With the advent of eLearning and blended courses, you might have experienced a drop in students’ participation and being engaged in their learning. When designing or teaching online or blended courses, one should consider different types of interactivity such as learner interaction with content, instructors, and peers. Course design is a critical factor in determining the quality, quantity, and type of interactivity1.
- Trigger prior knowledge
Students’ motivation in learning can be boosted if the new learning is linked with their prior knowledge. When learners’ existing knowledge is activated and they see the relevance of it with new learning, they can organize and grasp the new knowledge more easily; thus, they will be more engaged in their learning process.
- Ask them what their goals are
Knowing what students’ goals in a course are is very helpful in developing the course materials as well as delivering them. It can also help personalize the students’ learning, since they feel a sense of control over their learning. This will also help build rapport between instructor and student, as they can feel the support you are giving them by asking them about their goals. Knowing what their goals are can help you create more relevant and real-life examples, which are effective in their learning enhancement.
- Have their goals in mind when teaching
When designing or creating materials, as well as teaching in class, always have the students’ goals in mind. Knowing what students’ goals are will help you provide strategic scaffolds when necessary; hence, they feel the progress they are making in their learning. When students feel they are learning, they will be more interested and engaged.
- Find out what their interests are and stimulates them to want more
You might have taught students who have been persuaded by their parents or organizers to do a particular course, without them being interested in that course. This is the biggest challenge for a teacher when he/she has to teach students who do not like the course, and are totally disoriented in class. They send you the signal and body language that I’m not interested in what you are saying or doing in class. They always come up with excuses for not having their assignments done or not participating in class/online discussions. I’m sure you have had such students and you had chosen either to give up on them, or get them interested. This tip will help you deal with such students. Ask them what it is that they like doing in their spare time or simply enjoy. You can then shape your class assignments or discussion topics to fit them in as well. For instance, if they like watching movies, you can ask them to see a movie, which you recommend, and analyze characters, critique, or summarize the theme. Of course, it depends on the subject you are teaching, and what your learning objectives are. This will help stimulate their interest in wanting more, as you have tapped on their interest.
- Ask them to share their challenges with you and class
Instructors should always be aware of what their students are going through, having in mind the diversity of learners. Some are fast learners and some slow. If learners find it difficult to grasp certain concepts or do a particular assignment based on your expectations, allow them to share it with you or class freely. Since some students are more introvert and might not find it easy to share it in class, you can ask them to use twitter or blogs set for this purpose with their peers. Those reserved ones, might find it easier to write instead of speak. This will also improve the relationship between students and their classmates, and they realize the value of group learning and support they can get from each other. Sometimes, some learners might feel they are the only one having difficulty, assuming the rest of the class is clear about everything taught or assigned. Once they share this online, they learn they are not alone in their learning journey. And it is you as the instructor who should provide the environment of trust in your class.
- Connect and interact with them
If you follow the tips mentioned above, they can help you connect with them. But let them feel your presence and support, by praising them for their efforts even if they are not there yet, or contacting you when they are desperate. In online discussions, always show your presence by commenting on some posts or discussing some good posts in class.
- Show them how to learn
As online learning is quite new for some students, they might not be fully aware of the transition to be made in their study habits. If you design online lessons for adult learners or teach adult learners, for some it might be the first time taking an online course. Hence, it is imperative that a clear guideline be given to them. They should be asked if they are learning well by getting them reflect on their learning progress. You should also share with them why you ask them to do certain assignments, such as discussion board. Adult learners need to be clear about the reason of their learning, and that increases their interest, since they see the relevance of what they are tasked to do with what they expect to achieve after completing a course.
- Use real-life scenarios
Adult learners need to know what they are learning is applicable to them. They will be more engaged if they see the relevance of what they are learning with real life. In any context, you can create case studies or real-life scenarios which drive learners’ motivation and interest into knowing more.
 Brindly, J. E., Walti, C., Blaschke, L. M. (2009) Creating Effective Collaborative Learning Groups in an Online Environment. http://www.irrodl.org/index.php/irrodl/article/view/675/1271