Updated: Apr 6
When I began to learn about online and blended learning one of the main phrases that kept cropping up was “learner engagement” and everything I read was highlighting how important it was. So, what exactly is learner engagement and why is it particularly important when teaching and learning in the digital classroom?
What is Learner Engagement?
Learner engagement refers to “positive emotional connections” formed by learners as a result of how curious, attentive and interested they are in the learning environment (Sousa, 2016). By creating these emotional connections learners become more involved and invested in the process of their own learning and experience the development of autonomy in the classroom (Tucker et al, 2017).
When learners engage in this way it results in a process which is relevant and meaningful to them. They are active participants in their own learning and as a result they find the process more fun and interesting. This hands-on engagement in the learning process supports better learning outcomes and retention of knowledge (Dyer, 2015).
In the traditional classroom environment learner engagement can be achieved much more easily than in the digital classroom through task setting, group work, debate, conversations, questions and answers etc and through the formation of formal and informal social relationships which support the sharing of information and a community of peer learning. This type of engagement in the learning process is much more difficult to foster in the online setting, however, it is just as, if not more, important.
Fostering Learner Engagement
There are many things which can impede learner engagement in the digital classroom such as broadband speed, appropriate technology, lack of face-to-face contact, learner
and trainer confidence or social skills and just simple shyness to name a few.
However, there are many simple ideas which can help, such as forming break out rooms for small group work and discussion, class WhatsApp groups, digital whiteboards, discussion boards and forums which all which contribute to fostering engagement and the development of peer interactions to support the learning process.
It is important to remember that utilising these tools to foster learner engagement take time, planning and perhaps the acquisition of new skills on behalf of the trainer as the facilitator within the digital classroom.
It is not sufficient to just turn up to the online environment and lecture learners on a particular topic as this may cause boredom and disengagement and a potential reduction in the achievement of learning outcomes.
So, my advice is to give yourself time as both a trainer and a learner within the digital classroom, ensure that you have the necessary technology and that you know how to use it, if you don’t, ask your educational institution for help.
It is in everyone’s interest to ensure that we are all ready and able to engage in the learning process to the best of our capabilities so that we get the most out of our experiences and to support our achievement of learning outcomes. But remember, we are all learning how to teach and learn in this new digital classroom and as we become more comfortable with this new educational normal then the easier it will become.
Finally, my number one top tip for fostering learner engagement in the digital classroom?
TURN YOUR CAMERA ON!
(It’s impossible to teach or learn effectively from a blank laptop screen that talks).
About the Author: Paula Walshe is an ECEC trainer and placement assessor in the further education and training sector and a freelance writer. She currently holds a BA (Hons) in Early Childhood Education and will complete her studies for a Master’s Degree in Leadership for ECEC in 2022. Paula has extensive ECEC experience in both pedagogical practice and ECEC management. You can learn more about Paula’s work at her website (www.thedigitalearlychildhoodeducator.ie), where she writes a weekly blog on current topics in Early Childhood Education and Care in Ireland and provides useful professional and academic resources for students and professionals in this sector. Paula is also one of the creators of an ECE community of practice based on Twitter: ECE Quality Ireland (@ECEQualityIRL) / Twitter Contact Paula: LinkedIn: Paula Walshe / Twitter: @digitalearlyed / Instagram: @digitalearlychildhoodeducator.
Dyer, K. (2015, September 17). Research proof points – Better student engagement improves student learning. NWEA. https://www.nwea.org/blog/2015/research-proof-points-better-student-engagement-improves-student-learning/
Sousa, D. A. (2016). Engaging the rewired brain. Learning Sciences International.
Tucker, C., Wycoff, T., Green, J. (2017). Blended Learning in Action. London: Sage Publications Ltd.