How to Design Learning Experiences to Get Your Students’ Attention Hooked

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If you’ve ever watched a TV series on Netflix or HBO, you’ll know how deeply addictive and all-encompassing that experience can be. You’ve finished dinner and you know you should do the washing up, but you can’t help clicking play on the next episode… And maybe the next one too.

As teachers, we want to create learning experiences for our students that they can’t help clicking play on. We want them to be as passionate and eager to learn our topic as they are about the Netflix series they’re watching.

Yet sadly, many learning experiences in online courses fall short of this ideal. They tend to be more like doing the washing up: students know they should do them; they feel better afterwards, but the whole time they’re wishing they were doing something else.

The good news is you can design Netflix-level learning experiences that your students are eager and excited to do. And once you discover just how fun and enjoyable this activity design process can be, you’ll wonder how you possibly spent so much time creating boring quizzes!

Here are two quick tips you can implement in your activity design, to begin engaging your students today.

1. Create active learning experiences

Always consider how your student is going to be involved in the learning experience. Are they going to be active in the learning process? Will they be creating, problem-solving, reflecting, building, discussing, role playing or are they going to be passively watching videos and taking quizzes and hopefully remembering some information? The former is not only more engaging for students as they are actively involved in their learning but it results in deeper learning as they are using higher order thinking skills (that you just don’t get in quizzes).

One of OpenLearning’s Instructional Designers is putting together a course on how to use a compass (pretty cool, right?). Here are two examples of activities from different stages in her course:

A.        Students are to build a working compass out of household items and share a picture of their end creation

B.        Students are to navigate from a given famous landmark (e.g., the Great Pyramid of Giza) to their home country. Students are then to share those directions within the community for other students to work out what country they are from.

As a student, I would be excited to do these activities. I’m hooked, motivated, engaged, and ready to take on the learning challenge.

What’s more- doing each of these activities doesn’t just require creativity, critical thinking and problem-solving. It also means students must deeply understand the concepts they are learning to complete the activities effectively. This makes the learning experiences authentic, meaningful, and ultimately results in deep learning.

2. Start with a challenge

Starting a module with a challenge gives students a context for learning about the concept or topic.

Another OpenLearning Instructional Designer is putting together a course on interior design. One of the concepts taught is one-point perspective drawing (drawing an interior space using a single vanishing point). Before learning anything about the topic, students were asked to sketch their living room as an opening activity challenge to the best of their ability. From the student’s perspective, this activity already feels like a fun challenge that relates to their world (sketching their living room).

The challenge is not only fun, it is super effective. It facilitates meaningful reflection, as students encounter challenges in drawing the sketch effectively. They will start to naturally solve problems. They might consider different ways of doing the drawing, question if there might be a better way of sketching that they haven’t considered, or even unknowingly try one-point perspective drawing as a result of this process.

The rest of the module then goes on to exploring one-point perspective drawing, with plenty of opportunities for students to practice the technique. However, it was the challenge and the experience of not being able to sketch their living room as realistically as they wanted that sparked their passion, and provided a meaningful context for learning the concept.

The result is a deeper and a much more memorable learning experience.

Active learning experiences that are fun and meaningful are key to not only engaging your students, but also transforming them. Implementing these two tips into your course design will dramatically change how your students connect with your course. They will no longer be doing your activities just because they should, they will do them because they’re completely hooked; like watching another episode on Netflix.

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