Research on self-directed learning has shown that people who take the initiative in learning, learn more things and learn better than people who sit at the feet of teachers passively waiting to be taught.
Self-directed learning is especially important for student success in online classes.
Educators have an important role to play in assisting students to acquire the skills for self-directed learning. So how can educators help students develop their ability to direct their own learning, while ensuring that they develop the skills and integrate the knowledge they need to be successful?
In a YardStick blog post, Dr. Tai Munro provided a few suggestions that educators can do to help students to become self-directed learners. Those suggestions are:
Many students enroll in online classes because of the convenience and flexibility. Some students mistakenly believe taking an online course is going to be easier than a face-to-face class. It is important that students understand online courses require greater responsibility/ownership for their own learning.
In a recent Faculty Focus article, Poonam Kumar, EdD and Marilyn Skrocki, listed a few simple strategies and techniques instructors can do at the course level to support students’ success in online classes. Those strategies and techniques are:
Engaging students in eLearning can be more challenging than in a face-to-face class. Follow the 5 do's presented in the Engaging Students in eLearning Infographic to create an engaging online course for your students.
5 Tips To Engage Your Students in eLearning
Stay Relevant - All content, heading, and subheading should be relevant to the course.
Stay Organized - Keep the screen neat and clutter-free. You never want to distract the student from your content.
Keep it Interesting - Both your content and your design should be interesting to the student.
Remain Up-To-Date - Update your course often to ensure your content is always accurate.
Add Interactions - Only add interactions that are necessary, such as links, videos, or file downloads.
Robert Crow, Ph. D., is an assistant professor of educational research. Before joining the faculty in the College of Education and Allied Professions, Dr. Crow served as Coordinator of Instructional Development & Assessment for WCU's Coulter Faculty Commons, working primarily in faculty professional development. Dr. Crow's expertise in assessment and evaluation has led to collaborations with other 4-year institutions, community colleges, PK-12 schools, and institutional accreditation agencies such as SACS-COC. Dr. Crow's research interests include assessment and evaluation of student learning and of learning environments.
In a recent eLearning Industry article, Dr. Amy Thornton, Director of the Center of Online Learning at Columbus State University, listed multiple strategies to engage students online. Dr. Thornton wrote that it is important to allow students to engage with content in different ways to ensure learning transfer. The engagement strategies suggested by Dr. Thornton are:
Keep it interactive
Interaction keeps students at their computer and engaged in the content. Not being able to see your students means that you have to keep them on their toes throughout the session. A few ways you can do this are:
Feedback - invite students to share their comments about the content.
Polling - asking polling questions can initiate discussion.
Brainstorming - invite students to assist with brainstorming on how a particular topic can be applied or used in the “real world.”
Scavenger Hunt - send students on a virtual scavenger hunt to find something and come back with their findings to share with the class.
Graphics - use graphics to create visuals. Students could be allowed to use electronic whiteboard tools to mark up the graphics or identify parts of an image.
Variety is the spice of life. Providing different types of learning experiences can help engage different types of learners. This can also keep your students on their toes because they don’t know what is going to happen next. A few ways to accomplish this are:
Multimedia - use video and/or music clips to add something for your visual and auditory learners.
Polling - give students a chance to think about the content that was covered and apply it.
Electronic Whiteboard - get students involved by asking them to write on the electronic whiteboard.
Allowing your students to work in smaller groups can give them more opportunity to interact with each other and be part of the discussion. Managing this in an online environment can be challenging, but with some planning can add a lot of value to your session. Here are a few ways to approach group work:
Discussion - assign a topic and have the groups discuss and report back to the class.
Brainstorming - allow the class to break into groups to brainstorm ideas.
Project - allow time for groups to work on a group project together.
Case Studies - allow your students to practice their problem-solving skills.
Role-play - similar to case study; give students a scenario they must work through where each group member must take on a role.
Use authentic materials - use real materials that give students an inside look, for example, online museum exhibits, scientific simulations, and scanned manuscripts.
Give students a task
Giving students some of the responsibility in facilitating synchronous class sessions will keep them engaged and help them create their own learning experience. A few ways to do this are:
Give students the opportunity to facilitate an activity.
Studies show that students withdraw from online courses at a higher rate than in face-to-face courses. There are many reasons for students withdrawing from an online course. Some reasons are beyond the instructor’s control. Educators do not like to see students withdraw from courses for the wrong reasons. There are some things instructors can do to improve retention and reduce attrition in online courses.
In a recent blog post, Dr. Peter van Leusen, Instructional Designer for EdPlus at Arizona State University, provided a list of proven strategies that can be implemented on a course level and are based on good principles for teaching (Chickering & Gamson, 1987), adult-learning strategies, and technology solutions. Those strategies are:
Be present – Instructor presence is key. Make early contact at the start of the class and stay active throughout the course.
Encourage active learning – Incorporate activities that require students to move from passive consumers to active users of information.
Set clear expectations – Expectations help students gauge requirements for the course and individual assignments.
Provide constructive, meaningful and timely feedback – Feedback gives students an indication about their performance. Effective feedback is frequent, prompt, specific, and written in a supportive tone.
Make course content relevant – Invite guest speakers to provide career specific examples or include “real world” examples to illustrate course content. Design assignments to be flexible and allow students to pursue interests.
Include collaboration and peer-to-peer communication – A common criticism of online courses is the lack of interaction with peers. Offer opportunities for students to share perspectives, experiences, and learning.
Guide students to be autonomous – Self-directed learning describes students who take initiative and responsibility for their own learning. This is critical in an online class.
Collect formative feedback on lesson effectiveness and student comprehension – The decision to review a certain concept or continue often depends on whether students “get it” or not.
Identify and reach out to struggling students – Utilize an early alert system and reach out to students when necessary to offer support and share available resources to help students get back on track.
I had planned to submit my blog post while at the conference but I was so busy learning and networking that I'm back in the office now. So here's a quick summary of my experiences. The Quality Matters organization is comprised of many dedicated professionals and the member institutions are equally concerned with developing and teaching quality online or hybrid courses (QM uses "blended"; we at Xavier use "hybrid") in order to have positive student outcomes. They're also big on "takeaways" so I have literally hundreds of resources now, and will be posting several key ones to CAT's Online Faculty Resource Center (debuting soon). For your information, here are a number of the actual presentations that were posted as well.
My takeaways from the conference are
we can offer workshops for faculty on actually teaching online, which is entirely separate from developing the course
we need to do more to make our courses accessible from the beginning rather than create accommodations after the fact (I also learned that numbers are better than bullets for screen readers so I'll be using numbers from now on)
we don't need to reinvent the wheel--we can partner with other institutions to offer more for our students
size does matter, especially in online language courses
faculty preparation and skills are necessary components for SACS approval of online and hybrid courses/programs
and I could continue, but I think having begun and ended with faculty concerns really shows how important they are to student success and therefore why CAT is dedicated to assisting our faculty in developing and teaching online and hybrid courses for our students at Xavier.