There are a number of terms that crop up continually in learning, motivation, attention, inspiration, concentration, curiosity etc. But one that is becoming increasingly important especially for those students studying online, is engagement.
Many of the above terms are closely related and often used in the same sentence, but by taking some of them we can make an attempt at defining engagement – the degree of attention, curiosity, interest and passion demonstrated when learning.
Types of engagement
However when you look into any subject in detail it’s never as easy as you first thought. Fredricks, Blumenfeld and Paris identified three types or as they called them dimensions of engagement:
1. Behavioural engagement e.g. attendance, involvement and absence of disruptive or negative behaviour.
2. Emotional engagement e.g. interest, enjoyment, or a sense of belonging.
3. Cognitive engagement e.g. invested in learning, seek to go beyond the requirements and relish a challenge. A cognitively engaged student can become unaware of time and will be capable of taking the subject matter outside its context, form new connections and begin asking questions in order to ensure they have fully understood.
In simple terms an engaged student is physically, emotionally and mentally present.
Why is it important?
There is a large body of evidence that shows correlation between high levels of engagement and a number of desirable learning based outcomes, for example improved critical thinking, cognitive development, skills transfer, self-esteem, deeper understanding and better *exam results. It’s also worth adding that an engaged student is more likely to complete the course.
If you are not engaged, then what are you doing?
Engagement clearly helps students learn more effectively but it is also closely linked to motivation. In fact the expression motivated and engaged are sometimes used as if they were the same, but there is a subtle difference. I have written about motivation many times and unlike engagement tends to be more long term, possibly internal and certainly goal orientated. You can of course be engaged but not motivated, for example engaged in an activity, perhaps concentrating and interested but it’s not a topic or subject that you feel is important and have no long term need or desire to find out more. Engagement is the response to an external and immediate satisfaction, entertainment, curiosity, or recognition.
How to engage – for the teacher
As with motivation, it’s better to be engaged than not, so before we answer the question, what can teachers do to engage their students, it’s worth noting the role of the student, if you sit with your arms folded thinking of something else, you won’t engage.
- Make it relevant – outline before you start why this topic is important for your audience. How is this online session going to help the students achieve their objectives, try to be specific.
- Use real world examples – related to the above, a real world example can help the student appreciate the importance of what they are learning, i.e. if it’s used in the real world it must work. This may result in the student asking questions internally as to how it might work in their organisation or concluding that it will not.
- Positive reinforcement – praise may sometimes feel artificial and of course should not be given all of the time, but recognising the difficulty of a task and congratulating everyone for doing well is both motivational and engaging.
- Build rapport – use student names to help personalise the process. Break down barriers by saying what you personally find difficult, and perhaps why. If you can empathise with the student it helps build rapport, which makes it more likely they will listen and follow your advise.
- Inspire – not everyone will think of themselves as inspirational but in some ways it takes very little, a simple story that means something to you can do the trick. Simon Sinek suggests that inspirational leaders know their WHY, they know why the are doing something. Ask what’s your why, and it’s not just because it’s your job, it’s because it’s your passion and fits with your personal beliefs.
- Inclusive activities – plan for a number of activities that will encourage the group to engage with each other, the subject matter and you. These can be as simple as asking questions, setting quizzes, polls, or more involved, such as break out groups. Importantly the activities should not be easy, they need to be challenging, bored students are not engaged.
- Manage and facilitate, don’t tell, ask – try to get the students thinking, ask them why, do you all agree, is there an alternative answer? It’s also a good idea to encourage students to think and believe in themselves, to become independent and autonomous learners.
And one last tip, make it short and don’t go on too long or labour a point, there is a danger your students will disengage!
Which is probably my queue to bring this to an end and wish you all a Merry Xmas.
*improved grades (Astin 1977, 1993; Indiana University Center for Postsecondary Research 2002; Pike, Schroeder & Berry 1997; Tross, Hpersistencearper Osher & Kneidinger 2000)