4 Reasons Why You Need To Use Social Polls In Your Online Learning
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Online Learning Polls: Why You Need To Use Social Polls In Your Online Learning

Online learning is still a relatively new field, but it’s rapidly developing to keep up with learner demands. Learning and Development (L&D) professionals are constantly tweaking and redesigning their learning interfaces to better fit the needs of their learners, thereby encouraging more communication and participation from those who might normally remain silent.

Related: Moving to online learning? Learn how to keep the social element

However, since the online environment removes face-to-face communication, the biggest complaint many learning professionals have about it is the lack of communication with learners. This makes polls one of the best ways to get that same level of communication back. Social polls will help you increase collaboration from your learners and boost their critical thinking skills and information retention. Polls also have the additional benefit of giving you feedback on what is working in your course and what is not.

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1. Social Polls Are Simple And Motivational

An Elucidat polling results screen from an Open University project

An Elucidat polling results screen from an Open University project

Other online methods (such as group projects and discussion boards) are somewhat tedious and difficult to use. On the other hand, social polls are simple and straightforward. The polling process flows easily, and learners are rewarded with interesting results that are provided in an easy-to-read format.

Learners who don’t usually participate in online discussions often find polls more enticing. A shy learner may find the polling setup less intimidating since answers are generally short and already filled. Less-motivated learners will respond better to polls because they require less effort. Overall, nearly every learner will be intrigued by the polling results, making them more likely to participate at the onset.

Related: How to keep learners motivated with gamification

2. Like-Minded Poll Results Encourage Self-Esteem

This results screen from Medieval Swansea was built with Elucidat's authoring platform

Whether people realize it or not, nearly everyone desires to be accepted by their peers. They strive to “fit in” somewhere, and they tend to gravitate toward people who have the same ideals and interests. This concept is also known as social proof. When a learner sees poll results that align with their own answers, they feel accepted by others. This boosts their self-esteem, which can have many positive effects for the learner both at work and in everyday life. In her book, Neuroscience for Learning and Development, Stella Collins states that acceptance actually increases the levels of oxytocin, the “happy hormone”, in the brain. It’s only natural that a learner’s overall self-esteem and happiness level will increase with validation.

Many learners struggle with feelings of isolation. In fact, nearly 44 percent of learners reported feelings of depression in a recent poll about mental illnesses in college students. These feelings can negatively affect learner performance and cause otherwise well-adapted people to become withdrawn in their online social interactions. When social polls boost a person’s self-esteem, they boost a person’s overall success as well.

3. Differing Opinions Encourage Critical Thinking, And Poll Results May Sway Learner Ideas

Can your poll sway opinion like this example?

Conversely, differing opinions can encourage learners to think outside the box. Studies show that people have a fear of missing out (FOMO). No one likes to feel like an outsider. When a learner views poll results that differ from their own answers, they’ll wonder why. These people will learn to dig deeper as they consider the answers, trying to understand others’ viewpoints and analyzing their own beliefs.

You might wonder why these learners would assume that their own answers aren’t correct. According to Julie Dirksen (author of Design for How People Learn), most people place the opinions of a certain two groups higher than others. Those two groups are expert opinions and those of peers. Why do these two groups hold such power over learners’ thinking? Dirksen states:

“We can’t be experts on everything, so a good tool -often an effective shortcut- is to turn to people whose opinions we respect, and whose advice we seek. If those people tell us that something is useful, we are much more likely to try it ourselves.”

This certainly applies in an online learning setting. A learner who has posted an unpopular opinion or incorrect answer will usually trust the crowd of people who chose differently, even without understanding why. When learners don’t understand the answers, they turn to you (as the expert instructor) or their peers for guidance, which is exactly what you want in an online course.

4. Polls Are The Best Way To Collect Feedback

An Elucidat poll is used to gather feedback from learners

Polls are arguably the best way to collect feedback from your learners. Many online courses ask for feedback via email, discussion boards, or a messaging system. These systems all discourage honest communication, however, because your learners’ anonymity is compromised. They may fear retaliation from you or criticism from their peers, or they may find the feedback system too cumbersome and refuse to participate.

Polls are simple to implement, and participation is easy. You can almost always set results to be anonymous as well, which will encourage shy or particularly wary learners to participate. Learner feedback is crucial for the success of your teaching as an online course instructor. Polls give you the answers you need so you can evaluate exactly what you’re doing well and make necessary changes.


Social polls are a crucial part of online learning. They help learners step out of their comfort zone and share opinions with their peers and with you. When the answers agree with those of the crowd, your learners feel accepted and happy. When they differ, other learners are compelled to discover why. When used as a method of feedback, polls are excellent tools for making course improvements.

Best of all, polls are easy to set up and can be implemented quickly. If you’ve been considering social polls for your online learning, now is a great time to get started.

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