Learners' Perception of Engagement in Online Learning

Learners' Perception of Engagement in Online Learning

Misha Chakraborty (Texas A&M University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-8170-5.ch007


The widespread popularity of online classes is evident in both professional and academic settings. Learners' engagement and satisfaction with the online courses, especially from the learners' perspective, are considered core to the promotion of quality learning. The voices of the present day's “virtual generation” need to be heard. The opportunities they see and the challenges they face can be utilized in creating engaging online learning environments. This chapter discusses online class engagement strategies that work. Multiple sources including semi-structured interviews with eight participants at a Research 1 University in Southwest United States, online course documents, email exchanges, and discussion transcripts were used to collect and analyze data. The findings indicate online class engagement factors and issues that need to be considered in effective design and successful delivery of online courses. The findings can be used to help faculties and learners achieve optimum benefits from online classes.
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The profit and nonprofit work sectors necessitate incorporating new technologies to sustain competitive advantages. The workforce need to be equipped with the knowledge and skills required to deal with recent technological sophistication in an environment where changes became the norm (Marsh, Taylor & Holoviak, 2011). Universities, colleges and schools need to adopt programs and curriculum that help students prepare for the complex work environment. The factors that need to be considered are: “the need for speed, the need to respond to vast technological changes, the trend toward globalization and increased market pressures” (Marsh, Taylor & Holoviak. 2011, p. 31). Lawrence (2013) added “critical thinking, problem-solving, collaborating with peers, and using technology” to the list (p. 53). Educational institutions need to be responsive of these factors when designing and delivering their courses.

Researchers (e.g., Harris, 2008; Lamb, Walstab, Tesse, Vickers, & Rumberger, 2004; Willms, 2003) indicated disengagement of learners as one of the primary factors in achieving learner retention and learner satisfaction in virtual class environment. Harris asserted that “Desires to increase engagement have led to interest in measuring and collating data about student engagement” (p. 58). Indiana University’s effort in preparing and selling a standardized test to measure and quantify online learners’ engagement highlights the interests and ardency of engaging learners online (Viadero, 2004).

Empirical evidence suggests that online class enrollment is increasing at a faster rate than higher education enrollment. The United States Department of Education (2010) revealed that in K12 public school sector, students enrolled in technology based distance learning increased by 65% between the years 2002-03 to 2004-05. In 2004 2.3 million University students took at least one online class. The number increased to 3.2 million in 2005 fall semester (Dixson, 2010). A similar trend is reflected at the state level too. Former Minnesota Governor, Chair of Minnesota State Colleges and Universities Board of Trustees plan that 25% of the State’s University System courses will be offered online by 2015 (Thiede, 2012). Hence, the inclination towards offering online classes is evident at the workplace, in the schools, in the colleges and universities, and in governmental action plans.

We use the term, “online,” synonymously with eLearning, virtual learning, computer mediated learning and web based learning in this chapter. Online learning here is defined as a mode of learning in which learners are not necessarily in the same geographic location, and learning content is delivered using the Internet.

Engaging learners is important in any learning environment. Achieving it in a setting where learners and instructors are physically away from each other is challenging. Engagement is defined here as a multidimensional construct that includes behavioral, emotional, and cognitive outcomes of learners (Fredricks & McColskey, 2012). Behavioral constructs deal with factors like time spent in the class, cognitive construct deal with learning outcomes and last but not the least, emotional construct is related to learners’ perceived sense of satisfaction in the online class.

Key Terms in this Chapter

E-Learning: The medium in which learning takes place via web, where the learners and instructors are physically away from each other.

Community Of Inquiry: A group of students involved in knowledge creation and sharing. Community of Inquiry is abbreviated as ‘Col’. The concept of social learning is emphasized in Col.

Peer Review: Receiving and providing feedback to the co learners. In learning environment peer review help create learning community where learners learn from each other.

Online Learners: The students, who receive instructions, feedback and knowledge sharing via web. Online learners are physically away from their instructors and co learners. Nevertheless, ideally online learners constitute a virtual community where they get the opportunity to learn from each other and create positive learning experience.

Teaching Presence: Teaching presence is denoted through the extent to which learners experience the instructor’s influence in the class. Teaching presence is reflected in designing, facilitating, delivering and evaluating.

Higher Education: A stage in education after school, usually at the colleges or Universities.

Constructivist Learning Theory: The concept highlights the process of learning where learners construct their own knowledge based on their perceived reality. Constructivist learning theory proposes five interactive aspects that can be practiced in online classes: frame of references of the learners, the learning process, learners’ self-created personality or image, levels of communication, and various incidents that take place during the learning process.

Online Discussion: Web based forum where learners engage in communication to share their views. Online discussions are often used in virtual classroom to provide a place for exchange of knowledge and experiences.

Teaching Immediacy: The extent to which the instructor is available to the learners. Providing immediate feedback is one of the important factors in providing teaching immediacy.

Synchronous Learning: Learners and instructors can interact with each other in real time. Video conferencing, live chat sessions are example of tools for synchronous learning.

Asynchronous Learning: A web based learning where knowledge sharing is not restricted by time and space.

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