Fostering connectivity and engagement in online learning – how to do it and why should you even care? 

A rapid movement from live education to online versions is a big leap. Organization HR, teachers, education providers, trainers, you name it, are making huge efforts in forming online course scripts, allocating relevant existing materials, producing new ones in a speed of light, writing instructions, and designing assignments and evaluation criteria, just to name a few. Training programs and courses should’ve been active yesterday, employees and students are already waiting, and organizations are expecting to scale up and smoothen their operations already in this quartal, whether we talk about corporates, training companies, SME’s, educational institutions or NGO’s. Especially currently, during the COVID-19 crisis, things are crazy and transformation fast. There is a danger that this anxiety, insecurity, hurry, and even stress are unwantedly transferred to the otherwise so amazing online courses and training. The important question is, how can you overcome this?  

 

Viivi Pentikäinen a CEO and training program leader from Positive Education experienced first-hand this rapid and, according to her own words, even unpleasant change of moving from live training to online programs. She has always believed in people coming together, connecting personally, sharing their thoughts and feelings, and experiencing the feeling of being together, a team, a community. But she, too, had to bow in front of COVID-19 and figure out how to adjust her business to the new order of the world.

“There was no choice left but to start transferring our materials, training programs, and learning to an online format. Of course, the first versions of our training programs were pretty much hard-wired, not so pretty, but we made it. We were able to get our content online and keep running our training programs. For us, the most important thing, as well as a concern, was to figure out how to help learners to maintain the feeling of social connectivity as a group as well as a sense of well-being even when studying online. Another thing that we paid a lot of attention to was to figure out how to build and maintain a safe learning environment and encourage dialogue in an online environment. These are things our training are known and praised for, in addition to the quality of content, and what our customers kept in high value.” Viivi says that she sighed from relief and even wrote in social media about it when she got customer feedback thanking Positive Education for being able to create such a warm and welcoming, inspirational atmosphere in their online learning environment.  

 

So, what did Viivi and Positive Education do right?

Here are some tips on how to create a safe and encouraging atmosphere for your online course environment and how to ensure the feeling of social connectivity even when studying online.  

1) People first – Social connections are a must! For Positive Education it is important that people know each other and trust each other when they learn together. They use online live sessions actively for strengthening the social connectivity of the group, not so much for teaching new content and without very intense learning objectives. They have assignments over which learners can get to know each other, share ideas, and team up. “We had people call a study partner from the group and just chat how everyone was feeling at the beginning of the learning modules as a way to add social connectivity at the beginning of each module,” Viivi says.  

2) Good instructions with a personalized message create a safe learning environment. Remember that not everybody is used to or comfortable studying online. For some people just logging on to a new platform might cause anxiety and negative feelings that in turn make learning not optimal. Good instructions and welcoming introductory videos on how the learning process will unfold provide people with a safe feeling because now they know what is coming and how to proceed. Also, a personalized greeting from the teacher to the learners give a sense that the learners are important, and that the teacher is “walking with them” on the study path. “I am terrible at following instructions and impatient if I don’t understand something right away which makes me pretty good at writing instructions because I make them SO clear that even I would understand them!” Viivi laughs.  

3) Take breaks, recovery, and wellbeing seriously. With live training, there are a lot of things that enhance wellbeing that is not present when studying online. In live training, most people get energy from social interaction, discussions, and even coffee breaks during the teaching sessions. It is important to include restorative practices, breaks, and wellbeing sessions such as mindfulness moments to an online learning experience to strengthen wellbeing and energy levels during the study time.  

4) You get learning engagement by engaging people. A successful online learning experience is one where the learner feels engaged during the learning process and completes the learning tasks. If the learning experience is not engaging people drop out. So, to get more engagement you need to involve and engage people in the learning process personally. A good way is to ask questions, add personal reflections and commentary assignments, and utilize activating, emotional hooks to catch the learners’ attention.  

5) Use humor and activate positive emotions as much as possible! Humor and sharing of positive emotions connect people. Laughter clears out the tension and anxiety and is often created together when teams feel secure enough. It is a good idea to use laid back wordings in your instructions, materials, and assignments and smile during video conferences. Laughing about your own mistakes and showing your learners that even though learning might not always be so fun, you can still have fun in your learning group, are essential in helping your learners relax, too. Or why not share jokes at the beginning of the zoom-session?

“Here is one of our favorite shared to me by my son: “Most students know that pressing the control+f4 key is used to exit a game or a meeting. So, when teachers ask students for advice on, for example, how to get the brightness up or the camera on, be aware of the reply is: …just press the control+f4! – bye-bye, teacher!”  

 

So, what do you think? Have you remembered to include elements to your online courses that foster social connectivity, dialogue, feelings of togetherness, and make the environment psychologically safe and engaging?

Not to worry if this has been forgotten during all the hassle, you have plenty of time and iterations to start doing small changes and additions, one by one. And of course, we are happy to help!

Our mini course on the topic will be out for purchasing already this spring. If you are interested, contact us at info@claned.com to be the first one to get it. 

About the Author

Solja Sulkunen works as Head of Customer Experience in Claned Group creating the best possible learning experience for all Claned users. She ensures everyday fast and easy deployment of the platform for our new users.