Fostering engagement in e-learning

E-learning, as with all other types of learning, requires engagement. What is engagement, anyway? Engagement is defined as the act of being fully occupied or involved in some kind of activity. In learning, engagement is deemed to be the act of being totally engrossed in the material or concept being learned.

As e-learning has come to be widely known and used in various settings such as academic or occupational training, one of its promises is making the student become actively engaged in the course. So how can e-learning deliver such a promise? Stull and Mayer (2007) show a diagram called the Engagement Matrix. This diagram, seen below, involves two types of activity for learner engagement, namely, behavioural and psychological engagement.

Behavioural engagement pertains to activities like scrolling, clicking, answering questions by selecting choices, typing in answers, giving out answers verbally and other similar activities. It pertains to any action the learner executes during the class or learning period. On the other hand, psychological engagement involves the cognitive processing of concepts and ideas presented to the learner. This processing, in turn, leads the learner to gain the knowledge and skills intended by the course. Psychological engagement can be done through cognitive processes like focusing on the learning material, mentally organizing information into certain representations, and integrating these representations with pertinent existing knowledge.

engagement in elearning

Stull and Mayer’s diagram describes the intersection of high and low levels of behavioural activity with high and low levels of psychological activity. Research shows that any situation that encourages high psychological activity enables more effective learning, regardless of whether behavioural activity is high or low. This is seen in the diagram which shows a more satisfied learner when in the zone of high psychological activity.

Many traditional and e-learning courses may seem to boost engagement by promoting an increase in behavioural activity. This is seen in courses where students are encouraged to recite answers out loud, perform more clicking and scrolling, or those requiring learners to complete various exercises. This may be a way to ensure class participation, but it may not always reflect effective cognitive processing. In the same way, an e-learning module requiring the learner to play a game that is not highly relevant to the subject at hand may correspond to a high level of behavioural activity, but does not require much psychological activity. The point here is that there is no necessary correlation between behavioural and psychological activity. High levels of behavioural activity do not ensure effective cognitive processing.

Similarly, significant learning can occur even without behavioural responses. A learner intently watching a demonstration video on a certain process or operation can involve a high level of psychological activity even in the absence of behavioural activity. This being said, any e-learning course design should target using instructional techniques and tools that promote high psychological activity even with minimal behavioural activity.

The key to an effective e-learning course is using a mix of elements that both stimulate the learner’s interest and help him process information. Examples of some activities involving a high level of psychological engagement are summarizing the concepts learned during the period, self-explaining certain diagrams, or making an outline of certain concepts or ideas from the lesson.

At EHA, each course is designed to foster effective e-learning with psychologically engaging content and techniques for a successful learning experience.