Have you ever been to a play? I’ve been in a couple (don’t laugh). I’d like you to compare stage acting there acting you see on the silver screen. Maybe not the quality of the acting but the style. Film acting can be very subtle. Gary Oldman is one of my favorites and Tom Hardy, too. Both men can barely say anything and audience takes away tons of information. Stage acting is very different out of necessity. People at the back of the theater need to see that the actor is feeling or doing something and unless that something is exaggerated they’ll never know. Even the make-up and wardrobe is exaggerated to convey information more easily. Online learning can be like sitting at the back of a theater where all of the actors are underacting. All of the subtle things we can bring to a face-to-face session are gone. Inflection of voice, gesture of hand, raise of eyebrow…make-up of face.
How do these actors get the audience engaged? In the same was that people that lose one sense can compensate with the others, by putting more emphasis on the senses that we have left. Waiving arms wildly and yelling are sometimes required to deliver that message. We need to compensate for a lack of face-to-face interaction by increasing learner engagement in any way possible.
One of my problems with online ed (as a learner) was the pace that the mandatory blog-post-style conversations happened. It would take three days of waiting to complete that mandatory activity sometime, basically a higher-speed form of debate by snail-mail. A live chat (which most online-ed platforms have) is a way to engage learners on a deeper level, where they will be able to have actual interaction with other class participants. I know that everyone might not feel comfortable with the speed that some of these can reach so for the sake of Universal Design, keep the blog post, but make the chat an option. Provide three different times to sign-up for the chat, if you can’t make it do a blog post. Boom. One problem solve. Or what about a Google Hangout? Is having your image available to the other learners something that makes you nervous? Should it?
In person we seem to be willing to give up much more of our personal selves than online. How is it that in a world that we start of being entirely anonymous we think each morsel of information we meter out will lead to our demise? Without the context of our lives and personalities available we have now removed ourselves one more step away from being human in the eyes of our classmates and any steps towards dehumanization is bad bad news. Have you ever read a post or a comment that you deemed stupid, and within seconds you’ve totally written that person off as a person who should be allowed to procreate? Yep. You’ve done it. We all have. Anonymity has benefits but without investing ourselves in the class as a group we will miss out on the value that the other learners can bring to the classroom. This is a large part of adult education and most people have a default stance of throwing it away. Image on learner profile? Mandatory, if the don’t want a picture of themselves, something that represents who they are. An introduction that includes favorite food, movie, and childhood show (along with ‘previous experience in the subject and professional designations…). All of the sudden we have someone who we can relate to a little better. “Oh, wait. You’re a person, too?” Yep, how ’bout that. People need to express themselves as humans, and we need to put them in context the understand them and where they are coming from. Without understanding their perspective, it will be harder to appreciate what they have to say.
To give you a bit of my personal context, I struggled so much with the first online course that I took as part of my Adult Ed Certificate, I was nearly ready to walk away from the course. I could glide through face-to-face classes by communicating with the other learners, I nearly lost my entire identity in the online class. I struggled through that class, reflected on what had happened and where it got me. I reflected, I made resolutions, I grew up. I can’t be the only one out there who has these challenges with online learning and I don’t want those others to feel like walking away from something that can improve their lives.
As the people who facilitate these courses, we need to generate engagement and look beyond the syllabus to provide a learning experience. Use polls to find out what your learners want and give them something interesting.
If design process of online ed classes boils down to taking the in class curriculum and simply removing the classroom, it will fail. And if you don’t think so, go into your living room, put on you favorite movie, turn the volume down and then go out side. Missing anything?