Characterizing reluctant learners in online learning

When I think about the general characteristics of the students who take my online ENG4C class, my learners:

  • Struggle with task completion
  • Struggle with goal-setting
  • Struggle with time management
  • Lead nearly adult lives
  • Are studying independently from their parents

Do you have learners like that?  How would you generally characterize your reluctant learners?  When I recently presented at BOLTT, I surveyed the audience and this is what they added:

Made with Padlet

Feel free to add your own descriptors too.  If we define the audience as anyone who is reading this, then why not get more ideas?  I’d very much like to hear from you either in the Padlet or the comments.

Trying to define my learners by their characteristics always reminds me of the work I did for my M.Ed. capping paper on transliteracy which can basically be summarized in this one image:

User Reader Text Technology

Teaching online is so much more complex than the face-to-face world of teaching because you’re dealing with these 4 areas without the benefit of your face-to-face experience.  The learner is both a user and a reader in every moment of online learning as they navigate the technology and whatever the text (words, images, web formatting, media, etc.) is.  They may be proficient readers but not proficient users.  In my case, these are the students who are usually not strong in either reading or the technology they’re using. Technology is further subdivided into the categories of both software and hardware, and we can help them navigate the software in the VLE (Virtual Learning Environment) we provide, but often I get questions from my learners about how to troubleshoot hardware problems too.

Does all this mean that we shouldn’t offer online learning to at-risk students?  No!  In fact I think it’s time we offer more online learning to these students whose lifestyles often suit the online learning world more than the face-to-face world.

Helping Your Reluctant eLearners Finish With Pride

Off to the BOLTT conference this week and this time I’m presenting for the first time to this audience. Maybe it’s because I’ve been teaching online now for 7 years or because I just had a fabulous experience researching online engagement last year, but regardless, I now have the confidence to talk about elearning for at-risk students.

During the presentation I’ll be harvesting the ideas of the participants in the room on Padlet, which I promise to share with you after the presentation is done on Friday.

#BIT15Reads: Motivating and Retaining Online Students by Rosemary Lehman and Simone Conceicao

Motivating and Retaining Online Students: Research-Based Strategies That WorkMotivating and Retaining Online Students: Research-Based Strategies That Work by Rosemary M. Lehman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This little book packs a whallop in terms of professional development for online teachers. As a grade 12 online English teacher, and a teacher-librarian, I found Lehman and Conceicao’s research to be precisely focused on my needs as a teacher to help my students stay motivated and to retain students in the course.

Immediately, the authors set up a common lexicon for the reader to discuss different types of learning and this format of precise language continues throughout the book when talking about phases of engagement, learning strategies, and design strategies. I learned that if we only measure attrition in online learning, then we aren’t truly measuring or acting with the problem of why a student does or does not persist in online learning. I was also interested to learn through the authors’ research that contact with faculty is more important than contact with other students. After just completing my M.Ed. thesis on transliteracy, the transfer of literacy across modes and mediums, Lehman’s research also confirmed that the struggles between user and reader are separate and yet deeply impactful on the success of all students, but especially those working in online classes. In this environment of receiving and giving messages, the limits of self-reliance, problem-solving and collaboration are truly tested.

The authors review the four design strategies that best help students in the LMS which include: consistency, variety, relevance and content (p. 20-23) and offer many specific strategies. One strategy that I will revisit as I enter my 4th online teaching experience is to facilitate ice breakers and ease into multiple social groupings. I also now know that my feedback needs to be more timely and focused on the learning process, not the product. The most meaningful message from this book is actually to help students achieve self-care strategies through metacognition, and explicit teaching about goal setting and rewards. I will be adapting the online resources mentioned in the book into practical checklists to engage my students with their own learning process. Even things like giving a clear syllabus of readings, skills, technology and evaluation is something that I need to more precisely express to my students.

I would definitely recommend this book to anyone teaching online in the K-12 environment and beyond.

View all my reviews