Saturday, 31 March 2018

Keep Your Online Learners Motivated


Another round of EVO sessions ended some time ago and this post has been sitting for some time in my Drafts folder, so it's time I finished it. You can see here which sessions were on offer and, if you want to keep up with EVO all year round, you can join our Facebook group, or our Google+ community. EVO is a great way for teachers to learn new skills and to connect. EVO 2018 was no exception and the discussions were lively.

This year I took Nelly Deutch's wonderful Moodle for Teachers session. It was the only session I took, contrary to my habit to multitask, but I was more than busy. In Week 4 we created collaborative courses and I teamed up with my BFF Sneza Filipovic and Kim Z. to create a teacher training course on Moodle. My segment of the course was called Keep Them Motivated and in it I revisited a topic that is very dear to my heart - student motivation. I focused specifically on the motivation of online course participants. I believe this topic is very relevant, so I would like to present it here as well.

What I tried to do was examine common reasons for high dropout rates in online courses and explore the use of icebreakers, forum discussions and badges as ways to engage and motivate our online learners.

As you may be aware, creators of MOOCs and free online courses in general often complain of high dropout rates. When you join an online session, you are often guided by your natural curiosity only and that sometimes makes it hard to stick around until the end. I myself have dropped out of more free online courses than I can remember, but I did get hooked a couple of times. I am addicted to online learning, and I looked at the topic from the point of view of a learner, rather than that of a teacher. And, while I don't have any magic solutions, I did come up with a couple of things that might help.

Most of the students who drop out of an online course apparently do so during the first week. Again, a large number of dropouts will be those who never even logged in. Those people might be lost as course participants, unless you are willing to write a personal email to each and every one of them (which might not be very practical in a MOOC). One way to prevent this might be sending an email with instructions on how to join and how to use the platform before the course starts. Or you might try one of the solutions I offered in this short tutorial:






Icebreakers are very important during the first week and they can serve both to introduce the participants to the platform and to each other.

I looked at icebreakers in more detail here:






If you have managed to get your course participants to join and introduce themselves, you are off to a good start. If you want to keep your learners engaged, however, you need to prepare well before that first week. I think the battle for participation is won or lost before the course begins and that's where course design plays a vital role. Still, even if you have designed a most wonderful, most engaging course and survived the first week, don't sit back and relax just yet. A lot of people disengage soon after the first week and again, as a learner, I have done this many times. Some of the courses I dropped out of were really great and I am sorry I didn't persevere, but, you know, life happens.

In my second PowerPoint presentation I looked at some ways you can keep your learners engaged in later weeks and some measures you can take if things don't go all that well:




And I apologise for the way that video ended abruptly. I was using the free version of Screencast-o-matic back then. I have upgraded in the meantime and I hope to write a separate blog post about this great and inexpensive tool. I also hope to write a blog post about badges. I love badges as a learner and I find them very motivating, but they deserve a separate blog post.

There are no easy answers to how you motivate your online learners. The fact that you have created a great course and offered it for free should be enough to make you proud. Online learning is different from face-to-face learning and we shouldn't expect the same level of commitment from our online participants that we get in our classrooms. Besides, if the course stays online and if it stays open, people will keep returning to it, the way I returned to this post after almost two months. I would love to see more online courses that stay open for participation year-round and where people can keep connecting to each other and to the instructor whenever they decide to.


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