How to engage students in remote learning


    A year into the COVID-19 pandemic, many Americans have changed their lifestyles to slow the spread of the virus and in response to the ever-changing federal and state regulations. While all industries have felt the effects of the pandemic, educational institutions have been impacted by the uncertainty of school closures and re-openings.

    In a nutshell, everybody– students, teachers, administrators, families, businesses– had to adhere to all government mandates and create new systems to continue education in this difficult period that does not yet have an end date.

    Now, learning online through various communication platforms is the primary way to earn an education.

    Newly coined terms such as “pre-COVID” and “zoom fatigue” are now part of our common vernacular. Pre-COVID, people had the option of selecting an online course, if their school or university offered it.  Now, learning online through various communication platforms is the primary way to earn an education.

    As with all changes, some people love the way online education has made learning more accessible, while other people do not believe that online learning is effective. Learning during the pandemic has become a huge topic of debate and scrutiny, leaving people to wonder what kind of effect this will bring to everyone around the world.

    The challenges of online education

    While many schools and universities adapted to hybrid and full-remote learning schedules, these changes did not come without a whole set of challenges. Factors that required consideration included:

    • What age group is the learner? Who will be at home to facilitate the work online and help the learner stay on task?
    • Does this learner have a learning disability or other special needs that need adult supervision?
    • Does the learner have the necessary technology, including wi-fi, computer, charger, and headphones?
    • Does this learner have siblings who may be on different schedules?
    • Is there enough space at home for the learner to concentrate?
    • Does the learner have other financial, health, safety, and other basic needs met in order to be present to learn?
    • Can the learner communicate effectively with teachers to ask for help when needed?

    Teachers have expressed their dissatisfaction in being unable to see their students in person. However, asking teachers to risk their health during the pandemic by going into work is also contentious. Teachers enter the profession because they have a love for learning and a strong desire to see their students grow in knowledge regardless of the subject. Seeing progress and growth through the screen is different. It’s hard to know one’s impact when everyone has to adapt to new routines and lifestyles.

    Just as teachers had to quickly adapt to new technologies to facilitate lessons and assessments, parents and families had to figure out how to support their children during remote learning, often without adequate resources.

    How can teachers and students make remote learning more engaging?

    A year into a global pandemic, we know that online learning is not inherently evil. In fact, online learning has kept people safer in their homes and helped stop the spread of the virus. Some schools have adopted the hybrid model of teaching, in which students attend school a few days a week in person and spend the rest of the week doing remote learning. So the question begs: How can teachers and students make remote learning more engaging?

    How to make remote learning more engaging

    Remote learning is not all doom and gloom, though it really depends on the individual’s personality and preferences. For some students, online learning has given them the flexibility to learn at their own pace, and to regain the time previously spent on commuting. With the extra time incorporated into their daily schedules, some learners have taken on new hobbies and interests through taking online enrichment courses, creating DIY products, dabbling in entrepreneurship, picking up tech skills that will help them in the future, and more.

    Remote learning does require sustained focus and energy, so getting adequate nutrition and rest is important. Whether the learner is young (K-12), in college, or an adult, meeting one’s basic needs is crucial for creating a positive, healthy mindset.

    For schools, universities, and companies looking to make online learning more engaging, here are some things to consider:

    Build a safe, moderated online community

    Help your learners build online communities where they can discuss the learning materials and connect in personal ways. With the limited in-person interactions during this pandemic, many of us feel overwhelmed, stressed and anxious about our present and future. Feelings of isolation and loneliness are real, and online communities should offer encouragement and positive reminders that learners have safely moderated spaces where they can build meaningful relationships with others. If your learner is an adult, provide opportunities where they can network with others and grow in their careers. Ensure that your learners can post articles, resources, comments, and reply to posts from their peers.

    Be mindful of lecture video content length

    When posting lecture videos, consider creating and uploading videos that are no longer than 10-20 minutes. Unless the content is extraordinarily entertaining, it is rather overwhelming and mentally hard to sit through dense content. Especially for younger students in elementary and middle schools, it is crucial to preselect resources and educational materials that are age-appropriate in terms of content and length.

    Provide real-time office hours

    For K-12 schools, colleges and universities, invest time and efforts in cultivating online discussion forums and collaborative platforms for teachers and students. Designating online office hours for real time communication creates boundaries and structure for the academic day. This is especially true for teachers who follow an asynchronous teaching model and post lecture videos for their students to watch at their own time. When students know they can reach out to specific teachers or professors at designated times, the frustration of waiting for responses decreases and students can voice their concerns or thoughts directly.

    Be yourself

    As a teacher, it is difficult to keep up with the increasing demands and constant changes. Remind yourself the reason you went into teaching in the first place. Be authentically you. Even for those creating pre-recorded lectures, it is more than alright to be yourself. If you are having difficulty, you can find supplemental multimedia to make your content more engaging for your students. Allow your students to get to know the amazing person that you are, and try to use some humor when appropriate in your lessons. At the end of the day, your students will appreciate the fact that their teachers or professors care about their growth.

    Streamline online communication

    With the plethora of communication and learning platforms such as Zoom, Google Hangouts, Google Classroom, Slack, WhatsApp, Blackboard, Remind and more, streamline the communication across the school community so that students and teachers do not get overwhelmed from learning how to use new technologies in a short period of time. When introducing new technological platforms, make sure to provide staff training and be open to feedback from end users to see what needs to change.

    Ensure that your learners have the resources to participate in online learning

    Does your learner have a high-speed internet connection? Do they have the software to attend your online lectures and participate? Do your learners have access to the required books and course materials? At the start of any course, make sure your learners are well supported with the knowledge of how to seek out necessary resources to facilitate learning.

    Seek feedback for improvement

    Much of online learning, as with everything else, requires honest, constructive feedback. Administration should regularly solicit feedback from teachers, professors, students, and families, including the collection of data around what’s working and what can be improved. Designating specific times throughout the year for this analysis is crucial to improving systems and pedagogical practices.

    How to be better engaged as a learner

    Here is a list of tips to help you become more engaged in your study program, regardless of your age and course level.

    • Eliminate distractions

    Eliminate distractions by setting up your workspace and limiting social media.

    • Find your peak hours

    Figure out what times during the day or night you perform best and use those hours to get the most important work done. Some people think best in the morning, while others may find their best work time in the afternoon or even in the evening. This may take some experimentation to figure out when you have the most mental clarity, but working around this can help increase your productivity.

    • Take frequent breaks

    Integrate breaks into your day. One effective method is the Pomodoro technique for time management. Basically, you can set up a timer to work for 25 minutes and break for 5 minutes, and complete several cycles of this until you reach a longer break. Having a personal reward system can be useful in having something to look forward to while completing assignments.

    • Prioritize self-care

    Balance screen time and treat your work day with intention. Allocate time for other priorities and activities such as cooking, eating, cleaning, exercising, catching up with loved ones, and running errands. Spending time on self-care activities will help you stay grounded when the going gets tough.

    • Prepare for your classes

    In order to be better engaged in your classes, make sure you know when the deadlines for assignments are and prepare accordingly. It’s easy to procrastinate when we know certain deadlines are seemingly far away, but figure out what is hindering you, and work towards building healthy habits. Reviewing your notes before and after class, formulating questions to ask your teacher or peers, and researching more on the topics will help you identify learning gaps.

    • Be proactive in asking others for help

    Reach out to your teachers and professors for help. Make sure you contact them in the proper communication platform they’ve stipulated. Your teachers or professors may prefer different communication modes, so be mindful about how and when you reach out.

    Even with a year into the COVID19 pandemic, there is much to learn on how to make online learning more effective. The key to adapting to changes is to be flexible and open to feedback from all those involved in education. What is working well? What isn’t? How can we create a better system?

    Post COVID world

    What will post-COVID look like for those in the education field? Video conferencing and online courses are expected to stay indefinitely, as they are now options we must implement in case there is another global pandemic. Online learning makes education more accessible for learners around the globe. Especially for those in rural and disadvantaged communities where schools and universities are lacking in resources, virtual learning gives opportunities for people to explore new learning paths.

    Non-profit organizations like edX, ModernStates, Khan Academy, and Coursera, seek to remove barriers of traditional education in terms of cost, location and access. A search online for free or paid courses renders numerous resources and websites to browse. Companies are investing more in providing lifelong learning opportunities, and employees are encouraged to acquire skills that will empower them to be more effective contributors.

    Online learning, for profit or not, is here to stay. Let’s work towards creating engaging content and resources that will foster a love for life-long learning.

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