Although the main focus of education needs to remain firmly fixed upon learning, there is a social aspect of the process that needs to also be considered. For example, students must be engaged in learning, and there is ample research to support the value of humor and community in helping students succeed.
The burden of making learning fun is not that of teachers alone. One of the best ways students can help themselves is to seek reasonable ways to make learning fun. Even in virtual education, in which participants may be scattered around the world, each at his or her own computer, there are ways to make learning enjoyable.
If you are an online student, here are some suggestions.
Location, Location, Location
If you are like me, you may have a tendency to access your courses from a home computer, perhaps within a home office. Overall, this is good practice; however, there’s nothing wrong with an occasional break in your routine to make e-learning fun. Consider all of the wireless and mobile options available to you as an online student. Take your laptop, tablet, or smartphone off to a new location, and please skip the coffee shop cliché.
Last summer, for instance, I noticed how nice the small park is outside the local zoo. It’s now one of my favorite locations for remote work. The green grass, the ancient oak trees, and the sounds of kids laughing and playing make the location much more fun than my home office. Besides, having an attention-seeking peacock grab some camera time during a webinar provided a laugh and bonding event like no other for me and my classmates.
Too often technology strips us of our humanity. Don’t let this happen to you or let your classmates lapse into becoming cyborgs. From the start, be personable. To be clear: I am not suggesting you over share about your personal life; rather, apply the social skills you would use in a face-to-face context.
Most online classes have an “introduction” area, so go beyond the basic requirements. Always begin messages with a warm greeting and end with a hospitable closing. When you share any example in a class discussion, make it relevant but also amusing. In a discussion that asks students to share a customer complaint, for example, could you share a humorous situation that you may have experienced or witnessed on your job?
If your class has virtual, real-time meetings, it’s helpful to show up a bit early so that you can greet your classmates and professor with a goal of building community. Feel free to joke around a bit with everyone until the session starts.
The concept of ‘invention’ dates back at least two thousand years in education, and there is good reason it’s still around. Basically, this means to explore all options and possibilities when learning. Rather than choose the obvious response to an assignment prompt, take the time to think critically about it, considering different ways of responding that will engage your classmates and make the activity interesting for you.
TED Talks offers a full array of examples of this concept, but perhaps Charles Leadbeater explains invention best in this video (2007).
Note the emphasis placed upon anyone being able to take part in approaching tasks innovatively. Why not have fun by being the one who sparks this collaborative creativity within your course?
Play with Technology
Certainly the priority with e-learning is to become fluent in using the features associated with the course site itself (e.g., Blackboard). However, once you are comfortable, take it a step further and learn something new. For instance, take that funny incident from your job that you intend to share in a discussion post. Why limit yourself to the typed word when it may be possible and acceptable for you to use one of Alan Levine’s “50 Web 2.0 Ways to Tell a Story” (ZaidLearn, 17 December, 2010)?
Although there can be a learning curve with technology, most of it is user-friendly enough that you can figure out what you want to do in a reasonable amount of time. Also, don’t feel like you have to become an overnight expert at podcasting if you’ve never done it before. Take it a step at a time; set a goal for yourself that you will learn and present something using one type of new technology before the end of the term. This will make learning and completing class activities more fun.
Go beyond your course site and see what other options you may have to get involved in fun ways. Most schools and an increasing number of courses are making use of social media sites to share information with the virtual campus community. Subscribe to your school’s and/or classes’ Facebook, Twitter, and other social media sites.
Additionally, check out some of the virtual organizations that may exist. Many schools sponsor virtual students groups. Check out this list from Columbia College. Although campus-based, many of these organizations maintain a strong online presence. Consider ones like the “pre-professional” groups, too, as these can help link you to your future career.
Develop an online presence in your academic community and be personable on these sites, too. You will find your online classes are a lot more engaging and fun if you make these social connections to others. (See David Mullen’s, “10 Tips to Build a Solid Online Presence,” 7 January, 2009, for some additional advice.)
Break the Mold
Online education is known as the great equalizer because participants typically don’t see one another and make judgments based on external characteristics. This provides an excellent opportunity for you to enjoy getting acquainted with someone you may not ordinarily have socialized with in a class. If someone’s posts intrigue you or you notice a classmate who shares different views and perspectives than you, actively engage them in discussions and class activities. Even consider inviting them to work with you on a group project. This doesn’t mean that you need to agree with them; simply approach this as a fun way to engage with your classmates and an enjoyable way to learn beyond the regular curriculum
Do run these ideas by your professors before implementing them to get their guidance and approval. Most faculty are open and even happy to see students fully engage in the learning process. As long as your creative approaches meet the directives and objectives of course assignments, the chances of winning your professor’s approval and perhaps even their positive attention are good. If they reject an idea, accept their direction, but save your thought for a future class or context.
Have you found a way to make e-learning fun? Please share your experience with the rest of us in the “Comments” area below.
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