Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Online Learning Interventions

In an earlier blog, we discussed research  that noted the positive impact of "social-belonging" interventions on student engagement in college. When graduating high school seniors received information that most students worry about a sense of belonging, and that such worries subside after taking active steps to connect with others, they were more likely to use their college academic support services, join extracurricular groups, and choose to live on campus. One of the researchers involved in that study, Stanford University professor Geoffrey Cohen, was more recently involved in a related study that caught our attention.

The authors noted that worldwide, many people have enrolled in massive open online courses, i.e., MOOCs; however, far fewer have completed them. People in countries with relatively low United Nations’ Human Development Indices (based on factors such as life expectancy, education, and standard of living) are less likely to complete these free courses than students in more developed countries. The researchers explored whether psychological interventions may help to narrow this global achievement gap. The results were promising. MOOC students who participated in the following interventions improved in their academic performance, closing the persistence gap between students from less and more developed countries:

  • Value relevance activity: Students wrote about how their course participation serves their most important values.
  • Social belonging activity: Students read and summarized previous students’ testimony about how they were initially worried about belonging in the course but later became more comfortable.
The findings speak to the relevance of student mindset to educational outcomes. When students are struggling, teachers may be inclined to wonder how they can teach differently. While this may be of value, consideration of students’ internal experiences — and how they might be improved — is another important piece of the puzzle. Ideally, students will not only be presented with rich opportunities to learn but will have optimal mindsets for seizing those opportunities.

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