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Online Learning Platforms: Helping your students engage

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Learning onlineLindsay Warwick offers four ways to persuade students to make use of an online learning platform. Lindsay Warwick is a teacher and trainer at Bell and a materials writer. She is co-author of the forthcoming Milestones in English A2 and B1+ Student’s Books, publishing in January 2016.

Many English coursebooks come with access to an online learning platform full of material to help learners develop their language skills further. These can be particularly beneficial for academic English learners who need to achieve a certain level of English within a limited time period. But I wonder how many students (and teachers) fully exploit these materials.

For me, the greatest benefit of education technology is that it provides learners with the opportunity to extend learning beyond the classroom, work at their own pace and at a level appropriate to them. Online learning platforms allow all of those things as well as provide a tool for students and teachers to keep a record of progress made. Essentially, they allow learners to have more ownership of their learning which helps them learn better. According to Benson (2011), “controlling one’s own learning processes is an essential part of effective learning”.

However, encouraging students to use such a resource is not always easy as some students overlook the value of it. I’d therefore like to suggest four ways to help those students appreciate this value better and encourage them to fully exploit the resource.

Persuade the teacher, persuade the student

I believe that before students can be convinced, their teacher needs to be convinced. Once the teacher sees the benefits, they can encourage students to do the same. One possibility is to explore the platform as a class together. Students can familiarise themselves with the platform, with their own learning goals in mind. As Dudeney and Hockly (2007) say, when using educational technology “Your learners’ needs, likes and learning goals need to be taken into account”. By getting students to critically analyse the platform, the benefits will be more apparent to them. The class can also discuss limitations and how those limitations can be dealt with.

Make connections

Research suggests that better outcomes are achieved when online learning and face-to-face learning happen together (Vega, 2013) and linking the two in some way adds more importance to the online platform. Learners will be better encouraged to do online tasks if they have to bring some kind of feedback on the tasks to class e.g. their view on something said in a recording or two new words they learnt. With speaking tasks, the online material could help students prepare for the actual speaking task done in class, rather than recording it at home and emailing it to the teacher. And students could be asked to peer correct each other’s writing work in class.

Set regular deadlines

Some teachers link online material to the course through assessment, making completion of online tasks compulsory. While this can motivate students to do tasks, it can also result in students leaving all the tasks until the very last minute to satisfy course requirements. This means students neither use the online tasks to develop their skills throughout the year nor use the results of the tasks to help inform future learning. As a result, teachers may want to set regular deadlines on the platform.

Give students choice

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, asking students to make choices about their learning helps them to develop autonomy. “For learners to become more autonomous they must recognize their own preferred ways of learning, and students have to make conscious decisions about what works for them” (Painter, 2004). By giving students the opportunity to choose which material to study and when, they can feel more motivated to do the tasks and learn more about their learning preferences. For some students, however, too much choice can be overwhelming and so a choice of two or three sets of tasks each time may be a good place to start.

To sum up, online learning platforms offer much potential and the above suggestions can help learners to see this potential. There will always be students who choose not to participate but this is also part of being autonomous. There will also always be students who will exploit the material and learn from it with encouragement from the teacher.

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Bibliography and further reading

Benson P, Teaching and Researching: Autonomy in Language Learning, 2013

Dudeney G & Hockly N, How to teach English with technology, Pearson, 2007

Painter L, Homework, Oxford University Press, 2003

Stanley, G, Language Learning with Technology, Cambridge University Press, 2013

Author: Oxford University Press ELT

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