How to Engage Students with Digital Learning

The technology revolution continues to amaze and astound us. Practically every day we see, read, and hear about new ways that technologies like machine learning, “Internet of Things”, virtual reality, and artificial intelligence are solving complex problems in the world.

Digital learning in the classroom has likewise experienced its own technological revolution, as newer and better technologies and softwares find their way into the hands of educators. Devices like touch-screen panels, microcomputers, laptops, and tablets are giving students and teachers alike powerful access to hundreds of thousands of new softwares, tools, and applications. All of these are opening the door to countless new ways to engage, interact, and learn.

5 Ways to Engage Digital Learners in the Classroom

In the hands of a skillful and creative teacher, digital learning can provide compelling answers to many of the most challenging questions facing educators today, such as:

    • How do I teach diverse students with varied learning styles?
    • How do I teach students with learning disabilities or special needs?
    • How do I empower students to take control of their learning?
    • How do I teach the big picture more effectively?
  • How do I make learning more engaging?

While many teachers understand the potential of these technologies to answer these questions, some may still be uncertain as to how to incorporate them effectively into the classroom. Here are just a few ideas for how teachers are successfully engaging their students with digital learning:

1. Encouraging interaction with the lesson.

Your students have incredibly powerful imaginations, but many of them may not exactly know how to apply this power in understanding and comprehending a traditional lesson or teaching style. Interactivity and hands-on engagement help to bridge this gap by allowing students to “see it and do it for themselves.”

Learning by seeing and doing is as old as education itself with its roots in the discipleship model of the ancients and institutions like the medieval trade guilds. In each of these cases, an apprentice or disciple learned under the watchful eye of a master, who skillfully guided the student first by observation and then by doing. There is wisdom in this approach, and it is still quite applicable in the landscape of digital learning.

For example, rather than expecting students to understand basic chemistry simply by reading a textbook or listening to your lecture, you can supplement the student’s learning process with visual interaction with the various concepts, like atomic structure or covalent bonding. With a swipe, pinch, zoom, drag, and drop, students can easily interact with these concepts, thus reinforcing the lesson content and giving students a valuable spatial and visual awareness of how concepts relate to one another.

Blended learning opportunities like these are also allowing teachers to take scenarios like the one above to the next level. For example, many of the most common chemistry experiments that previously required a lab, expensive equipment, goggles, and signed safety waivers can now be performed safely directly on a tablet or touch-screen panel.

To be clear, we are not suggesting that digital learning replace traditional learning experiments and methods, as these are still incredibly valuable. Rather, we are demonstrating how technology opens the door to teaching in new ways that may not be possible otherwise.

Properly guided by a teacher, blended learning and classroom interactivity will foster a sense of exploration and discovery that is key to students grasping complex ideas, learning them, and building upon them. This is all possible today thanks to the power of technology in the classroom.

2. Create learning adventures.

Never underestimate the power of a story. The human brain thrives on stories—their characters, events, connections, and purposes. Stories have the incredible power to stick with us—sometimes even throughout our entire lives—and are an amazing vehicle for cohesively communicating knowledge, facts, ideas, and concepts.

Digital learning tools, such as lesson plan builders, now give teachers the unique ability to take various teaching methods (e.g. games, matching exercises, quizzes, etc.) and create individual learning components that can be cohesively woven together to form a learning adventure or story.

For example, with a touch-screen panel, you could start the lesson off by telling the story of the founding of America from a slide deck. You could then bring the story to life by turning the panel on its side to create a tabletop learning station. Students could then gather around and explore each element of the story on a map or artboard. The lesson could progress with each game, quiz, matching exercise, and virtual tour unlocking the next chapter of the story. Skillfully done, a learning adventure like this can guide students to memorable comprehension of the subject matter.

3. Make it challenging.

There’s sometimes a misconception that technology in the classroom means students spend all of their time playing games and not learning. In fact, fun, games, and engaging content are all great ways to teach and to learn if done strategically.

You know your students best, and you know the amazing things that they are capable of achieving. A key to success in this area is to ensure that your content stretches and challenges your students to grow. It’s important to never forget that education can and should be challenging.

Many classroom technologies are ideally suited for creating customized problems and challenges that push your students out of their comfort zones and force them to think for themselves. For example, when teaching physics, you could present your students with a challenge to assemble a machine on a touch-screen. Rather than it simply being a game that could be solved by brute force trial and error, your challenge could require students to utilize the various concepts that they have been learning. For example, you could incorporate concepts like gravity and transfer of energy.

With a clear teaching goal in mind, you can easily integrate challenges into your lesson plans that reinforce the content and foster a sense of achievement when the challenge is overcome.

4. Explore project-based learning.

Technology has also opened the door to a whole new variety of project-based learning options in the classroom. Rather than sending students home to work on projects independently, you can now have students work on projects directly in the classroom. Projects—similar to learning adventures—tap into senses of progress and achievement that help students think creatively and grow.

For example, after teaching your students about geology and tectonics, you could have them work on tablets or touch-screens to map recent earthquakes across the globe. You could then challenge them to draw their own conclusions and create a presentation on how these findings cluster on the map. Finally, they could apply their findings to demonstrate visually the concept of plate tectonics. This is just one of millions of potential ideas that students could perform right in class.

Previously, projects like these would have required students to go to the library, scan and print copies of various maps, articles, and pictures, and then create a project folder with scissors, paper, glue, and markers. While there is still value in these more traditional project types, technology allows you to do more projects more quickly, all in the context of a teacher-guided classroom.

5. Keep the end goal in mind.

Your mind is probably buzzing with hundreds of ideas and ways that you can engage your students with your lessons. At this point, it’s important to remember that a key to engaging students meaningfully is to keep the end goal in mind.

Ultimately, your job as a teacher is to train and educate the next generation of students to be able to think, comprehend, and live in the world. Technology is a tool that can help you achieve this goal; but ultimately, it does not happen magically or automatically simply by using digital learning. Technology cannot replace your creativity and ingenuity as a teacher.

You hold the keys to your students’ success. Each day as you assemble your lesson plans, you have the ability to effectively shape their minds and help them think for themselves, learn for themselves, and interact in the world independently. With this mindset firmly planted in you, engaging your students successfully with digital learning will naturally follow.