Solving the Puzzles: Boosting Learner Engagement during COVID-19

COVID-19 or other catastrophes might just come and hit civilization, and they would inevitably impact the lives of the people. But the motto “life goes on” and “learning never stops” will always drive people to just keep going. Learning indeed never stops and it will always transform and modify, so instead of asking “what’s next”, we can start asking “what’s good for now?”

The Dilemma of Learning Engagement during COVID-19

COVID-19 has had tremendous impacts on learning, and one of them is a total shift from blended to fully online learning mode. This transformation of the learning environment may have added some inevitable obstacles. The biggest challenge that has risen from this mode shift is the personal interaction between the instructor and learners, and also among learners and interactions affect learners’ engagement.

Engagement has always been a crucial component of learning. A survey from, one of astounding eLearning providers, conducted a survey in 2018 to investigate the major trends, challenges, and rewards that are faced by eLearning delivery for corporations and businesses. Of the 200 organizations that took part in the survey, 71% of respondents found engagement the most challenging part of delivering training. Followed by time management in doing eLearning tasks (33%), budget (29,32%), rolling out new content (27%), lack of resources (27%) and other challenges (11%).[1]

Then the questions remains: what makes a learner engaged or unengaged? How do we make sure learners stay engaged, especially when something more exciting than their course is only a click away?[2]

Engagement in learning does not happen immediately or spontaneously. There are elements that should be taken into account, like identifying the types of learners, the dimensions of engagement, the desirable content and strategies to engage and motivate learners. But before further exploring those elements, the learners and instructors have to be always reminded of the definition of “learner engagement”.

Learner engagement is a measure that reflects the quantity and quality of a learner’s participation in their learning programs[3]. It reveals the degree of attention, curiosity, optimism, interest, and passion that students demonstrate when learning.[4]

Completing assignments does not really determine the success story of learner engagement. The other aspects like participation in webinar or forum questions, production of excellent results, and collaboration with other learners should be also examined, then they can be identified as engaged or unengaged learners.

In a corporate training context, the learners must engage in three dimensions of engagement: cognitive, emotional and social level to make them and the company grow. By engaging on every level, their training is more likely to lead to improved skills and knowledge to be applied directly in their roles at the workplace[5].

Three Dimensions of Engagement.

Dimension one is the cognitive level, in which learners are active and committed to their learning and could also come up with adaptable learning strategies. They take initiatives to design their own learning strategies that fit their contexts and employ other strategies to absorb information as effectively and efficiently as possible to improve their performance.

At the emotional level, the learners feel connected to others and feel committed to their training experiences. The two conditions are found challenging, especially during this pandemic where they might feel anxious and under pressure of the improbability of the company to exist, which will also affect their personal lives and well-being. And in online mode learning, they sometimes can feel isolated and emotionally disengaged during their learning journey. The learners have to be made aware of the fact that the training and learning experiences are important and it could improve their work with others, so they can be more engaged to the content as well. The organization must also provide strong support from trainers and subject matter experts and encourage the use of social learning tools, like forums and webinars.

The third dimension is the behavioral level, which can be observed from learners’ behaviors such as their ability to submit the tasks on time and their activeness on various learning platforms and social forums. It simply examines completing activities and working through content. However, being able to complete activities is not the same as applying new knowledge. The learners can still be passive, disengaged, and not improved in terms of skills and knowledge, and that is why the behavioral engagement level is considered as the lowest level of engagement.

From the dimensions, it can be concluded that designing excellent content materials is not sufficient, it has to include strategies and platforms that give room for learners to explore the three levels of engagement[6].

The Strategies

There are some strategies that can be applied to bring learner engagement into eLearning courses.

Well-Structured Content

Well-Structured Content usually starts with the elaboration of learning objectives and types of assessment at the end but the content materials can be modified to maximize the engagement. There are some tips from the eLearning Industry on how to make the eLearning content materials engage the learners more[7].

  1. There are some points that help engage the learners to the course:
  2. The use of short catchy sentences in the beginning,
  3. The use of titles and subtitles that help learners focus on the core benefits of the course,
  4. The use of motivating quotes and analogies to highlight the critical points in the course,
  5. The use of stories that can emotionally connect with the learners and help them connect with the content,
  6. The insertion of humors, jokes, cartoons, and audio in the e-module, and
  7. The content materials should be relevant to the learners’ needs.

Incorporating Visual Experiences

Visuals highly assist learners to connect with their learning experiences. Visuals in the form of photos, illustrations, videos, charts, or animated GIFs connect with the audience and make the learning experience engaging. However, the choice of right visuals will determine how engaged they are in learning.

Establishing Purposeful Interactions

Interactions affect learner engagement, especially at the emotional level. They encourage learners to participate more actively, and create a sense of belonging and commitment to the content and their learning experiences. In order to establish the interactions, there are many strategies and platforms to ease the process. Interactive quizzes, reflection sessions, case studies, focus group discussions, and discussion sessions using platforms like Mentimeter, Kahoot!, Padlet, Peardeck, Desmos, Quizlet, and Pigeonhole Live.

Employing Games

Gamification or game-based learning is one technique used to enhance learner engagement. It adds an element of fun and entertainment and thus makes learning more engaging. Game-based learning consists of traditional game elements such as points and levels, which each level provides a challenge based on the learning goal. The learners have to successfully overcome to gain some reward points from one level and move to the next level. The learners will feel challenged and they can make use of the interactions and the interactivity to work in groups, to give feedback, to make decisions, and to engage with the content.[8]

Sink or Swim Together

Having a total shift to online mode, engagement in learning during COVID-19 pandemic is really challenging. It takes observation, research, total modification of content, techniques, and strategies. However, it also becomes the time to develop the employees’ capacity and to improve their potentials by exploring the three dimensions of learner engagement. The combination of interesting and relevant content materials, meaningful interactions, interactive techniques and strategies, and proper technology would definitely boost the engagement and the sense of belongings of the employees and make the company continue to flourish.