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How to Encourage Online Learning Success... Some Practical Tips for Staff
Communicate, Connect and Collaborate
For genuine success, there may be nothing more beneficial than the development of a positive relationship with the school's support and academic staff. Relationship is the context in which all learning takes place.
Encourage learners to connect by opening lines of communication with them. Be compassionate toward your learners, make you school a warm and welcoming place to be. Provide learners with options for communication whether that means conducting online webinars, arranged skype calls, timely emails, structured feedback systems, text messaging, anonymous evaluation tools, phone calls, online messaging services, or social media platforms. For the most efficient communication, use the method of contact preferred by your learners.
Don't shrink away from difficult conversations. If you go into an interaction believing that everyone should think the same way or agree with your strategy or agenda, you will never learn and therefore never improve. Staff who can communicate and carry out constructive disagreement are a great benefit to the school and students.
Encourage learners to connect with their tutor or mentor. Learners who fail to have their questions answered or concerns addressed often fall behind. An issue which could be minor can become quite significant and the learner can struggle to move past it. A second great point about connecting with tutors is many of them are industry professionals, so it is likely they will know more than what is presented in the course notes or materials. This relationship has other benefits too - it can be utilised for developing professional networks, or a mentor can be a great person to write an academic reference for the learner.
Integrate social media and online forums for your learners to collaborate. Online learners may have opted out of conforming to current education ideologies, however, sharing experiences with academic peers gives that comforting sense of not being a lone learner when the going gets tough!
Establish a Good Workspace and Stay Organised
This is quite personal indeed as people have different ways of working productively, and learning can take place in every environment and setting imaginable. It is wise to remember the individual learning needs and traits of your learners.
Simple advice for serious learning is to create a space which is quiet and free from distraction. Avoid online distractions from social media or videos. Suggest a physical space is set aside in the home or workplace, where learners routinely go to focus when progress is in order.
So what does a good workspace look like?
- An app on a phone?
- A laptop on the dining table?
- A communal study area in the local library?
- A quiet corner in a bustling café?
- A large coffee and a powerful desktop?
My advice in terms of staying organised is keep files in order. Save and save again! There can be nothing quite like the mind blowing experience of working meticulously on an assignment or project to then lose work through a power outage for example, or to accidentally fail to save the newest version through fatigue. Students need to be encouraged to keep their work in order and backed-up too!
Learners must make decisions for themselves. As an educator all you can do on this one is give advice. Excellent leadership can initiate motivation, but I firmly believe the best form of motivation is the intrinsic form as this brings the best educational outcomes. External motivation usually involves some state of pressure.
Some simple tips for your learners:
Give yourself some simple rewards on completion of a simple contract with yourself (i.e after 1 hour of focused study time, relax for 15 minutes doing something you enjoy, or move away from your screen). Consider a balance between responsibility and reward.
Start slow at disciplining yourself. Study for short periods and gradually expand the time by 5 or 10 minutes per study session. Make a schedule and stick to it!
Make progress obvious by keeping a checklist. Let's say for example there are 5 lessons or 5 classes to attend. Make and keep the checklist of 'classes' close by. As you mark off each lesson or class as complete, it can become very motivating - that accomplishment sustains the motivation.
Ask for tutor or mentor interaction and feedback. Work with feedback and suggestions and make time to reflect on what's going well and where the challenges are. If we do this we can turn things around and a sense of achievement can become a motivator too. Don't ruminate on the negative. Listen carefully and take on what you can and then move on. Write a reflective journal. Write things down to organise your thoughts.
Ask yourself 'What does your best day look like? How does it feel when you get to the end of the day and you have achieved what you set out to?'
Time, Time, Precious Time
One of the biggest challenges I hear from students is not them failing to get started on their course but finding time to keep going when life gets in the way. It can be hard to set deadlines for study in entirely self-paced and self-directed but it can be done.
Help your students to recognise the importance of scheduled study time. Multi-hour blocks of time that can be devoted entirely to classwork or learning. The aim should be to stick rigidly to this schedule. A lack of regular class meetings is more (not less) of a reason to establish a consistent work schedule.
Simple advice is to set up reminders on a phone or other device. The first reminder can be when learning is due to start. Reminders work for all sorts of important time/date points. Examples include, booking examination dates or assignment submission deadlines if they exist. Simply looking ahead over a period of 3, 6 or 12 months can be very useful. Learners should be encouraged to determine which learning outcomes will have been covered by which date and ensure the specific timeline allows for that realistically. In short, learners need to plan according to other important personal or professional commitments! Educators know, there is no point planning to submit a final project at the same time as their boss expects a major workplace audit or other enormous responsibility to be attended to.
The joyous nature of most online courses is the flexibility. This can work for or against online learners. Become the most efficient with time!
Expectations and goals.
Okay so it can be worth establishing some ground rules with your learners from the start. How much time can you dedicate to supporting them and how much do you want to push them to grow as a self-manager? Ultimately, some learners will need you more than others, however sending emails back and forth becomes tiresome and making phone-calls can become unnecessarily time consuming. It is wise to put your students on the road to success without hand-holding.
My suggestion - advise your students to write down their big picture goal. Then they should work out a few steps they'll take to get there. Say a list of 4-5 processes they'll go through at most. Then ask the student to identify the most challenging of all of the steps. Ask them to let you know.
So the learner has now
- Carried out some reflection, and
- Prepared themselves for a potential hurdle ahead by seeking your help
The fab thing is now you can help the person find a solution and stay on track to that big picture. You have stepped in and offered support (within a set boundary – prescriptive helping) and they’ve had a chance to develop some new tools in identifying weakness and asking for help.
They feel assisted by you, but driven and empowered to overcome the hurdles. This is known as catalytic coaching in some circles, however, your students won’t look at it that way. They're off to a great start!
This article was designed to give some ideas to boost learner engagement and help improve educational outcomes.