The traditional classroom is on its way out.
Education is undergoing its most dynamic period of change since the invention of the calculator. During that time, an increased focus is being placed on the student experience. Modern teachers are faced with increased class sizes and lower student engagement rates. And while technology continues to rapidly expand to more aspects of our lives, students are saddled with a traditional learning environment that fails to keep pace.
Students themselves learn at different paces and in different ways. It can be a challenge for teachers to keep up and make sure that the entire class is engaging properly. One of the ways schools are trying to improve student engagement is through introducing technology to the classroom.
At first glance, this may sound like a bad idea. Aren’t students on their cellphones enough as it is? But that’s the point. The integration of technology into our lives has been so rapid and widespread that it has become more than a trend. It’s a way of life.
The modern student is plugged in. They’re a gamer and a social networker. Because students are so used to developing and engaging with their own social communities online, edtech is trying to follow suit and introduce an online community component to the learning experience.
Online education communities provide a familiar platform for students to interact with peers, instructors, and course materials. The aim is to increase student participation, interest, and performance. The results are coming in and all signs appear to be that it’s working.
In an article published by U.S News and World Report online community was specifically cited as a distinct advantage of online learning.
Benefits of online communities in EdTech
Enhanced Classroom Discussion Opportunities
Within a traditional classroom, many introverted students feel overshadowed by their more outspoken peers. With online coursework, enhanced by an online community, students are able to engage in a more relaxed environment where they are free to respond, comment, and discuss without the rigorous time constraints or social pressures of the traditional classroom.
The increased access to their instructors can also help if students run across issues outside of class hours. For example, if a student is working on an assignment and has a question, they no longer need to wait until the next class period for help. Students are able to login to their education community and ask their instructor directly or post to the public forum to crowdsource a solution from the class.
Break Down Social Barriers
Another benefit of the online educational community is to eliminate or lessen the impact of cultural biases. This is widely supported by a study of online learning effectiveness conducted by the Research Center for Educational Technology at Kent State University that found online education communities widely connect people beyond the limitations of the traditional classroom. By providing a community platform, education services are able to promote interaction among individuals who otherwise would not interact.
Gamification Increases Engagement
Gamification is the process of applying game mechanics and theory to non-gaming situations. This is a system that is successfully used in many online community systems such as forums or message boards.
In an online education community, modifications can be made to fit the specific class or school culture.
- Community rankings set levels for students to attain by contributing, rating, or otherwise engaging with their peers
- Achieving these levels can be rewarded with new features or abilities as the student progresses
- Peer to Peer ratings let students give credit to others for worthwhile contributions
- Custom badges and avatars help students define their personality and standing within the community
These features encourage and reward student participation. From an educational standpoint, the students who interact the most, reap the greatest rewards from the experience.
It’s all about interaction
In nearly every study on the subject of online education communities, there are three areas of interaction that are consistently cited as being crucial to student engagement and success:
- Interaction with the instructor
- Interaction with classmates
- Interaction with content
A strong and vibrant community that allows for the expression of ideas, discussion of topics, and access to classmates as well as the instructor helps to address all three of these areas.
The Data Backs It Up
Research has shown that online education with high levels of engagement and interaction have a more positive impact than those that don’t, according to the Rochester Institute of Technology Innovative Learning Institute
“Not only do online education communities lead to increased performance among the students, the students themselves report a greater level of satisfaction with the course and the overall learning experience.”
Go Social with Education
The modern student is the gamer, the social network user. Approaching education with a focus on tapping into that aspect of student behaviour is a recipe for success. Furthermore, it prepares the student for the continuing rapid integration of technology into their future workforce as well as society as a whole.
Online student communities foster interaction and engagement among an online student body that according to the Online Learning Consortium now includes 1 out of every 4 students.
Indeed, the future success of online education may exist in leveraging the existing technology and the social intuition for online community that is already present in the minds and habits of the modern student. It’s a smart move.