KEEPING STUDENTS ENGAGED IN DISTANCE LEARNING

S. Polskaya 

Moscow State Institute of International Relations (RUSSIAN FEDERATION)
Due to covid-19 pandemic educational institutions all over the world were made to switch to a distant learning mode. Although the latter enabled us to continue the educational process, duly following curricula and programs, there are numerous concerns regarding the efficiency of distance learning and its outcomes.

One of the most vital issues affecting the quality of educational process is how to keep learners engaged in such conditions when teachers and learners are separated. Being used to a teacher in immediate proximity, students change their perception when they learn in the privacy of their own homes. As a result, the usual interaction is disrupted, material to be learned is acquired less efficiently, and some learners confess they often ask themselves a question if actual learning occurs.

In order to be equally efficient in the distance learning format, both parties of the educational process should be ready for its specifics. Learners are to be able to focus their attention ignoring all the possible distractions, whereas teachers should learn how to monitor if learners perceive the material in an efficient manner. The core issue is that most teachers are currently not completely aware of how to make learners engaged, how to get learners’ attention and to maintain their focus.

Analyzing the reports of 52 university lecturers who teach English as a foreign language, in which they summarized the results of the semester of online learning /hybrid learning, we found that the vast majority of those reporting (90,3%) mentioned the problem of keeping learners focused as one of the most essential, being only second to the problem of proper internet connection (98%). Out of 119 learners surveyed by us in 2020 on the issue of their concentration level in online environment, 74% recognized that their focus decreased, with 11% feeling their concentration level was the same and 15% believing that they had higher level of concentration.

Considering above-mentioned, we aimed at establishing possible ways of preventing learners from being distracted as well as keeping their attention throughout a class. Irrespective of a popular opinion that those who are genuinely after learning, will do it no matter what educational format is used, we still believe that a number of certain methodological techniques can be applied, which might make the learning process more efficient and learners more concentrated.

For three months we constructed our classes in such a way so that to keep learners involved to the maximum, not allowing any distractions. To achieve this, each lesson had to be specifically staged so that a teacher was not merely a ‘talking head’ sharing a certain amount of information with learners. Using contrasts, changing the tack of a lesson, intonation, encouraging students to lead themselves and a number of other ways made it possible for learners to feel that learning does take place. Afterwards, we analyzed the results through individual interviews with every participant, evaluating their experience in this connection and comparing the effects of this ‘more engaging’ way of conducting classes with other online classes they had.

The information collected demonstrated that the techniques we used to raise the level of learners’ engagement contributed to better efficacy of learners, keeping them focused and removing possible distractions, brining potentially deeper level of the English language acquisition.