motivation-in-learning

Building Engaging Online Courses and Motivating Your Learners

May 3, 2017

An unfortunate fact of life: watching and listening for an extended period of time is hard. We get distracted or grow bored. This is simply in our nature. For that reason, unless you want your learners to fidget and yawn, you must engage them. Turn them from passive listeners and observers into active participants of the learning process. This is called “proactive learning”, and today’s article will shed some light on the best practices that will help you implement it in your organization.

Questions and Tests

To begin, let’s go back to basics - interactive questions and tests integrated into the course’s structure. They enable the learner to apply and practice the newly acquired knowledge and skills. Make a habit of concluding every individual section of your courses with a short test including a number of general questions related to the content of that particular section. Activating questions like “How do you think...” at the end of every section or module engage the learner and help him understand which part of the course they understood well, and on which ones they should brush up.

Let’s put this into practice:

  1. Browse https://geen.io and sign up for a free account.

  2. Go to “Courses”, click the green plus sign icon and select “Create”.

  3. Type the course name and click “Create” once again.

  4. Drag a “Test” object from the panel on the left to the pathboard and double click it.

  5. On the panel on the left, pick one of the available question types and drag it to the right to add it to the test.

  6. In the window that pops up, type your question and answer choices, and click “Save”.

Homework assignments

To reinforce your learners’ newly acquired knowledge and skills, give them tasks that help them practice what they’ve just learned. For example, if you’re building a course about project management, you can ask the learners to draft up a project plan which can then be reviewed by the management. You can even make the learners responsible for checking and grading the completed homework assignments of their peers. Split the learners into pairs and tell them that diligently checking each other's assignments will improve the final grade they receive after finishing the course.

Geenio Homework

This way, the learners’ attitude towards the course itself and studying in general changes dramatically. Firstly, the added responsibility makes learners study more diligently, as to not embarrass themselves in front of their peers. Secondly, checking their peers’ homework assignment requires from the learners a greater degree of understanding than simple self-study. To give a fair and justified grade, a learner must have a solid grasp of the material, double-check his facts, and be ready to revisit the course if necessary. Needless to say, all of this helps learners to retain the acquired knowledge and skills well.

Let’s put this into practice:

  1. Browse https://geen.io and open the course you created earlier for editing.

  2. Drag a “Homework” object from the panel on the left to the pathboard.

  3. Type the assignment name and provide detailed instructions about what the learners must do.

  4. Attach files to the assignment, if necessary.

  5. Click “Inspectors” to specify the person(s) responsible for checking and grading the assignment, and click “Save”.

Collaborative work

If the training program in your organization allows giving learners practical tasks and does not strictly limit the amount of time allocated to training (as in “1 hour per course per employee”), you can go an extra mile to make training even more engaging and fun. Divide the learners into pairs or small (3-5 persons) groups and assign them tasks that must be completed collaboratively. As the group members work on completing the task, knowledge is being exchanged within the group at a high rate, and brainstorms that usually occur under such conditions deepen the group members’ understanding of the subject at hand. On top of that, group members help each other fill in the blanks in their knowledge without consciously realizing it. For these reasons, group tasks are much more effective than individual ones.

Scenarios, simulations, and illustrative use cases

Don’t neglect to enhance your courses with real world examples and use cases that explain how theory can be applied in practice. Also, don’t forget to ask the learners questions about the examples you used. Typical questions may include:

  • Did the people in the example act optimally?

  • Was there a better way to handle the situation?

  • Were the priorities assigned correctly?

  • Were all actions carried out in the correct order?

Examples and use cases fit well in the middle of individual course sections. First, explain the theory. Then, an explanation of how it can be applied in practice. Finally, a demonstration with the help of use cases.

Surveys

It is important to give the learners the ability to leave feedback about courses and instructors. Anonymous surveys work well in this regard. Add one at the end of every course you create to hear what the learners really think about your courses, so that you can review the feedback and act upon it.

Let’s put this into practice:

  1. Browse https://geen.io and open the course you created earlier for editing.

  2. Drag a “Survey” object from the panel on the left to the pathboard and double click it.

  3. On the panel on the left, pick one of the available question types and drag it to the right to add it to the survey.

  4. In the window that pops up, type your question and click “Save”.

A major challenge at the end of the course

The best way to consolidate the knowledge acquired while taking an online course is to complete a final project. Such a project must meet the following criteria:

  • It must enable and encourage the learner to apply the better part of the newly acquired knowledge and skills in practice.

  • It must enough of a challenge for the learner, as to arouse his interest and motivate the learner to complete the project.

  • It must include tasks and goals identical or similar to those the learner will encounter in the real world.

The main goal of the final project is to enable the learner to put all he has learned into practice, and to help him consolidate all the theory he has learned and the practical tasks he has completed while studying. Completing the final project both reinforces the learner’s knowledge and gives them confidence that they are now prepared to tackle real life tasks with the help of the knowledge and skills they have acquired.

In conclusion

The main takeaway is that the more meaningful tasks a learner completes when taking a course, the firmer they will grasp the material and the better they will retain it. On the contrary, a course that can be completed merely by clicking “Next” time and time again is unlikely to impart any lasting knowledge. Make an effort to craft your courses as to engage the learner, and the results will follow.