Online Body Language And Learner Engagement

Online Body Language And Learner Engagement
Summary: Everyone knows that your body language conveys much –if not more– than what you say. And we usually approach the online environment as if there were no body language. But there is another way to look at this: Your online body language can be powerful as well as body language in person.

What Your Online Body Language Says About You 

If you are not investing your full self into your online courses, your online body language says that you don’t care about your student. If your course is set up as a list of files to open and links to read –without dialogue, images, activities, or engagement from you– then no matter what you contend, your online body language says that the students as individuals –people who have ideas and experiences to contribute to the learning experience– are not very important to you.

If your courses are mainly a series of multiple-choice tests based on the readings or PowerPoints, then your online body language is challenging; your arms are crossed; perhaps you are stifling a yawn. Go ahead, try and pass this course. I actually don’t care whether you do or not. You may find that your students end up yawning as well, and leaving your course unimpressed and more than ready to forget the material.

On the other hand, if your course is made up of links to an outside subscription site, where students have to pay as part of their textbook cost, what your online body language is saying is Leave me alone. There’s the material, over there to study. It’s enough that I have to enter all these grades! Not only are the students paying for something that you probably could provide them (with some effort and Open Educational Resources), your attitude in many cases negatively affects how they feel about the subject and the class. Not to mention how they feel about you.

If your course is devoid of images to illustrate ideas and stimulate discussions, without giving the students different ways to show that they understand the content, your online body language conveys the fact that you have no understanding of the diverse learners you have in your class, and little patience with those who don't already know what you know. Your online body language in this case is dismissive; if you can’t learn content the same way I remember having to learn it, then go somewhere else. (And you may find that students actually can go somewhere else, and may very well do so.)

It’s Not Too Late To Change

Fortunately, online body language can be changed. If you really want your students to enjoy learning, your attitude counts more than your knowledge. You can adjust your online body language by being aware of how strongly it “speaks” to your students, and revise your course to reflect your new online body language. Consider raising your awareness of different learning styles, exploring some online tools that may be useful for you, taking or finding some photos and utilize them in your course. Create a discussion around a topic that allows students to share their ideas; have them create videos, upload photos, and become part of the fabric of your course. Build on that energy; allow your course to be a place where everyone is leaning forward, across their desks, collaborating and learning.  This feeling can be created online, with an engaged online body language.

You can even insert a quick survey into a current course; ask your students what is working for them, what they are confused about, and what their biggest challenge is in your course. Experiment with some different ideas – consciously leaving your own comfort zone is a great way to mentor a growth mindset with your students.

If you engage your students with a variety of activities, provide personal feedback on assignments, boost your curriculum by taking advantage of the internet tools and resources, and provide safe places for formative assessments (such as practice tests), lots of visuals and a clear direction for success, your body language says: I care about you. I want you to succeed.  I am here to help. Your smile is genuine; your voice is sincere. Your online body language can pull struggling –sometimes even reluctant– students along.

Yes, online body language exists. Be aware that no matter what you say (or write) your online body language has a strong effect on your students.