skills is considered when selecting a tool. I have found the Raptivityweb-based tool enables quick and easy development of interactivities that can be effectively used in various content areas. This tool provides a variety of templates with clear concise directions on how to customize them, each with an example of a completed interaction. They are also SCORM and xAPI compliant and responsive to a variety of devices.
Individuals involved in course and training development often wear many hats and are typically faced with time restrictions. When starting to increase engagement, select a tool that is easy to use and matches your skill level. This will allow you to create high-quality learning interactions quickly and easily, which allow you to focus most of your time on content and andragogy.
Also, start small by working on one course or training at a time. Add only a few new interactive activities at a time. The idea that all the courses or trainings must have the level of engagement increased simultaneously can be overwhelming.
Since online learners may be completing the course or training during the evenings or on weekends when help may not be available, it is very important to test all interactives to ensure they function properly, have clear directions, and can be completed independently.