Blended Learning Myth #1: ‘digital natives’ are happy to work online

Caroline Thiriau

All this week, we will be looking at common misconceptions when it comes to Blended Learning, revealing our findings from years of research into this area and sharing our top tips for getting the most out of the model. Today’s myth centers on digital natives and working online.

As technology evolves and new devices emerge, our challenge as educators is to maximise technology’s potential to help learners achieve their goals, and combine that with effective pedagogy. Since 2008, we have been working with pioneering institutions around the world who are implementing technology in innovative ways. We are continually learning from these educational partners, carrying out joint research, sharing knowledge, publishing findings and building research insights into course development. So we wanted to share these findings and ideas from talented authors and educators on how to get the most out of Blended Learning and to avoid the pitfalls.

Today’s myth: My students are ‘digital natives’ so they will be happy to do the online work.

Just as with any class or homework activity, students need to be motivated and engaged by online tasks and activities. The level of challenge needs to be right, the content and language needs to be relevant to the learner, but we’ve also found in our research into Blended Learning that there is an additional challenge with online study – students have quite high expectations of the content they access online in terms of the ‘engagement factor’. If you think about the types of L1 content which students access on their phones and laptops in everyday life, it is media-rich, often amusing or informative and personalised. These expectations are carried over to online English language learning. In fact, whenever we ask our students to go online to study, we are competing with all the other activities they do online.

Tips for motivating ‘digital natives’

How can we ensure online language learning environments motivate our students?

  1. Personalise the online environment: add content you know will interest your students. You can add photos, videos and texts on topics which are relevant to them.
  2. Make the online environment stimulating by including challenge: use online forums to post activities which enable the students to interact in more depth, or with fewer inhibitions, than in a face-to-face environment.
  3. Show the students that you are looking at the work they do online: if students see your feedback on their online work, or if it is graded, they will be more motivated to complete it.
  4. Train learners to appreciate the value of particular online activities to their immediate and long-term goals: other than because it is mandatory, why else are they doing it?

If you’re interested in this area and are keen to get more practical ideas, you might be interested in this presentation by Lindsay Clandfield and Jill Hadfield at IATEFL 2017: What we talk about when we talk about interaction – practical ideas to use with your learners on WhatsApp, Facebook and other online forums.

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