Yes, I’m serious! Student engagement equals successful completion makes total sense to those of us serving K-12 online students across the country. If a student isn’t engaged in their online course, the likelihood they will NOT complete the course successfully is a fact. Yet, there is still little documented about students’ educational experiences or online course outcomes according to researchers.
Wisconsin Virtual School’s (WVS) collaboration between Midwest Virtual Education Research Alliance and Regional Educational Laboratory Midwest provided the opportunity to build on earlier studies using the learning management system and student information system data to identify factors that could predict student success in online courses. The goal of the study was to determine whether student engagement patterns (total amount of time a student was logged in to the course each week) was associated with the percentage of possible points earned in the course and the percentage of course activities completed. We thought this would be helpful information to improve our state-led supplemental program, advocate to policymakers, state education agencies, and for school districts to support student success in online courses.
The study, An Analysis of Student Engagement Patterns and Online Course Outcomes in Wisconsin, identified patterns of student engagement in online courses and how these patterns were associated with students’ performance in their online courses. In the Fall of 2014, using anonymous data from WVS’s learning management system and student information system in 1, 512 student enrollments in 109 online Advanced Placement, core, and elective high school courses, six engagement patterns emerged. (Study Infographic)
So what did we find out? Does student engagement with the online course predict success?
Six distinct patterns emerged. The two most common patterns accounted for 40% of the student enrollments: 1) “steady” 1.5 hours per week, with a slight increase toward the end of the semester, and 2) “steady” 2.5 hours per week across the semester.
- Most students in five of the six engagement groups earned a high enough percentage of possible points to pass their online course.
- Students with low but steady engagement in their online course had better outcomes than students with low initial engagement that diminished throughout the course.
- Here’s the shocker, we knew this, but the research confirmed it! Students who engaged in their online course for two or more hours per week had better outcomes than students who engaged for fewer than two hours per week.
The researchers told us they couldn’t make “causal connections” between student engagement and online course outcomes, because the findings are based on “correlational data.” We respect the study and the researchers who were phenomenal to work with and have taken what we learned seriously, to continue to improve our support for students and their schools to be successful online learners.
What we (the non-researchers) have done with the study information?
We concluded the information directly points to “personalized learning.” Recently, personalized learning has been closely related to the use of blended learning strategies in the classroom. However, online learning has long given students and teachers the opportunity to personalize the learning experience for students by providing access and equity to courses often unavailable to students in any other way. Students chose their engagement pattern (time and pace) whether it was 1.5 or 4 hours a week and yet ended up in a similar position – they completed their courses successfully!
- Early engagement is critical for sustained engagement. The study was shared with our teachers at our annual teacher training and meeting. We shared ideas on how online teachers engage and can increase engagement early in the course and throughout and especially at weeks 7-10 where it appears most students’ engagement decreased.
- Personalized welcome letters/introductions/calls/synchronous sessions in the first two weeks and continued opportunities to meet synchronously weekly throughout the course are expected.
- By the end of the first week after a student’s start date, verify that the student has begun work.
- Communicate, communicate, and communicate! Not just with the student, but their local school liaison/coach/mentor/local education guide and parents/guardians. Communication equals engagement.
- Send welcome letters to the school liaison/coach/mentor/local education guide and guardians/parents. It takes a team to encourage the online student and promotes engagement!
- Quality feedback on all assessments. Encourage high expectations for ALL students.
- Take appropriate action for any student not engaged or ready to learn.
- The results reinforced our commitment for quality standards for online courses. (Quality Matters K-12 Secondary Rubric and iNACOL’s Quality Online Course Standards) If the course is quality, it will assist in being engaging for students!
- We’re sharing the results and strategies to engage students with schools and the local liaison/coach/mentor/education guide. We’re providing professional learning opportunities for these critical roles through webinars, onsite training, student and parent orientations, “lunch and learn” sessions, and a supportive help desk.
Seriously, if a student is engaged in their online course, meaning they are spending more than one and half hours a week engaged with the online content, they are likely to complete the online course successfully. The engaged student who spends 2 or more hours a week with their online content are likely to get better grades! And that is what the research says!