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Helping remote learners commit to learning

By January 25, 2021March 2nd, 2021No Comments

This is the third in an eight-part series by Bryan Goodwin on applying the research and teaching techniques in Learning That Sticks (ASCD and McREL International, 2020) to remote learning. See the other posts in the series: 1 | 2 | 3 | 5 | 7 | 8 

All learning requires mental effort—powering up our brains to stay focused on something long enough for new information to sink into our long-term memories. As a result, we only learn what we commit to learning, which often boils down to two simple factors, expectancy and value—that is, believing we are capable of learning something and seeing value in learning it.

To help students commit to learning, we must help them understand why it’s valuable—what’s in it for them—and show them the steps they can take to achieve mastery while helping them to see themselves as capable of taking those steps to mastery. And because we often cannot supervise students the entire time they’re engaged in remote learning, they must be even more independent and self-directed as learners. So, it’s all the more important to help them commit to learning.

Here are a few tips for helping remote learners commit to learning:

  • Provide students with a WIIFM. To help students buy into their learning, it may be helpful to borrow a page from advertisers who often frame ad campaigns around a WIIFM, or What’s In It For Me statement, that articulates the benefit of a product or service for consumers. For each unit, share with students how they will benefit from what they are learning. How will they use it later in life? How do people use it in the real world? It may take some time to figure this out, but it’s time well spent. If we cannot articulate why something is important for students to learn (beyond simply being on the test), we can be sure students won’t find any meaning or purpose in it. A learning management system is, of course, an obvious place to share the purpose, importance, or value for each unit of study.
  • Help students set personal learning goals for each unit. As you launch each unit, help students translate their interests into goals for learning, for example, using “I can” statements that reflect success criteria such as “I can discuss and explain a writer’s logical fallacies in a given text.” Research shows that students are more likely to persist when they frame goals as active learning goals, not performance For example: I will develop a compelling argument supported by evidence in favor of later school start times versus I will get an A on my persuasive essay. Remote learners can share their learning goals with you through your school’s learning platforms, goal-setting apps, or simply recording and revisiting them in a notebook.
  • Help connect daily learning objectives to larger learning goals. Help students see how each day’s assignment or activity helps them achieve a learning objective which, in turn, helps them accomplish a larger personal learning goal. For example, you might help them see that the learning objective, I can understand and identify logical fallacies, can help them avoid fallacies in their own writing so they can develop and defend a compelling argument in a persuasive essay. Although you may no longer be standing in front of a classroom, it’s still important to post your daily learning objective somewhere in your remote learning environment—through a chat window, presentation slide, or other means—and to refer back to it regularly throughout the lesson.
  • Help students connect effort to success. Numerous studies have shown that successful, independent learners are more likely to be goal-oriented with a strong sense of efficacy—believing that through effort, they can succeed in school. Thus, to help students become better independent learners—as they must with remote learning—it’s crucial to help them connect effort with school success. For adults, this connection (effort = success) may seem obvious. But for many students, it is not immediately apparent. They may chalk up success in school to intelligence, chance, or being a “teacher’s pet.” Goal-setting apps that help students track their time on task (especially when they’re learning independently) can help them more clearly draw connections between their level of effort and success in school. In so doing, we can help them to develop a more positive, growth-oriented view of themselves as students.

Bryan Goodwin is the president and CEO of McREL International.

McREL is a non-profit, non-partisan education research and development organization that since 1966 has turned knowledge about what works in education into practical, effective guidance and training for teachers and education leaders across the U.S. and around the world.