A Lesson Learned from an Unengaged Student

Early in my career in higher education, I learned a valuable lesson from an unengaged student. At the time, I worked in the admissions office for a small rural community college, so I knew nearly every student enrolled.

The semester had been in full swing for a month, and students, faculty, and staff could feel the rhythm of our lives begin to settle again. During a lunch outing, I ran into one of our students and asked how he liked his courses.

The student unapologetically told me that he rarely went to class, so he wasn’t sure how he liked them. I was shocked. The student seemed bright, energetic, and I knew he was highly involved in student body activities.

I needed to understand, so I prodded for more information. He explained that instructors repeated a summarized version of what was available in the textbook. He believed he could read the text, review the presentation materials available on the learning management system on his own time, and be just as prepared for a test or assignment as the students who went to class.

Several years later, I took my place in the classroom for the first time. My conversation with the unengaged student pushed me to discover everything I could about what keeps a learner engaged.

Focus on learning rather than teaching.

Educators are aware of the strong correlation between engagement in the learning environment and improved learning outcomes. However, the traditional delivery of education wherein an educator transmits knowledge to a passive learner does not foster such engagement. A classroom that provides a variety of interactive activities that mimic or replicate the application of knowledge does promote engagement. Learning is a personal experience, and therefore best executed when students take an active role inside the classroom, whether in person or online. To create an engaging environment, focus on learning rather than teaching. Aim to create an environment characterized by the sharing of knowledge, rather than the delivery of it.

Use readings to introduce students to new information.

If students could learn everything they need to know from a textbook, why enroll in higher education? Many students have asked this question as they have reduced the value of higher education due to regurgitation of text within the classroom. According to Bloom’s Taxonomy, students must progress through several learning levels to reach the highest level, creating. The first two learning levels are remembering and understanding and can be achieved by a textbook. Educators have the privilege to move students through the entirety of Bloom’s so that they can one day apply, analyze, evaluate, and finally create. Readings introduce a topic. During class time, students learn.

Be human.

People connect to people. Learners want to be known, but they also want to know their educators. Educators do not need to provide lots of personal details. Just sharing your excitement and passion for your field can provide insight into who you are as a person. Also, learners who are encouraged to learn from each other benefit from a sort of cross-pollination that inevitably produces a richer learning environment.

The lesson learned from that unengaged student is this – being human, developing a vibrant learning community, creating opportunities for application and participation, and changing the focus to learning are essential to engaging students.

Peregrine Global Services provides higher education professionals with the solutions they need to create engaging learning environments that drive quality and improve learning outcomes. Learn more about our Leading Edge Learning: Competency-Based modules that allow faculty to save time on developing course content so that they can invest more in engaging learners.