Schools and universities that incorporate digital learning and virtual learning environments (VLEs) into their blended course delivery want to take full advantage of all that technology can offer. One of the key drivers for education technology is improving student engagement, and in this, VLEs incorporate a range of features that can help. Here are my top five:
The resources of an online learning environment can help teachers tailor studies for an engaging personal learning experience. A VLE helps with designing courses, creating content, and marking student work. By personalising learning, teachers can hope to meet each student’s particular needs around pace, content, and style of delivery.
Students need to spend different lengths of time on topics to fully understand them. Self-pacing gives students ownership of their own learning, which is important not only to give them the best chance to succeed, but also to help keep them motivated and engaged.
Technology-enabled learning also enhances student-teacher communication. In addition to traditional face-to-face meetings, tutorials and progress reviews can take place by phone or through a virtual classroom or meeting platform. This is especially helpful for students where travel to class is a problem.
Central to the personalisation process is the use of data. Through built-in analytics, student progress and outcomes can be used to further tailor the learning experience. If a student is struggling in a particular area, for example, a teacher can pull content from an earlier course module into the student’s learning schedule to help bring them up to speed. By measuring a student’s progress, it becomes clear when they are ready to move onto the next lesson or activity, and this can be regulated through the platform.
Intelligence within the VLE can be used to automate email notifications triggered by, for example, grade achievements, login history, activity completion or lack thereof. This helps keep students motivated and on track.
Even so, sometimes students need a bit of extra help. They may struggle with their studies for a whole range of reasons, and unfortunately signs that this is the case might not always be easy to spot. Intelligent analytics can support irreplaceable one-to-one intervention by identifying and tracking students at risk of missing milestones, notifying tutors and recommending supplementary resources to the student, as well as clarifying the next steps in their learning journey.
Students are used to living their lives through mobile devices and are used to receiving reminders and just-in-time information through their phones, which often also function as their calendar and ‘to do’ list. Many instinctively turn to their mobile devices to help them with their studies by, for example, looking up information online and finding videos on relevant topics to help their understanding.
By providing course content in a mobile-friendly format, students are more likely to stay on top of tasks and keep up to date with their studies. It enables them to access course content even when they switch devices and, through automatic timetable notifications, they are able to keep on top of class alterations.
4. Game-based learning
With rising tuition fees, the pressure is on higher education to meet student expectations of technology as a facilitator of learning. As well as bringing convenience and flexibility to how, when and where students learn, technology can also help with engagement and motivation.
Easy-to-use digital tools, familiar to students from social media and gaming, can be incorporated into course design, motivating learners through rewards and real-time feedback. Of course, what works for one student might not work for another. Competitive leader boards encourage some, but not all, and earning points and recognition may work better for others. Incorporating these and other gamification techniques into course design, along with profiles according to student learner type, can help achieve the best results.
Technology’s responsibility is to extend and enhance our capabilities as humans.
With all this talk of technology, let’s keep in mind that the instructor and their skills are critical to student success. One of a VLE’s greatest strengths is in its ability to automate and eliminate tasks that take valuable instructor time away from students.
A VLE can be set up to manage student notifications, automatically copy and re-offer materials, grade quizzes and assignments, watch for problem student behaviours and take action, and perform other administrative or tedious tasks. When utilised in this way, the instructor can use the time they are saving to review data, create personalised learning plans and give valuable mastery-level feedback to students.
Technology can help in the provision of personalised, flexible and engaging learning experiences. Adaptive learning models support individual learning pathways while mobile-enabled course delivery is flexible to students’ needs for on-demand access. Innovative tools help course design incorporate game-based techniques to hold students’ attention, and supporting it all, we find in-depth analytics that monitor student progress and call out when action is required to keep a student on the right track. Of course, demands on educational institutions are growing all the time; as well as helping directly with student engagement, technology can also help teachers manage their time and resources more effectively, thereby freeing up quality time for them to spend effectively engaging students.