LearningCoaching & TrainingHow Interactive Learning Boosts Engagement

How Interactive Learning Boosts Engagement


The pandemic has brought new challenges with it making it more important than ever that training, coaching and educational classes whether in-person, mixed or online utilize creative tools and methods to keep students’ interest. As coaches move solely online and schools, universities and colleges move away from traditional lecture-filled classrooms where students are mostly silent and often unengaged, teachers, coaches and trainers are seeking alternatives with interactive online learning.

What is Interactive Learning?

Simply put, interactive learning is learning that requires student participation. This participation can come through class and small group discussions as well as through exploration of the interactive learning materials they’re given in a digital classroom.

While the wide definition of “interactive” makes designing and teaching such a lesson relatively easy, not all kinds of interactivity are equally effective for all students. Shy students, for example, are likely to benefit less from class discussions where participation is voluntary. Technology has offered a big benefit here by allowing teachers to make and use learning materials that must be actively explored.

The Benefits of Interactive Learning?

Teachers, trainers and coaches can simply and easily present new information to students and give those students multiple opportunities to engage with that information, using critical thinking, cooperation, Social & Emotional Learning (SEL) and other skills in the process.

These opportunities to engage are enhanced and expanded by the use of learning materials that require student interaction to complete. The more times a student works with a given set of concepts, the more likely they are to assimilate them into their knowledge base. Unlike many courses and learning materials that are nothing more than watching a video or listening to a recording of a teacher, trainer or coach, or static materials that present information that can only be read, interactive content can be created that allows the students to participate in the lessons and requires interaction and feedback in order to participate.

Here, the value of repetition can not be overstated, and much research has been done on the positive effects of repeated learning. Professor Robert F Bruner, Dean Emeritus at Virginia University whose studies have shaped how interactive content benefits learning, describes why repetition can only be achieved from interactive learning.

“The deepest “aha’s” spring from an encounter and then a return. Repeating the encounter fuses it into one’s awareness. One of the biggest mistakes a teacher can make is to forego the return or repetition. The learning process is one of slow engagement with ideas; gradually the engagement builds to a critical mass when the student actually acquires the idea. Repetition matters because it can hasten and deepen the engagement process. If one cares about quality of learning, one should consciously design repetitive engagement into courses and daily teaching. To do this well is harder than it seems. This column summarizes some subtle issues around repetition, and offers suggestions for how to proceed.”

In order to achieve repetition in learning, training, classes and courses MUST BE interactive, otherwise the student cannot repeat the process again and again until that “aha” moment arrives. Failure to create interactive learning is a failure in teaching, coaching and training.

But how many times and ways should students work with a set of information in an online classroom setting in order to achieve that “aha” moment?

One solution is to break the interactive learning process into three important stages students should go through in any effective interactive lesson.

  1. Initial exploration
  2. Summary and assimilation
  3. Connections

Professor Bruner explains, “repetition is primarily important to learning, rather than teaching. If one adopts a studentcentered teaching approach, repetition will be a very important tactic for enhancing learning.” 

Of course, we don’t want to build too much repetition into our learning, to the point where it becomes boring.

The way to achieve a sensible balance is to start with a focus on learning rather than teaching; on the student rather than the teacher; on the ideas rather than the material. From this new perspective, repetition becomes a tactic to help the student selfteach ideas. This is very important with business coaching, and corporate training programs where cramming as much information into as short a period of time seems to have become the desired approach, though often with underwhelming outcomes.

Professor Bruner adds, “First, think of the variety of time frames in which to repeat an idea:

  • An individual class session. One can use openings, middles and summaries to repeat ideas“tell them what you’re going to tell them, then tell them, then tell them what you told them.”
  • A module of classes within a course. Modules are the real building blocks of the repetitive cycle. One can start a module with an easy case that sketches the framework, and then gradually deepen students’ grasp with successively richer cases.
  • Across an entire course. At the opening of the course one can plant ideas or themes that will be revisited at a number of points throughout the course, and then become the framework for the crescendo at the close of the course.
  • Across a multicourse program. Courses can, and should, support one another by visiting key ideas. A marketing course might use net present value to assess a strategy. A finance course might teach net present value with attention to marketing strategy as a value driver. Increasingly, timecompressed program designers are searching for teaching materials that can teach important concepts in  multiple disciplines.

Second, consider the wide variety of ways in which an idea might be repeated:

  • By the teacher, orally in class, in writing before or after class, or informally outside of class.
  • By the students in class, in learning teams, and out of class.
  • By the course materials and readings, especially through the artful use of optional readings.
  • By a visiting speaker.
  • By ad hoc serendipitous materials such as newspaper articles, stock price graphs, cartoons.
The mix of time frames and instruments affords an enormous variety of opportunities to repeat ideas. Here are five tactics that I have found to be especially useful for harnessing the power of repetition or studentcentered learning.
  1. At the start of each class session, invite students to offer their “big aha’s” or key learnings from the previous session. I write these on a side chalkboard, and quite often refer to them during that day’s discussion. This emphasizes the connectivity of ideas from case discussion to the next.
  2. In every few classes, offer some comments on the path of ideas, and how they are gathering together toward future learnings. I have done this both orally in a few minutes of class time, and in writing, in the form of module notes these cover important ideas, questions, and issues, with the intent of giving students more to think about, rather than relieving the students of the effort to figure things out for themselves.
  3. Design your course like a story that has a few dominant themes to be repeated frequently, and a number of subsidiary ideas to be built. Great stories have a beginning that creates tension or inquiry; a middle that enriches the problem, and an ending that revisits the tension and resolves it.
  4. Carefully choose required readings that send a consistent message with the ideas repeated elsewhere in the course.
  5. Create many small opportunities to reinforce, revisit, and repeat ideas. These might be in the form of brownbag lunches where the students pick the topics or simply arriving early/leaving slowly from class and using the extra time to converse about important ideas.

Repetition is an important element of learning maybe not the first element, but much  more important than the current emphases on speed and brevity suggest. Even in the midst of binding time constraints, look for opportunities to revisit, review, and restate. Through repetition, students return to where they started, and “know the place for the first time.”

The ideal learning platform should be able to facilitate all of this, from multiple student interactions, to team interactions, gamification and competition between students and teams of students, collaboration – both between students and between students and teachers. Highlighting text, comments, online and offline syncing should all be available to ensure the interactive nature of learning is preserved.

Coaching, trainers and teachers alike, will clearly benefit from interactive learning because it focuses on student learning and engagement, improving their results and driving new sign-ups through highly engaged students who become advocates for the coach, trainer or teacher.
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