A new framework for engaging students in online learning

By Jonathan Dickins. Posted

Image credit: Jess Bailey

The three types of engagement and their effects on online learning

A new framework for online learning from Jered Borup and colleagues has emphasised the importance of both academic and personal support for learners. Academic Communities of Engagement (ACE) focuses on different types of student engagement with online or blended learning, and how the support received from both the course community and a student’s personal community can impact engagement. At the time of writing, UNESCO estimates that 1.5 billion learners have been impacted by school closures to curb the spread of coronavirus, so the framework comes at a particularly relevant time for educators who must now facilitate online learning.

The importance of a student’s course community and personal community

The authors suggest that a student’s ability to engage with online or blended learning increases with the support of others, and in particular from both the course community and their personal community.

Who are the people that make up these two communities in a student’s life? The authors define the course community as anyone associated with the online course, including peers and educators, with whom the student will probably not interact before or after the course. A student’s personal community can be those they engage with in person or online, including their family and friends, typically outside of the context of the course.

The three types of engagement

The authors suggest that a student’s course community and personal community can influence engagement with online learning. They identify three key dimensions of engagement: cognitive engagement, behavioural engagement, and affective engagement, all of which support learning. Through case studies and a review of prior literature, the authors also suggest a number of behaviours that support each type of engagement (see table).

The three types of engagement

How can we apply the ACE framework?

The authors suggest that students are more fully able to engage with online learning when they are scaffolded through the support of both their course community and personal community, and make several suggestions following the development of the ACE framework. Here are some examples of how educators might implement these suggestions.

  • Teachers could help facilitate student-to-student relationships that can last beyond the end of the course

  • Teachers can provide resources to support involvement from learners’ personal communities, including parents

  • In higher education, providers should develop models for support from both instructors and subject experts

In the context of teaching computing, the Scratch community is one example that can be said to incorporate some of these approaches, in particular the facilitation of student relationships through sharing projects. For educators, finding a balance between students’ course and personal communities may prove to be a particularly worthwhile exercise at this time.


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