With some experts predicting that social distancing will become part of the “new normal” for the foreseeable future, many educational institutes may be relying on online courses throughout the summer and fall. Online courses have many benefits, including reduced commutes for participants and flexible schedules, however, these courses also have their drawbacks that must be addressed for maximum success.

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One case study found that only 45-50% of students participated in online discussions

One of the biggest challenges to online education is keeping students engaged throughout the program. A case study published in the Journal of the Association for Information Science and Technology found that only 45-50% of students participated in an online discussion forum in the Business Administration and Accounting program in a Brazilian university. A second study on an online pharmaceutical course in Canada found that only 50-60% of students participated actively in online modules and facilitated discussions. Participation in online forums also declined throughout the semester, with the most active conversations occurring at the start of the school term.

To improve student engagement, these researchers recommended three key steps to improve student engagement in an online course.

1. Make time requirements clear at the start of the course.

Flexible schedules are one of the key draws to online education. However, this can also be one of its greatest downfalls; by not having protected time scheduled each week for the course lecture many students may not be able to stay on top of the lecture material – leading to poor grades and/or dropping out.

Researchers at the University of Ottawa found that many students fell into a cycle whereby students not being able to set time aside for online courses leads to them falling behind in the class, leading to them spending time trying to catch up rather than participating in current course modules. To remedy this situation, the researchers recommend that educators make the time requirements clear for online lectures/modules and other assignments throughout the semester.

2. Recognize Student Efforts & Engagement

Online environments make it difficult to foster a sense of community, and fellow classmates can begin to feel like virtual avatars – not humans to engage with and take inspiration from. To combat this, the researchers at the Pontifícia Universidade Católica de Minas Gerais recommends recognizing students who are doing good work as a way of stimulating other students’ behaviour.

Another method of creating a sense of community is to create smaller breakout groups to take on a task or discuss a topic. This method has the added benefit of allowing the students to choose a communication platform they are most comfortable with (messaging, video chat, phone call, etc.). (as long as the educator is okay with not monitoring the conversations!)

3. Assign Grades

Finally, the case study in Brazil found that the most engaging discussions occurred when student participation in the conversations were graded by the educator.

Nimbus Learning now offers an online tutoring platform to assist all students and foster a sense of community throughout the era of social distancing. To learn more, please visit https://nimbuslearning.com/partners/

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