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The Science Behind the Student

Tips to Simplify the Learning Process


By Jessica Ashraf, Teaching and Learning Specialist, Udemy

As a Learning Scientist, studying the process the online student needs to take to acquire new skills is particularly interesting. Online learning is very dependent on and driven by the individual student. They are not forced to learn. They have to motivate themselves to continue and reach their goal of learning a new skill. To help your students get the most from you and your courses we’ve outlined key initiatives you can take to better guide your students through their learning process.

Online learners like our Udemy students are essentially doing two things at once:

  1. They’re trying to learn a new topic
  2. They’re managing their own learning (self-directed learning)

The goal for these students is to learn a new topic or concept to the best of their abilities. The more effort they invest in managing their learning, the less time and energy they have for actual learning. This process can be frustrating and even lead students to drop out of online courses.

Let’s take a closer look at what it means to be a self-directed learner, so we can better understand how to teach. When students learn on their own, they need to do the following five things:

  1. Set goals
  2. Motivate themselves
  3. Choose appropriate learning strategies
  4. Overcome problems
  5. Evaluate their own learning

The self-directed learning process can be challenging to master, especially while learning a new skill at the same time. Students need to be “Learning Managers” while also tackling their goal of learning a new skill. It’s like being a project manager and working on the project at the same time. It’s possible, but can be hard work!

The good news is, you as instructors CAN lighten the load for your students. Here are some helpful tips you can do to facilitate your student’s self-directed learning, and allow them to focus more on learning from you and your course.

Help students set goals:

  • At the beginning of your course, ask students what their goal is for taking your course. Have them write it down and ask them to stick it to their computer screen. This action will allow students to internalize the value they’ll get from it. They’ll also have a constant reminder of what they’re working towards. This initial step can enhance their motivation and keep them going to the finish line.

Motivate them:

  • Have a “quick win” within the first 15 minutes of your course. This “win” can be a short activity or surprising fact that leaves students feeling like they’ve already gained from the initial time spent on your course.
  • Uphold student curiosity by continually presenting interesting facts related to your course topic. Or present a common problem at the beginning of a section, and work towards finding a solution throughout that section’s lectures.
  • Reward student progress. It can be very motivating to students if you notice their success. Try and highlight a “project of the month”, or think through ways to gamify your course, such as contests for students who finish a certain amount of sections. You can get very creative in providing (maybe unexpected) rewards for their efforts as they complete lectures and tasks.

Encourage effective learning strategies:

  • Ask students to take notes, or give them a worksheet so they actively engage while listening to your course. This will help them retain more of your teaching.
  • Prompt students to be active on your Q&A Board. A community discussion typically needs to be initiated and maintained by you, the instructor. Remember, engaging in discussions with other learners can lead to higher learning outcomes for students.
  • Include practice activities. Students need to apply what they’ve learned and practice their new skills. It’s hard for students to find practice opportunities (and get feedback) on their own. So make sure practice activities are a regular part of your curriculum.

Help students overcome problems:

  • Have clear section titles, lecture titles, and lecture descriptions. This helps students navigate your course better and allows them to easily find sections of your course they may want to review a second time.
  • Give students advice on how to take your course. Every piece of information a student doesn’t have to figure out on their own will give them more time for learning from you! It can be things like the software needed for your course, where to find course resources, how to contact you, and which sections they may be able to skip or take out of order, etc.
  • Be available for questions if students get stuck. Let your students know you’re here for them and will answer questions within 24-48 hours.
  • Prompt your students to schedule regular learning time that works for them (e.g. Tuesdays & Thursdays 6-7pm). Encourage them to turn off their cell phones and close distracting tabs (e.g. Facebook) so they can focus on your course and their learning objectives.

Provide opportunities for evaluation:

  • Give each student feedback on practice activities – if you have time, great, definitely do that!
  • If you don’t have time for individual feedback, help students evaluate their own work. Make peer-to-peer feedback part of your activities. To make that more effective, include a rubric or checklist and provide lots of examples that students can compare their work against.

Following these steps can provide your students with the most optimized learning experience. Help take the pressure off the self-directed learner by allowing them to focus on the skills they need to learn, rather than focusing on how to learn. We’re excited to see you incorporate these strategies into your current or upcoming Udemy Courses!