5 Ways To Humanize The eLearning Experience

5 Ways To Humanize The eLearning Experience
Summary: How can we humanize the eLearning experience? Addressing dropout rates and providing strategies to make students feel more connected online, we look at how to improve the online classroom experience through the use of tools, creativity, social networking, and teacher-student contact.

How To Humanize The eLearning Experience

eLearning is big. But how big exactly? According to a recent study, “the number of students taking at least one online course increased by over 570,000 to a new total of 6.7 million”. That’s almost a 1000% increase over 10 years. Our hair doesn’t even grow that fast. But despite the increase in students, dropout rates are still pretty high. Something’s not right there. A few years ago, I took an online language course. My motivation during the course? Low. It just didn’t keep me engaged like a real human could in a physical classroom. Of course, this doesn’t mean that online learning can’t be engaging. (Hands up if you ever completely switched off during a “real” class because the teacher was just super boring.) It got me thinking. How can you humanize the eLearning experience? And what comes to mind when we talk about the human experience? Connection, empathy, engagement?

Let’s look at 5 ways to make online learning more engaging by putting the human front and center.

1. Create a connection through storytelling.

“Tell me a fact and I’ll learn. Tell me the truth and I’ll believe. But tell me a story and it will live in my heart forever.” – Indian Proverb

Every human being has a desire to feel connected. Researcher Brené Brown talks about this in her book Daring Greatly: “Connection is why we're here; it is what gives purpose and meaning to our lives”. Scientists are backing the idea too. Creating a connection through storytelling humanizes typical run-of-the-mill textbook learning techniques by creating empathy. It emotionally connects us to a topic. Let me give you an example:

“Cloud computing, often referred to as simply ‘the cloud’, is the delivery of on-demand computing resources -everything from applications to data centers- over the internet on a pay-for-use basis.”— IBM

For beginners, this concept can be hard to understand. But watch what happens when we turn it into a visual story:

“Alice wanted to travel from one place to another. She could take many different methods of transport including car, bus, or taxi. Taking a taxi represents cloud computing. She’s not responsible for the maintenance of the taxis, she can call as many taxis as she needs, and they can drop her off anywhere and at any time if her plans change. She only needs to pay for the distance traveled (on a pay-as-you-go basis) and the booking is something she can manage herself.”

Which version is more relatable? Integrating storytelling into your eLearning course can be a challenge; here are some tips to make it work.

2. Use online tools. 

Whether registering students for your course, teaching them the actual class, or getting feedback when they’re done, the whole thing can be made simple with online tools. The human experience doesn’t start and stop at the class itself, rather it starts the first time you interact with your students. There are other ways you can improve your classes using technology. Try using Trello to plan out your course curriculum. Try tools such as Slack or Hipchat to communicate with your students. You can set up “rooms” which are a nicer version of online forums. Want to quiz your students in a fun, interactive way? Try something like Typeform. The right software tools do a good job of engaging students to make up for the lack of face-to-face connection you get in a traditional classroom. Other types of media you could use are:

  • Videos.
  • Images.
  • Infographics.
  • Slide shows.

They keep the course interesting and create a 3D-like experience from a 2D platform.

 3. Let students get creative. 

Sparking curiosity in students is one of the key aspects of effective learning. Ramsey Musallum expresses this well in his TED Talk “3 rules to spark learning”. Human conversation involves a two-way interaction between the speaker and the listener, so discussion needs to flow both ways. Give students the opportunity to have a voice and come up with ideas to create a natural way of learning. Projects, assignments, and experiments are ways to do this. They leave an "open book" for students to explore and express their ideas.

4. Encourage your students to reach out.

“I never teach my pupils. I only attempt to provide the conditions in which they can learn.” — Albert Einstein

As a teacher, you want to be there as a guide and provide the best learning conditions possible. Encourage students to reach out, give feedback, and ask questions. It will allow you to provide the best conditions for learning. Remember that contacting and connecting with students on a regular basis keeps them engaged with the course and topic.

5. Build an online community. 

The steep rise of people learning online could easily be attributed to one thing: People are busy. Yet this doesn’t mean they don’t want a social experience that on site university or college students enjoy.

Here’s how:

  1. Build a Facebook group for students to discuss topics.
  2. Use HipChat or other messaging tools for online discussion.
  3. Organize face-to-face events and create an event calendar for students to meet up.
  4. Encourage students to attend other conferences and learning events related to the topic.

This gives the online courses a “family feel” with events and meetups that combine networking with learning.

So how do we humanize the eLearning experience? We make humans feel connected - only in an online environment. Online learning can be fun and engaging. Let’s just keep it human.