Engagement and retention are among the most unique and stubborn challenges for online learning, but they are both achievable.

The right online learning experience will boost retention and engagement

Building engagement is one of the most unique and stubborn challenges for online learning, but it is achievable

A recent National Student Clearinghouse Research Center report reveals that post-secondary enrollment continues to decline. Undergraduate enrollment alone saw a 9.4 percent drop from Spring 2020, resulting in nearly 1.4 million fewer undergrads than before the pandemic.

Although the COVID-19 pandemic contributed to this enrollment drop, it’s also related to the overarching debate about whether the expensive price tag attached to these programs is worth a student’s time, money, and energy, especially as inflation continues to rise.

In reality, studies show that obtaining a post-secondary education opens up more rewarding opportunities that might otherwise be inaccessible. For instance, college graduates will have 57 percent more job opportunities than non-graduates, even in today’s challenging labor market. A degree also provides more flexibility and choice in where an individual chooses to work.

While colleges can make getting a degree more affordable, flexible, and adaptable by implementing more online teaching/learning processes, most universities are stuck using archaic systems that aren’t catered to online students. They are clunky, difficult to use, and fail to create an engaging environment. That’s why higher education institutions need to prioritize delivering an interactive online learning experience. Here’s how.

Adopt the Right Technology and Tools

Technology has become essential in our everyday lives. And in the case of education, implementing a learning environment that is supported by teaching and learning technologies requires the proper adoption by institutions, faculty, and students alike. Arming educators with the right tools and solutions can help deliver a successful online learning experience.

Determine if the current learning management system (LMS) can incorporate different collaborative solutions. If it can, consider video conferencing solutions explicitly created for eLearning and other tools such as live chats, forums, and messaging to enable instructor-student and peer communication. However, it’s wise to avoid getting technology for the sake of it. Instead, think about how end-users will interact with it and the types of features needed to fulfill institutional objectives.

Focus On Student-Centered Learning

Keeping learners at the center of the learning process is essential in delivering a successful online learning experience for college students. While online learning initiatives require that teachers know how to use technology to effectively teach online, the success of online learning depends significantly on pedagogy, which can adapt to virtual classroom settings. When designing student-centric courses, educators should consider the following questions:

  • How will students interact with the course content?
  • How will they interact with other students?
  • How will students interact with me as their instructor?

Incorporate Mobile Applications

Today’s students expect to learn with top-tier technology integration, and colleges and universities need to understand how vital a seamless transition between computer and mobile learning is to students. That’s why branded mobile learning apps powered by learning management systems enhance the learning experience for students and faculty alike.

Casper University, the first junior college established in Wyoming, implemented a mobile application to focus on providing an unparalleled digital learning experience. With students worldwide, a mobile app allowed their diverse student body to have the same learning experience, regardless of whether learning happened on a phone, tablet, or computer.

The app ensures students can access learning materials, contact their instructors, submit assignments, and complete any other tasks that they would on the college website. The student response has been positive, and the college has seen increased student and faculty participation.

Implement Student Engagement Tactics

Building engagement is one of the most unique and stubborn challenges for online learning, but is achievable in the following ways:

  • Design for interruption and distraction. When designing content, educators must consider that online learners are more likely to face distractions than in a classroom setting. By making content that is convenient and accessible, online learners who juggle particular challenges such as childcare or lack of privacy and quiet space will have a better, more engaging learning experience.
  • Refresh course material regularly.  As new technology and educational approaches develop, learners constantly change with each passing year. To stay relevant, educators must regularly update the content and its delivery. Tracking a learner’s progress throughout the course can also help determine levels of engagement and what content needs to be updated.
  • Choose your points of engagement intentionally. With numerous options for engaging students, such as forums, private chats, and email consultations, make sure to implement engagement opportunities that align precisely with the needs of all students.
  • Leverage data and analytics. Digital learning environments rely on data to gather insight from student efforts and behaviors. Once collected, this data can help determine course elements that need adjustment or are successful in developing engagement and retention.

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