Five ways to boost engagement when delivering online learning (as demonstrated by Ulster University Business School and Irish Times Training)

By: Susan HayesCulleton

Overnight, the COVID-19 pandemic has transformed educational systems across the world. Like other educators, I was challenged to rapidly adapt educational programmes for remote teaching and virtual learning to ensure the continuation of high-quality learning experiences for students.

Rather than a sense of dread and a feeling of “now I will have to compete against Facebook and email for my students’ attention”, my mind started buzzing with ideas about how we could lever the power of so many tools to increase engagement and accelerate the learning journey.

By collaborating with Ulster University’s Office for Digital Learning, I was initially able to explore the functionalities of the virtual learning environment. Since I had access to top quality tools within the online Blackboard system and had already moved towards a blended learning approach, we could make that shift immediately and without an ounce of stress.

I’ve been a Recognised University Teacher at Ulster University Business School [UUBS] for the last four cohorts of the Springboard PgC Global Capital Markets programme and an Executive Education trainer at Irish TimesTraining for ten years. The two organisations partnered to offer this Springboard course for a cross-border, university accredited, locally delivered learning experience and I have worked closely with the UUBS course team to deliver teaching, learning and assessment.

Within my own business, I had already been exploring the opportunities of online, interactive learning.  In 2019, we set up “Active Peers at BECKSearch” to offer trainers and L&D professionals modules of exciting, peer-driven learning activities. We’ve worked with professional services firms, startups in the educational space, incubation centres, industry organisations and online communities. I knew I could use this experience and our technology to bring co-operation, learning and engagement to my students at UUBS.

One of the main concerns about developing online content is the level of planning and preparation required and the fear that results will be short-lived.  Over the past four semesters, I have developed twelve new peer learning activities for my students at Ulster University where it’s the students themselves doing most of the work as they learn and revise. This allows the lecturer to focus on adding value where it really matters and gives you the opportunity to “correct” incorrect assumptions before you see them on an assessment.

In this article, I want to give you five key ways that you can dramatically grow engagement in a highly active way for students while they learn from each other. I’ve shared examples from my experience, but you can apply them in your own domain of expertise. These activities have helped my students improve their overall results by 5% in comparison to previous groups taking the same course. Over this time, we’ve also crowdsourced a bank of 220 questions, a glossary of over 100 terms and ten study aids.

We have put together short step-by-step guides and built templates for you so that you can implement these ideas at your convenience at:

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