Tips for improvement of learner’s attention

According to the economist and psychologist Herbert A. Simon

… the wealth of information (…) consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention and a need to allocate that attention efficiently among the overabundance of information sources that might consume it.

Learner’s attention is essential to learning and online tutors should consider the various factors which increase or decrease it when planning a virtual course.

According to Mark J. Sagor in his article “A Wealth Of Information Creates A Poverty Of Attention“:

Our attention is a powerful asset in all of our relationships and must be managed carefully. It takes discipline and self-awareness to resist the siren song of our smart phones and all the other informational delivery devices that surround when we are talking to someone.

The VEDAMO interface structure is suitable for students who easily get distracted. This, however, is not enough to retain learner’s attention. Learning resources in the virtual classroom have to be developed in accordance with the multi-media and interactivity principles whereas textual materials should not prevail.

VEDAMO Virtual Classroom interface with an apple
VEDAMO Virtual Classroom interface

Here are some tips for improving your learners’ attention when planning and delivering your virtual courses and sessions:

  1. Engage participants frequently
  2. Sustain participants’ interest
  3. Get to know your students well
  4. Remember to have fun
  5. Maintain a positive group atmosphere
  6. Do not overload your students with information

I. Engage participants frequently

Each learner’s motivation is of crucial importance. Make sure you do so as to bring the lesson aims as close as possible to the learners’ aims.  If information is rather basic or too complicated for the learners, their interest will be hard to sustain.  For the purposes of the acquisition level of a learner/ learners it is advisable to use an entry-level test for the group. The test results will help you accommodate the course content to the group level.

Another way of making your students feel they are an important part of a community is to encourage and prompt students into practice-activity participation. (Practice activities participation stimulates the feeling of involvement and importance of each learner into the group) Your students should be able to realise their active role into the group.) VEDAMO Virtual Classroom ensures different possibilities for interaction facilitation among participants whereby a connection is established between the group’s experience and competence. The aim is to go beyond the framework of the dry scientific content of the lecture approach. It is essential to provide guidance to the students about their behaviour and interaction whereas you track their understanding of the guidelines by assigning specific tasks to check changes in their behaviour. Thus, students will be more engaged and more willing to interact frequently among themselves without a teacher’s guidance. This adds to their interest and fosters educational aims accomplishment.

It is of utmost importance to find the best way of sustaining learners’ high levels of participation and interest. Your professional competence and knowledge about the topics taught are of extraordinary importance when it comes to applying creative approaches in the virtual learning environment.

II. Sustain participants’ interest

Show participants where to find the Raise Hand Button and explain to them they can use it to signal that they would like you to give them the floor. In the beginning of the lesson you can allow them to check these out. In this way, participants will know they can express an opinion and share information at any time during the session.

At the end of the study session ask participants to honestly share their feedback about how the lesson went.

During the lesson encourage group interaction. As a rule, interaction has to take place at every 3-5 minutes. This rule, of course, can be modified according to your working style and the specific topic. Ask specific questions and give guidelines to students as to the way you expect them to reply.

If during the lesson any one of the participants does not feel comfortable or distracts the rest, allow them to leave the virtual classroom and come back as soon as they feel better. In cases when more severe misconduct occurs (e.g. if a student insults the others orally or by writing on the whiteboard/ in the chat), using the Teacher’s Controls the tutor may switch off the student’s microphone as well as deny the access to any other tools they might be abusing. The student’s behaviour may be recorded so as to make the recording available if necessary, in need of assistance from parents, psychologists and educational advisors. These possibilities are not matched in any way by the real school where measures against students who break the rules and disturb the rest of the class are much more cumbersome and complicated to undertake.

Make use of the participants’ distribution into small groups by taking into consideration their competences and experience. This is especially handy when it comes to implementing brainstorming, role play, and solving of complex problems. Do not divide participants into groups before you have assigned them the task or before telling them what they are expected to do.

Moreover, remember to also let them know what they are expected to do after the virtual session has ended. If you assign homework or share any materials in the LMS, let them know where to find them and what are the deadlines for completion.

III. Get to know your students well

In an online environment it is essential to know your students. The skill to answer their questions and comments without delay is essential as are the rules for the asking questions so as to avoid the breaking of group dynamics.

In order to promote active participation, you have to show reaction to the participation. When students press the Raise Hand Button, send you Chat messages or give feedback in any other form, you have to be the first to notice they demand your attention.

During the session it is advisable that you follow what goes on in the virtual classroom and in particular if there are any new indicators on the part of the learners (hand raising, chatting, behaviour changes). Whenever possible, refer to the learners’ questions and comments. This helps them feel the live interaction and builds a sense of community, just as the eye-contact in face-to-face communication does or giving the floor to a student who has raised their hand in the physical classroom.

Do not let students think they are being ignored. When you start teaching in VEDAMO Virtual Classroom for the first time or you begin classes on a topic that is unfamiliar to you, it is usually your teaching that you focus on, not the learners’ reactions. Make sure you avoid reading from notes for a long time or focus your eyes on one point. In this way you will surely miss the possibility to interact with your students.

You can make use of personal notes, the whiteboard or the chat to note down any questions that have come up in the course of the study session which you can answer later.

Try not to ask side questions in the midst of a complex study content explanation as this will divert learner’s attention. Do not rush through the study material because you feel pressed for time. Before you move on to another key point make sure the students have had the chance to understand and think about the last point.

Explain the possibilities for a common and personal chat in the virtual classroom. Respond to your personal messages in the personal chat, not in the common one. When students feel embarrassed to put up a question in front of the whole group, they may use exactly this discrete channel for communication with you which does not exist in the traditional classroom. When you comment on a certain question, sent to you in a personal message, do not mention the student’s name who asked it.

IV. Remember to have fun

Make learning more interesting and engaging by means of multimedia elements. They are not only to be used because they are attractive and interesting. The inclusion of various media (images, video, audio, etc.) in the study content presentation through the media player and the screen-sharing tool must be balanced and meaningful so as not to divert learner’s attention from the focus on the study content. It is vital for the study materials to be based on the educational aims and not to be used for their own sake. With more difficult topics you can use the multimedia for simulations and for representation of complex concepts and phenomena.

V. Maintain a positive group atmosphere

Do not let participants get bored while they are waiting for the group to come together at the beginning of a lesson or after a break. For such cases you can prepare ice-breaking games or quick and easy tests. Go for short and quick games which do not take much time to explain. If you think it appropriate select these games so as to match the aim of the lesson and to refer to the results from them in the introductory part.

You can initiate these techniques before the official session time or right on time to stimulate students to be on time; otherwise they will not be part of the game. Students do not have to take part in this type of activities, if they do not wish to.

VI. Do not overload your students with information

Plan the lesson so as to fit into the pre-set timeframe without overloading students with new information at the expense of practice and interaction with them.

Prepare the study materials, assignments and topics for discussion by providing a balance between new knowledge introduction and time for understanding, thinking about it and putting it into practice. Just in case you finish earlier with the activities planned, prepare additional study materials in the File Library so that you can easily use them in case of need.

It is advisable that students know in advance what is going to happen during the session and how much time it is going to take. Make sure they have clearly understood what their homework is and what they are expected to do in the time prior to the next lesson.

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Dr. Veronica Racheva is managing VEDAMO’s training programme. Veronica is a PhD in Theory of Education. She graduated from the Doctoral School at the Institute of Education, University of London and has a specialisation for a Virtual Teacher from the University of California, Irvine. Currently, she is a CEO of a Bulgarian K12 online academy, based on VEDAMO e-learning infrastructure. She is also a lecturer in E-learning at the Sofia University, researcher and author of scientific reports.