What Works: Student Perceptions Of Effective Elements In Online Learning

Do students learn best when they can lean on peers, insiders, professionals, others for feedback? Do they learn when they are challenged to read, to apply a concept, to collaborate with others?

What Works: Student Perceptions Of Effective Elements In Online Learning

What works is more of the same!

Does the same old formula for student success work anymore? Why do so many high school and college students focus on same old buzzwords like success, mastery, and motivation to achieve?

Each year, students everywhere complain about the same old things they can’t seem to master. Are there more effective materials or strategies to use for students who are struggling? How do we help students turn their interest into real progress? And what are the students learning that they are actually struggling with? To answer these questions, a recent survey of students at several schools, including MyEdNY, gave me interesting insight.

A large group of students were asked to create a personalized, test-based document about what makes them fail. Their responses included:

• “I feel silly trying”

• “My brain is filled with ideas and things I should be doing but it’s just not workable”

This experience got me thinking: What are the student’s experiences when they take any kind of big step? Their statements about personal struggles were consistent—they talked about using more time, thinking critically, gaining discipline, and navigating fear.

Most personal journeys are hard to take and fail. But it’s most likely that your voyage is at least twice as complicated—in terms of resources, methods, challenges, and experiments. The real significance of this question for education, research, and the current model of instruction is that we need to learn how to include this complexity in our classroom learning experience. When we continue to characterize the experience as either one-time, optimal, or easy, we exclude as many as we include. This doesn’t just make these personal journeys harder—it makes the fundamental process of learning more difficult.

One key component of the findings was that students admitted to having low engagement with the material. But for these students, knowledge of the material was no longer enough to motivate them to learn. It also turns out that teachers had an influence on student engagement. Teachers surveyed discussed videos and information sources in the classroom more than students did. When they said something interesting, students were significantly more engaged and active in their learning. Teachers praised online resources as having high engagement and a huge impact on the learning process. But online materials were not enough to make a meaningful difference on engagement. Engagement was downstream from each student’s own learning process, and the learning processes must be part of the DNA of the learning experience.

Another important take-away from these results is that students learned from struggling and similar environments. When teachers use materials with learning curves at their disposal, students felt empowered to take on even bigger challenges. School reform leaders and teachers should focus on designing learning that helps students avoid challenges that could discourage them. When teachers combine their teaching abilities with the tools available online and through other platforms, students are forced to expand their horizons through the experiential elements in a way that could not be possible in static learning environments.

Why have some people been so successful at teaching for so long and why are we so poor at it? In a prior blog, I quoted a potential issue for teachers: “the mixing of role-playing and (non-testing) to align with the student model of assessment.” It turns out, teachers need more role-playing to encourage students’ own learning.

By linking student engagement with student learning, teachers can shape both of these areas in a way that eliminates one or both biases that are currently holding them back. Teaching must incorporate the teaching style of engagement and encourage the use of good teaching practices to improve engagement, to ensure students can change course, and to move into high-quality research.

Christine Hollen is a producer of technologies for Generation Next, an interactive learning program for high school and college students.

This content was created by MyEdNY, the state licensing foundation for secondary education in New York, with support from the Carnegie Corporation of New York and the National Science Foundation. This article was originally published on The McGraw-Hill Education Blog and is republished here with permission.

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