TABLE OF CONTENTS
Design learning activities that promote student engagement.
As it is, if students feel more like spectators of the course, if their main activity is to listen to a teacher transmit content in a synchronous course or simply to read online content in an asynchronous course, it is likely that their intrinsic motivation will disappear after a couple of sessions.
In addition, whatever promotes active involvement at the beginning of the semester may no longer be as effective by the end. The type of activities assigned should thus change in relation to the progression in the competencies of online learners, in such a way so as to renew their engagement at each stage of the course.
Evidently, if the group is quite heterogeneous at the level of pre-requisite competencies, it becomes that much more difficult for the course designer to suggest engaging activities for everyone.
Recent research on learning styles that follows up on research on multiple intelligences urges us to emphasize variety in our choice of activities; and this not only because all learners do not use all the same strategies or methods of learning but because they have neither the same competency level, nor the same cognitive or cultural baggage (especially in an FLS course), nor the same learning techniques, nor the same context of personal or career life, all of which can significantly influence concept integration.
If variety seems obvious in a classroom context, it is all the more obvious in a context of distance learning, given that variety will be intimately connected to motivation at distance.
- Therefore, concretely, what kind of online activities should be favoured?
- How do you ensure that suggested learning activities will sufficiently arouse the interest and promote the motivation that are required for taking the course, especially if the course is asynchronous and learners are accustomed to much independence in managing their learning?
- Can learning activities that are generally used in class prove effective when carried out at distance?
- Do such activities require so much support that it would be problematic to offer them online?
Is the distance communication medium appropriate for the type of activity required? It all depends on the objectives to be attained and the kind of course involved.
If the goal of the course is to make it possible for students to acquire skills that will enable them to work in a given activity sector or to discover new areas that might guide their career choice, as is often the case in general college-level programs, then learning activities should be offered that initiate them to actual career situations.
What is more, authentic tasks are more likely to arouse student interest, especially when students are alone in dealing with their learning.
Examples of authentic distance activities:
- Team projects in private video-conferencing rooms
- Case studies by means of blogs
- Solving problems by means of a forum
- Listening to online testimonials of career professionals
- Online games and simulations, etc.
According to students, one of the greatest obstacles to distance learning is isolation.
Whether the course is synchronous or asynchronous, it is therefore crucial to plan interactive and collaborative activities between students.
By way of an example, merely creating a discussion forum does not mean that collaboration and mutual assistance will follow just like that. If some students have had a bad experience with teamwork, they are likely to be reluctant to collaborate with other learners, especially at a distance.
It is essential therefore to propose meaningful activities, within student understanding, that will result in their collaboration.
At the college level, collaborative activities will be preferred over cooperative activities.
As it is, primary and secondary teachers are familiar with the cooperative approach in which they themselves manage their pupils’ work, which consists of different juxtaposed parts of an assignment carried out individually by each member of a team.
However, at the postsecondary level, a collaborative kind of assignment is preferred, one in which each participant collaborates in managing a learning process and in organizing work to be done, with the goal of attaining an objective shared with his or her collaborators.
Examples of distance collaborative activities:
- Setting up a wiki as a group or as sub-groups
- Completing a team project in videoconferencing rooms
- Online surveys in virtual classes as contributions to a course
Distance students expect to benefit from some flexibility in their learning process, especially in asynchronous courses.
Depending on their reasons for enrolling in an online course, they perhaps hope to study when they feel like it, or they wish to study at a pace that suits them best.
In a distance course, it is therefore preferable to design content in modules, that is, to allow learners to decide themselves what it is they need and at what pace they want to progress in relation to their situation.
It is thus wise of the course designer to consider offering a selection of different exercises in relation to the level and number of exercises required by each individual so that they can decide themselves what path suits them best.
Distance learners, especially when they first begin, will necessarily question the effectiveness of this learning mode.
Even before course start, it is best to prepare students for this new experience so as to avoid disappointment or procrastination.
Along the way, why not have students think about their distance learning strategies?
As it is, some individual or group metacognitive activities stimulate learning and redirection, as needed, in terms of the methods of learning being used.
Examples of distance metacognitive activities:
- Discussion of the course
- Log book
- Blog, etc.
KEEP IN MIND
Regardless of the kind of distance course to be designed, in regard to planned content or to course modality and media to be used, distance students are likely to be more involved in their distance learning if activities have been developed in terms of the distance context, and if this path is taken into account throughout the course, and if the issues often associated with distance learning are kept in mind, such as the lack of intrinsic motivation connected to a feeling of isolation.
Examples of preferred activities in the design of a distance course:
- Engaging activities
- Varied activities
- Authentic activities
- Collaborative activities
- Adaptable activities
- Metacognitive activities