Best practices for keeping adult learners engaged in the online environmentTuesday, August 24, 2021
By VENESSE MORRISON-LEON
According to UNESCO reports, “More than 1.5 billion students in about 165 countries have been affected by the lockdown of schools.” COVID-19 has impacted all levels of education and has challenged educators to rethink and redesign the classroom to ensure optimal learning.
School administrators and teachers must now identify and operationalise innovative ideas to keep their operations on track, ensuring that learners stay the course. For us in the Caribbean, “School closures have left 7 million learners and over 90,000 teachers across 23 countries and territories in the Caribbean grappling with a new reality of distance learning.” (Education Response to COVID-19 in the Caribbean, UNESCO, 2020)
Online programmes will grow exponentially in the next few years and the evidence is suggesting that student-teacher interaction will improve learning experiences. Such interaction will ensure that students experience a sense of community and can reduce the attrition rates and increase retention in the virtual classroom.
Robert L Moore, professor of education technology at University of Florida, suggests that learners must interact with the content, their instructors, and their peers to ensure a successful educational experience. Meaningful interaction takes place when instructional activities are carefully designed to stimulate the intellectual inquiry of learners. When this happens, educators and students will experience deep learning, deep thinking, visible thinking, and significant learning.
As we prepare for the new school year we must look to proven instructional strategies that educators and school leaders can use to ensure that online interaction meets national and international standards and benchmarks.
PROVIDE CONTINUOUS PRESENCE AND FEEDBACK
Randy Garrison, who may be considered an expert in online learning, recommends that the community of inquiry model — social presence, cognitive presence, and teaching presence can be used to stimulate meaningful interaction online. When learners know that teachers are paying attention to their presence online, they are propelled to focus on their learning in the online community. In the face-to-face environment learners must see you as their learning coach and your expertise must be evident.
RETHINK YOUR INSTRUCTIONAL METHODOLOGIES
Ensure that the experiences are empowering and meaningful. Monitoring discussion forums and encouraging learners to critically evaluate course material can lead to learner participation in online discussions. Learners will take charge of their learning when the experience gives them the confidence to make decisions while learning. The use of Socratic questioning to invoke visible and significant thinking is critical in the virtual and face-to-face classroom.
ORGANISE YOUR COMMUNICATION
Students should be aware of the expectations regarding the course from the very beginning. Ensure that course materials — course outline, rubrics for summative assessment tasks, assignment sheets, homework outlines — are placed in the student resources and students have access to these and are often reminded about them.
USE MULTIPLE MEDIA
Ensure that you keep in touch with your learners in both the face-to-face and online environments. During this pandemic it is easy for learners to get lost. Whatever your learners have access to, use it to stay connected – Zoom, Google Meet, Skype, WhatsApp, cellphones – any tool that will keep them connected.
Utilise technology in course assignments so that students are inspired and can use learning in real-world situations. When assignments are authentic learners are inspired to participate more in learning.
When you meet them face-to-face promote the culture of self-directed learning so that learners see themselves as the drivers of learning.
ENCOURAGE OPPORTUNITIES FOR INTERACTION IN SMALL GROUPS
Strategically establish learning communities and incorporate accountability partners in your class. When learners are reminded by their peers to participate and engage in learning they will remain connected and stay the course.
RESPOND TO QUERIES
Respond within 24 hours after receiving a request or question. The wait time in cyberspace appears longer than normal and as such your expedited response can ensure that your students remain connected.
Ensure students' satisfaction by thinking of them as your customers and keeping the customer service high and aligned to world-class standards. Consistently demonstrate competence, care, and trustworthiness.
These qualities are essential within the online community. Make time for consultation with students and parents if there is a need. This will humanise your learning environment and keep students connected in your virtual classroom.
While distance learning and the use of online platforms for teaching and learning is not new, the extent to which we are now required to engage with this platforms has increased significantly for both educators and students. As educators we must therefore seek out best practices to keep our students engaged in these spaces and invested in their education so as to reduce apathy and attrition rates.
Venesse Morrison-Leon is the online director at The Mico University College. Send comments the Jamaica Observer or email@example.com