Even online students need to feel part of a group

ECO has set high standards when it comes to pass rates for students on their MOOCs. One of the challenges we face in online learning is the high drop-out rate. In this phase of our own internet evolution, users are becoming more and more conscious of how they can scan the internet, scout, sign up, but also opt-out. To truly engage online is quite a task that keeps the minds occupied of many commercially orientated internet players, like retailers. Some succeed, some are less productive, however it is not always necessary to have 100% engaged users. With only 10% of potential customers retaining their attention on just 1 product, will probably satisfy the needs of the busines model.

In online education it is hardly imaginable that superficially engaged users or temporarily engaged users will result in sustainable learning. So how do you create a motivation that lasts for at least several weeks the students spends online? Will it be money he or she spends? No, because the MOOCs that we offer within the project´s 3 year time frame will be freely accessible by anyone within the European Union. Will it be quality? Although we believe that we will offer the highest possible quality, we understand that that in itself does not create a prerequisite for engagement.

In our consortium´s Document of Work (DOW) the words ´social channels´ and ´social inclusion´ appear a number of times, the latter referring to including to including social groups into the student group who otherwise would not have access to these teachings in a physical classroom. Students who are in a hospital for instance or students that live in remote areas or cannot leave their home.

In their article ´Even in a MOOC, Students Want to Belong´* by Lisa Thomas and James Herbert published on September 4 on the Australian website and thought leadership platform Social Science Space, the authors comment on social inclusion as an motivational component in online learning. The researched what matters to students in an online context to keep them focused and engaged in their learning process and ” found that “sense of belonging” was one aspect deemed to be important.” The authors go on to investigate what elements the course in itself should contain ranging from debate options, to embedding collaborative asigments part of the course and assessment. Additionally the teacher has a possibility to create a certain outreach directly to students by means of “electronic office hours and `[…], creating announcements”.

The authors recap their research by stating that online courses must not necesarrily force the social cohesion strategy upon students who prefer just to stick to the course content. This part of the potential student population may in fact not be in need of the sense of belonging to stick to the course and gear up the course completion rate. Or possibly they are in part the ones who will drop out eventually.

Whatever the reason, at ECO we need to provide answers and counter measures for all potential scenarios and not forget the teacher for that matter either.

*Source: http://www.socialsciencespace.com/2014/09/even-in-a-mooc-students-want-to-belong