In this topic of ONL171 it was very interesting to investigate about the different ways one may find to engage students in online courses to avoid them losing their interest and to keep them as enthusiastic as they were at the beginning of the course. It was interesting to find out more about the different tools and resources we have nowadays available to engage and stimulate students, and how to constantly reinforce their interests while learning online. In reading about this topic, I came across the paper by Brindley et al. in 2009 with title: ‘Creating Effective Collaborative Learning Groups in an Online Environment’. This paper not only offers a great overview of the online learning environment with a detailed description of all its verges and problematics, but it also describes a great summary of the tools that can be taken into account to motivate online learners. One of these tools is to adapt the teaching material to include real-life scenarios. Brindley argues that by including real life scenarios, especially when teaching adults, students will relate and understand better the topics because they will find that the situation is applicable to their lifes. Hence, engagement will be triggered by finding the material related to what is occurring or has occurred in their real lifes.
In deepening my online research into this last point, I found out that the reasoning behind creating case studies with real-life scenarios and its relation with improvement of motivation and interest had a sound scientific background. The scientific background behind a stimulated motivation when real-life cases are applied, is related to brain functions that reinforces constructivist learning (Zull, J. E. (2002). The art of changing the brain. Enriching the practice of teaching by exploring the biology of learning. Sterling, VA: Stylus Publications). Constructive learning uses existing knowledge as the foundation for incorporating new information into more complex and sophisticated knowledge. As Zull points out in the abovementioned book, the basis to understand how learning from prior experience works is that learning produces physical changes in the brain. The concept to describe the brain as being “plastic,” makes me reflect upon basic fundamentals in microbiology, where the bacteria that survive best to different environments and those that live longer and in prosperity are those that are ‘plastic’, meaning those that are easily changeable or that can adapt to different environments. Hence, learning about which are the threats that could kill them. Maybe this was a far-fetched example, but we have to relate new knowledge to the fundaments of our previous knowledge, (right?). Going back to the ‘plasticity of the brain’ and how it is important for us to understand how learning mechanisms function, the example of Zull where he thinks about the brain as being like a piece of silly putty that can be molded and reshaped according to prior experiences and that this plasticity continues throughout life, is just dazzling!
To wrap this up and not to go far away from the matter at stake, stimulation of learning in e-learners by applying methods such as inclusion of real-life scenarios, is not as simple as it sounds. It has a scientific background behind it that explains how our brain functions and is amendable throughout our life. I think this is a very important point to take into consideration when thinking about structuring e-learning courses, course materials and assignments. The inclusion of prior life experiences and real-case scenarios could be as stimulating for our brains to receive more and more new information and to transform it into new and relevant knowledge!