Managing large cohorts is already challenging in physical lecture halls, but it becomes an even bigger problem in an online setting. Keeping students engaged in large cohorts is becoming a higher priority for many universities as they implement more blended learning opportunities, which is why it’s important for universities to understand how to efficiently manage cohorts.
In this article, we will discuss the rise of online education and two-way communication in teaching, how large cohorts impact students, and a few solutions educators can implement to keep students engaged.
The rise of online learning and two-way communication in teaching
In order to academically succeed through online learning, students must be comfortable with two-way communication, especially since educators also report that two-way communication is the best learning model for both teachers and students.
Moreover, this is an essential competent to online learning because it mimics the open communication style available in traditional brick-and-mortar classrooms where all a student has to do is raise their hand to dive into a discussion.
As the switch continues from physical classrooms to online, educators might forget this essential component and opt for one-way communication through emails, announcements, and video lectures. While this is an understandable mistake given the unfamiliarity of online learning, prioritising two-way communication is vital because it ensures student engagement, especially within learning cohorts.
Challenges and inefficiencies of large learning cohorts
Learning cohorts have become more popular as universities navigate transferring large bodies of students from physical classrooms to online education. While cohorts have many positives such as offering students familiarity as they move through their academic careers in groups, they also come with their own set of challenges.
Cohorts can create group-think which limits independent thinking. They can also potentially foster friction between students due to the tight-knit nature of the cohort which can impact upon the overall student experience. Differences stemming from unique personalities and values could cause clashes in discussions and limit the amount of authentic participation within collaborative activities.
Finally, cohorts can be challenging because they limit personalisation. Because students are banded together, they might be apprehensive to connect with the educator one on one and instead lean on their classmates for help. This is concerning because if students are hesitant to reach out, they can miss out on personalised learning opportunities.
To help find solutions, we’ve outlined a list of actions below that educators can take to engage their students in learning cohorts.
Create multi-choice assignments
One of the best ways to engage students is by giving them different options for their assignments. This concept is most often found in liberal arts classes where students can choose between multiple works of literature to study and report on. Giving students more choice in their course work also reinforces the values of two-way communication by giving students a bigger say in their learning journey.
Divide into smaller groups
In large cohorts, students who tend to be more passive tend to blend into the back unless they’re called upon. Of course, this is also present in traditional classroom settings, but it becomes a larger issue online where there is less accountability. An easy solution for this is to create smaller break-out rooms for students to connect with one another and discuss the material.
As an educator, you can divide students into smaller groups during class meetings to discuss the material, prioritise more group work over solo assignments, and create discussion threads for students to engage with one another every few days.
Host office hours
If you don’t already host online office hours, it’s time to start! It’s as simple as creating a weekly meeting on the video-communication platform of your choice such as Microsoft Teams. Be sure to also remind students of your office hours via email or LMS announcements to increase attendance.
Educators should also encourage students to book 1-1 meetings, and perhaps even make them mandatory a few times a semester in order to stay updated on the students’ progress and offer extra help.
Cross-pollinate course content
Another great way to engage students is by collaborating with their other educators to create blended assignments that utilise the materials and knowledge they’re acquiring in their other classes. It’s important to remember, however, all of your students may not have the same educators, so the assignments still need to be accessible and understandable for students who may not be in the other class.
Utilise AI and LMS
Sometimes no matter how much you try, the best solution is technology. One of the most powerful technologies available to educational institutions to engage students, build community, and personalise the learning experience is aleX.
What makes aleX particularly powerful is an analytics engine and AI learning assistant called QBot. They’ve helped many institutions:
- Automate responses to common questions by creating a centralised self-building knowledge base that leverages the questions from interactions with students to accelerate the acquisition of knowledge
- Leverage analytics to provide educators with recommendations that address individual student needs
With aleX, cohorts can do more; they can become a learning community that molds to the students’ needs in real-time while providing educators with powerful tools that transform the teaching experience to that of convenience, efficiency, and deeper connection.
Cohorts are meant to be learning communities, yet they still present various challenges for both students and educators. However, these issues can be easily solved when educators open up to modern solutions; solutions such as aleX.