There have been considerable developments in online learning for some time now, but nobody anticipated that the education sector would be thrown online in a matter of weeks. Teesside University has been adapting to the challenge, using the tools that we have at our disposal and building new ones. The key consideration since the rapid change has been one of ensuring that the university offers a rewarding student experience, rather than replicating a classroom experience using learning platforms. Now that the foundations have been laid and students are becoming accustomed to this new style of learning, it is vital that we develop a fuller experience which ensures robust and engaging personalised learning and teaching practices.
It is becoming increasingly clear there are significant benefits which can be harnessed from learning technologies. In many respects it feels like students are losing the in-person experience, however, we can use this as an opportunity to enhance the student and academic journey. Technology has opened up interactive events, the ability to replay lessons, personalised assessments and flexible any-place, any-time accessible learning.
Why are Universities focusing on ‘Student Journey’?
A student’s experience can be thought of as mosaic built from his or her beginning to end physical and digital interactions with the range of offerings from the school, including online interactions, particularly in the case of hybrid learning. These also include technology systems for everything from paying a bill to taking a course, administrative services like registration and financial aid, academic services like advising and tutoring, facilities and classrooms, and students, faculty, staff, alumni, and community. Having a positive online learning experience not only helps to improve retention and achievement, but it also improves the general well-being of students.
How can we create a positive experience and what good practices could be used to improve the online student journey?
A positive experience is no longer dependent on a physical campus, however, online students still expect the same quality, engaging community and support that is offered on a campus-based programme of study. While we can deliver courses and modules remotely by leveraging a few disparate tools, a positive online experience requires some core considerations. The following can provide a useful checklist:
Students will have many preconceptions and expectations for online study, it is vital that these are managed. Make regular key announcements so students are kept informed of regular updates or release of study material. From an early start point set clear guidelines of how the module will be delivered and when and how students can speak with a tutor and expect a reply to any emails or forum posts.
Create manageable milestones
Consider how you might make manageable milestones that divide the programme into shorter ‘chunks’. The learning outcomes are a good place to start when mapping out the programme of study and how it can be broken down. A learning journey with live sessions, breakout sessions and activities, regrouping and good interactions with peers and academic staff will help you match the flow and impact of the lesson.
Highlight the value of hybrid learning to your students
Many students will be embarking on a new programme of study with a preconception of what online learning might look like, or maybe as a result of previous experience in their last place of study. It is important that the value of hybrid learning is showcased from the outset. Once they are in sync, you will see a much more engaged audience.
Ensure learner interaction
There are some fantastic opportunities to identify the features available with learning technologies to remap classroom interactions to a new medium. For example, most platforms include polling questions and chats. You can provide breakout sessions, exercises, and regrouping with learners’ presentations. You can create a learning journey by structuring multiple virtual sessions over a period of time and have interjections of supporting materials or exercises.
Rewards and praise don’t just motivate learners, they allow them to feel connected. A single positive comment lets a student know that their tutor is still invested in their learning. So whether you are delivering on campus or remotely, consider different ways of rewarding your learners.
Encourage social learning
Encourage your remote learners to collaborate through social learning by providing them with the platform to discuss and collaborate. This can be done using chats, discussion boards, breakout rooms, and peer-to-peer feedback.
Take feedback for continuous improvement
Since hybrid learning is a moving target, upgrade your approach, delivery, and strategies regularly by asking learners to complete a review or survey to collect their feedback. Use this information to improve and hit the desired engagement quotient.
Offer personalised learning
A great way to engage remote learners is by offering relevant content that helps them meet their personal learning goals. You can offer micro-learning-based learning paths with varied formats to suit different learning styles. Additionally, you can offer content curation by integrating both formal and informal assets.
Use immersive strategies
There is a wide range of engaging and immersive hybrid learning approaches that can be included in your delivery. Gamification, branching scenarios, scenario-based learning, interactive story-based learning, video, and interactive video-based learning all provide excellent approaches to immersive strategies that guarantee an engaging learning experience.
Use brief and relevant content
When it comes to the online component of hybrid learning, some remote learners take time to tune in. By keeping the journey intuitive, precise, and relevant, you will have their attention and higher engagement.
Have meaningful interactions
Learners demand interactions that make for a compelling read and offer value. Where simple signposting to “click to learn more” was once sufficient, it is now no longer the case. By adding interesting questions that probe and push learners to pause and think, we can create deeper learner and meaningful interactions.
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