If you’ve ever taken an online course, you know how easy it is to lose interest, lose motivation, and leave it unfinished in the wasteland of unfinished courses. On the other end, you might have taken online courses that kept you engaged, active, and motivated all the way through. The times when I have experienced the latter, have been when I was sent into the real world to complete offline activities. The research in educational psychology and neuroscience also indicates that no matter how good the online content is, at some point, you must engage your learner offline, in order for them to stay engaged online.
Here are 5 ways to engage your learners offline:
Studies done by Princeton University and the University of California, LA (PDF Source) support the theory that, especially when it comes to conceptual knowledge, writing by hand makes learning easier than when these activities are done online or digitally. So if you have any activities that involve concepts, brainstorming activities, organizing ideas, or planning, consider including hand-written tasks.
An effective way to do this is to create worksheets, printable workbooks, and have students print them out and use them to organize their thoughts. Another option is to give them instructions on how to use index cards or sticky notes to complete the activity. You could even recommend that they take notes while watching your video content or listening to your audio content.
Are there any areas of your course where you recommend that your customers conduct interviews, do research, gather data, or conduct experiments? If not, you should look for ways to do this. I remember having to conduct an interview for an online class that I was taking in “Training Needs Analysis”. It was incredibly helpful and gave me an eye-opening experience that remains with me to this day.
You can help your students have this type of experience by giving them similar “fieldwork” to do. Help them out by showing them how to conduct an effective interview (or showing them a bad interview), and sending them out into the real-world to complete it. Other examples of this would be opportunities to conduct an experiment or gather data. One artist that teaches a Nature Sketching course, has her students go into the field to collect leaves and a variety of plant life that is later used in the course.
If you are teaching a skill that requires physical activity (dancing, painting, fishing, fitness) well this is a no-brainer. Tell them to take a break (pause the video or end the video when it’s time for them to practice) and do the activity! But don’t be too quick to dismiss this as something that cannot be applied to your content area. I’ve seen examples of online SAT prep courses that required students to go shopping and calculate the discount prices or to get on ladders and calculate certain measurements!
Active, purposeful observation is a method used quite frequently in health care or teacher training. The objective is generally to have the novice learner (intern) observe the expert, and then to put this observation into practice. This is most powerful, not when they are watching the expert in a classroom setting, or through a video demonstration, but when they must go into a real situation and observe how others apply that skill or knowledge.
To do this, you can design an activity where you tell your student or customer who to observe, what to observe, how to observe, and the purpose of the observation. Example: for a language learning course, students can be advised to go to a public place and observe native speakers as they greet each other. What are the different greetings, how are they different from greetings in the textbook? They can then reflect on what they saw in a journal or via live discussion with you.
There is tremendous learning potential in being able to teach what you are learning to someone else. This is not new. The Roman philosopher, Seneca, stated “While we teach, we learn”. Modern scientists have only answered the question of why this is so beneficial. For example, studies show that first-born children often have a higher IQ than their younger siblings because of the time they often spend teaching their brothers and sisters the ropes (PDF Source).
Is there a way for you to introduce teaching into your online course? Can your students provide tutoring or give feedback to each other? Perhaps they can join a MasterMind group or meet together in real life to share what they are learning.
Think back to all the online courses that you have taken. Which ones were the most enjoyable and led to the biggest payoff? Were they courses that included some offline activities?