Students who engage in hands-on educational experiences like service learning or undergraduate research report greater satisfaction with their college experience. These activities also cultivate the career competencies of critical thinking, problem solving, collaboration and communication, which are all key to a student’s success.
Maximizing learner engagement requires a full personal investment in your training program. To do that, you need to know what motivates your learners.
1. Ask Questions
Students are more likely to ask questions when they feel engaged with the material. Not only does this help them clear up any confusion they might have about the material, but it also allows them to take control of the learning process by thinking through and preparing their own questions. Additionally, asking questions provides an opportunity for instructors to clarify any points that may have been unclear.
Asking questions is a crucial component to engaging in class, but it’s important that learners do it correctly. For example, it’s better to wait until the instructor has finished a thought before asking a question. This way, they won’t interrupt and potentially ruin the flow of their thoughts. It’s also a good idea to sit near the front of the room, so that you can make eye contact with the instructor and be one of the first students to raise their hand.
Auditory learners can also improve their active listening skills by repeating back what they heard in their own words. This practice helps them process the information and remember it for future reference, which is especially helpful for exam preparation. It also demonstrates that they’re truly engaged with the speaker, rather than just listening to hear their own thoughts or opinions. Moreover, this type of verbalization is an excellent way for them to demonstrate their understanding of the topic and how it applies to the real world.
2. Create a Community
While it can be difficult to create a sense of community in an online learning environment, there are certain steps that can be taken to encourage engagement. One way to do this is by allowing students to talk freely in class, and also to allow them to discuss their questions openly with each other. This will enable them to form relationships and help each other in the long run.
It is also important to have a variety of learning strategies available for your students, so that they can choose the one that best suits their needs and learning styles. This includes providing different forms of feedback (verbal and written), as well as using a variety of tools like discussion boards, social media, and virtual collaboration.
The final aspect to consider when trying to encourage learner engagement is the cultural component. This has to do with the learners’ personal investment in their work and in the training course, as well as how much their personal priorities align with those of their employers or trainers.
Another way to encourage a culture of learning is by providing simulations and scenario-based content activities that are related to the learners’ workplace. This will help them to see how the course material can be applied to their own job, and will also give them a feeling of ownership over their own learning.
3. Get Out of the Way
Learners want to feel valued and satisfied in their work, and your training can help them achieve this. A well-designed, high-stakes course that is creative and relevant to their jobs will motivate them to engage with the material, as will a flexible learning platform.
Engaged learners care about the subject they are studying, and they often take a more active role in absorbing information and making sense of new concepts. They often ask questions, challenge the assumptions of the instructor, and seek out ways to apply what they’re learning. This is often referred to as natural learning, which differs from formal learning in that it takes advantage of the innate desire that everyone has to explore and test their understanding.
In contrast, formal learning involves a more structured process where teachers decide what learners will learn and how they will learn it. For example, students in a science class may be instructed to ask questions during class. However, if these students are uncomfortable participating in a full class discussion, they may opt to write their questions down instead.
Behavioral engagement is a measure of how active a student is in their course, including whether or not they attend all sessions and complete their assignments. However, this measure is only one piece of the puzzle; emotional and cognitive engagement are also important for long-term retention and application of new knowledge.
4. Encourage Reflection
One of the most effective ways to encourage learner engagement is to offer learners opportunities to reflect on their learning experiences. Reflective writing is a powerful way to help students identify gaps in their understanding and develop strategies for overcoming them. Reflective assignments are most successful when they are integrated into a unit of study, aligned to key learning aims, and purposefully sequenced. For example, Mary Pat Wenderoth has her large physiology class complete weekly “learning paragraphs” in order to identify their preconceptions about biological systems, to provide a space for them to discuss these misconceptions with their classmates, and to help them practice their writing skills throughout the semester.
Another way to promote reflection is by providing models of reflective thinking. For example, students need to see adults—teachers, parents, and community members—reflecting on their practices. In addition, they need to hear stories in which characters take a moment to consider their actions and reflect on the meaning of those actions. For instance, a key character in Marcel Proust’s Swann’s Way recalls the flavor of a petit madeleine to trigger his reflection on his journey toward self-discovery.
Similarly, corporate learners need to see how the learning they’re doing will impact their work and career, and they need to be provided with opportunities to reflect on their progress in the process. Whether in the form of discussions, group projects, simulations, or job shadowing, providing opportunities for learners to reflect on their learning experiences will help them retain the knowledge and develop the skills they need to apply it in real-world settings.