How to make a lesson engaging is a task every teacher has to deal with on a daily basis. The question how to engage students has to be answered every time one designs a lesson plan. There’s no question that engagement is a crucial part of motivation and successful knowledge transfer and retention; so how does one do it?
In order to answer this question, first of all we have to understand learner engagement. One can easily confuse engagement with motivation or involvement. These are related terms, but not quite synonymous. Engaging refers to employing students’ intellectual faculties and making them emotionally invested in the learning process. This in turn has a positive effect on motivation and the overall learning outcome. In order to engage students one needs to take care of the content and the mode of delivery.
The most important thing is to make sure the content is appropriate for the learners’ level of knowledge. If the content is too simple, they are hardly going to take it seriously; they might think it is unimportant or unnecessary. On the other hand if the content is too complex, it will go right over their heads. They will have a hard time making sense of it and what little they do understand could just make the whole thing even more confusing.
According to Lev Vygotsky and his theory of the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD), learning takes place when one is faced with a concept or a task which is slightly above one’s current level of competency – something that is just out of reach. As mentioned before, too easy or too difficult and learning will not take place. In order to acquire knowledge or a skill, the learner needs assistance from a more knowledgeable other (MKO). An MKO is there to provide just enough support, only what is absolutely necessary for the student to grasp a particular concept or complete the task at hand. The learner and the MKO co-construct knowledge in a process which has a strong social foundation. If we have this theory in mind it becomes apparent that determining learner skill level is crucial for the overall learning process. But, gauging one’s skill level and the appropriate difficulty is a fine art which takes a lot of experience to master. New LMSs provide teachers with tools which help determine user levels. Teachers can then use these for future reference when designing lessons and activities.
Another important thing when we talk about content is the format in which it is presented. Howard Gardner claims that there are eight different types of intelligences, and that every person possesses each one to a varying degree. This unique combination of intelligences is what determines one’s preferred learning style and the way one represents ideas in one’s mind. For this very reason it is of paramount importance to include a wide variety of formats. If we constantly use just one format, for example visual aids, we would leave out all the students who have an affinity for auditory or kinesthetic stimulation. That is where multimedia content comes in handy. Videos, simulations, animations, podcasts etc. provide a combination of sensory stimuli which are more likely to cater to different learning styles. Luckily, eLearning platforms support a plethora of formats which allow for interesting and varied lessons.
E-learning solutions are usually available for different devices (PC, laptop, tablet, smartphone), which makes course materials highly available. The ability to access learning materials whenever possible allows students to learn asynchronously or make up for missed lessons. In addition to that, learners of all kinds like the fact that they can learn at their own pace and do some work on the go. With greater flexibility, students with jobs or many extracurricular activities have the opportunity to work around their busy schedules.
Mobile learning is a huge trend, and one which is only going to increase in the coming years. According to a recent study by Microsoft, 77% of people aged 18 to 24 responded “yes” when asked, “When nothing is occupying my attention, the first thing I do is reach for my phone,”. Further research claims that Millennials check their smartphones 43 times a day on average. As educators, we should take a hint and adapt to such overwhelming behavioral patterns.
Another great strategy, which ties in perfectly with multimedia and mobile learning is microlearning – breaking a lecture into smaller pieces, or chapters. These smaller wholes usually focus on one item at a time and are designed with a specific learning outcome in mind. Recent studies have shown that we are most focused during the first 20 minutes of an activity, microlearning exploits this mechanism. Cutting up bigger units into smaller pieces of highly focused information, and delivering them in rich media formats makes them much easier to process. Whether one needs to acquire a specific skill, or quickly revise for a test, there is no waste of time or energy with this approach.
The only thing left is to make your students emotionally invested. To do so, make them understand why they are required to learn something. The usual “it’ll be on a test” is just not enough. Explain how they could personally benefit from doing well in a specific subject or which fields and careers employ principles that you offer to teach in your lessons. Give your learning goals a more tangible purpose and watch their motivation increase a thousandfold.
YouTestMe solutions work to bring together all of the aforementioned aspects of an engaging lesson. Features which assess one’s skill level and the ability to finely tune content difficulty make teachers’ lives a lot simpler. Options for mobile and microlearning (structuring lessons into chapters) and the richness of supported formats provide ample tools for creating and delivering engaging lectures.