Elliot Gowans, senior VP International, D2L

It is becoming increasingly challenging for tutors in higher education to engage their students with learning materials through traditional methods.

Technology is continuing to shape and influence students’ day-to-day lives, which is changing how, when and where they access information.

Students today expect flexibility and convenience when interacting with content in their spare time, so inevitably they are demanding the same from their education.

Although digital teaching programmes have been present in classrooms for years, they’ve been fairly rudimentary, and now need to evolve to include models that mirror the immersive online environment students are used to.

To fully engage with students, higher education must embrace interactivity and integrate it with day-to-day learning.

Two of the most popular methods for engagement through online education are mobile content and gamification.

Mobile friendly learning

Today, young people tend to rely heavily on their smartphones, with nearly every aspect of their lives managed through their mobile devices.  Although teachers frequently express frustration at phones interrupting lectures and hijacking students’ attention, if leveraged correctly they can become an efficient way of improving learner engagement.

Indeed, mobile devices are already the go-to device for young people looking to supplement their knowledge on a range of subjects. Rather than fighting this, teaching methods should utilise it. Sharing course materials in an easily accessible mobile format adds to the flexibility of learning and can help keep students on track with tasks and projects.

Students are also used to receiving mobile alerts and notifications from WhatsApp or Facebook, therefore incorporating these into the learning environment, whether it’s to notify them of assignment details or upcoming deadlines, is a great way of seamlessly integrating learning into daily routines and habits.

Incorporating gamification and quizzes

Gamification is a technique that’s been used by businesses for years to improve customer engagement levels, and similar techniques are shown to be effective in education.

The rapid growth and popularity of an educational gaming app, Kahoot, is a case in point. Its total number of active users reached 70 million earlier this year, indicating that the education sector may be on the cusp of a technological sea-change, with mobile-friendly content and game-based tasks leading the way.

Game-based learning takes its cue from popular online games that younger students will be familiar with. By constructing a user-friendly layout of quizzes, complemented with imagery, the online learning platform can resemble social media and websites students use in their free time.

From a technical point of view, the technology looks easy to adopt. However, many teachers may be unsure of where to start and how to smoothly integrate gamification into current learning materials.

The following examples are easy to emulate ideas of how to add digital interaction using eLearning platforms:

  • Narrative: Create a story with multiple chapters around a topic which unfolds across stages. The narrative might not necessarily be directly related to the topic – it could convey a message about a topic that students are particularly interested in
  • Complexity scale: Devise varying levels of complexity and adjust the point system accordingly. Whoever has completed the most difficult tasks wins
  • Collectibles: Introduce a series of badges or emblems to collect. For instance, a badge could be associated with a relevant competency a student is struggling to master

The benefits of gamification are that students can progress through games at a comfortable pace, repeat activities, connect with other learners, and simply have fun while learning. This solution has the potential to turn an otherwise strenuous or mundane task into a creative activity that can motivate students to work harder.

Competitive games within student groups can also motivate individuals to work harder and put more effort into their performance. However, it is important to keep in mind that such competition might not enhance the learning experience for each and every student.

Some may not respond well to the pressure and feel intimidated by leader boards and point systems. Therefore, implementing gamification methods into a course needs to be aligned with and tailored to the overall character of the group, individual profiles and learning types. Only a well-balanced approach can effectively help them achieve the set objectives.

Data-driven teaching

Whilst these online elements can certainly enhance student experience and improve engagement, they also provide valuable insight for teachers.

In-built data analytics tools can help track student progress more efficiently. With a wealth of data at their disposal, teachers are able to get insight into each student’s learning behaviour and needs, as well as monitor participation.

Most importantly, however, digital tools enable teachers to help meet particular goals by giving immediate feedback, advising in real-time or even directing to additional resources if a student struggles to keep up with the rest of the group.

Technology has irreversibly changed how younger generation experience the world around them. More than ever, students are demanding an experience that’s built around them, saves time and makes things easier.

By incorporating gamification and mobile into their courses, educators can deliver a learning experience today’s students engage with, helping lead to increased motivation and, ultimately, improved results.

Elliot Gowans, Senior VP International, D2L

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