Who Are Your Learners?
On this page we look at who our learners are and offer ideas, practical strategies and signposts to other university support which will help you make your teaching accessible and relevant to all your students.
When preparing for teaching next academic year it is important to consider the student perspective. This resource from the FutureLearn course “How to Teach Online,” is useful in identifying the challenges your students might face in accessing the work so that you can address these in the design and delivery of your teaching.
|Student transitions to Higher Education||
The transition to HE can be challenging for all sorts of reasons, but transitioning remotely to the University's learning environment poses a number of additional challenges:
As teachers we can support the development of a sense of belonging and ease the transition to HE by building an online community with your learners.
|Understanding student approaches to learning||
Students will approach learning in different ways, often influenced by their educational background and what they are familiar with. This does not always mean they are the most effective strategies, so a key part of teaching is supporting students to take a metacognitive approach by encouraging them to reflect on how they learn best, and to identify approaches which are useful. Equally, teachers can help to identify approaches that are not effective, and should be changed or stopped.
To support students in this, teachers can consider incorporating activities into their teaching, either synchronously or asynchronously to promote metacognition. For example:
When introducing tasks consider:
|Managing challenges to student learning and engagement||
The blended approach to learning and teaching has the potential to introduce some challenges for our learners that may not ordinarily affect our face to face courses.
Specifically, access to technology, geographical location, personal circumstances and varying levels of digital literacy will affect learners in different ways.
Many of us will have experienced poor internet connections at some point, particularly when using residential networks that are shared by a number of people in the household.
Learners might be accessing your course from across the world, and the quality, and stability of their internet access will vary. Try to use a mix of asynchronous learning activities that won’t require much bandwidth, such as discussion boards, text based resources and short videos.
High bandwidth activities, such as synchronous Blackboard Collaborate sessions may be challenging for some students to fully participate in. Lower - tech methods can be used by students to participate in Collaborate sessions where interest access is limited, such as dialling in via a telephone. It is important to consider the mix of learning activities when designing your course to ensure you are not excluding learners.
Learners might be participating in your course from a variety of geographical locations and time zones. Whilst this can provide a great opportunity to allow different viewpoints, traditions and lived experiences to be shared by students, it can present a real challenge in scheduling synchronous activities.
Be mindful of the difference in time zones, particularly with regards to office hours or consultation sessions, are they at a reasonable time for your learners?
Learners based in China are ordinarily unable to access certain web based resources, such as the Google suite (Google Drive, YouTube, Google Docs etc) western news media sites and Dropbox, amongst others. Take care to avoid using these resources for students based in China. Use Kaltura to deliver media content in Blackboard, as this is accessible within China.
Digital Capabilities & Employability
Learners come to university with differing levels of digital literacy - the 'capabilities which fit an individual for living, learning and working in a digital society.'
Learners will be exposed to a wide variety of digital services and tools throughout their programme of study, and it is important to ensure effective support mechanisms are in place. Using institutionally supported tools will enable staff and students to access central support from the Digital Learning Team, and resources such as LinkedIn learning are available to all. A study from the Sociological Department has found that students appreciate the value of increasing their digital literacy, and would like this to be signposted to them in their programmes.
Now more than ever, learners will have to respond with agility over their lifetimes to shifting labour market requirements and fast-changing developments in technology. Find out how institutions have embedded digital capabilities into programmes.
Learners may have conflicting responsibilities that limit the amount of time and space they have to engage with their course. These are likely to be amplified by the move to blended learning. These might include, but are not limited to:
Staff should be aware of, and signpost relevant University services to support learners.
Student motivation for learning is likely to be shaped by a range of background characteristics (including cultural background, age, gender, confidence and familiarity with the style of learning). Finding out more about who your learners are (see above), why they are here and what they want to get out of their course will help to anticipate potential challenges that they may face in the online learning environment.
Learner motivation is also shaped by the learning environment itself, and the design of learning activities, modules and programmes can help to promote and sustain motivation. Important things to consider include:
Allowing student agency in their learning by providing a blend of synchronous and asynchronous content; allowing students to access content in a variety of ways (for example through recordings, slides or text summaries); by setting realistic deadlines for tasks and activities to allow for flexible study.
Example of learning activities:
|Student groups who may be particularly affected by moving to digital learning||
Key issues affecting International Students:
Ideas for how to help with the above:
Students with Specific Learning Difficulties (SpLDs)
What are specific learning difficulties?
Key issues affecting Students with Specific Learning Difficulties
Students will take longer to process large amounts of text. They may also struggle to manage their time.
Impact of changing to digital teaching
Students with SpLD may find it challenging to follow long chat trails whilst a presentation is being given at the same time.
Strategies to support students with specific learning difficulties
Student Support Services have produced suggestions of how to adapt your teaching to make it more accessible to students with SpLDs.
The Digital Learning Team has produced guidance on using Blackboard Ally which checks your slides and digital content to make sure it is accessible.
University support available:
What is autism?
Autism and Asperger Syndrome fall under the DSM-V definition Autism Spectrum Condition. It is defined as a developmental disability which can include (but is not limited to):
Key issues affecting autistic students
What can teachers do?
Support available at the University
Students with caring responsibilities
Who is a student carer?
Students may have caregiving responsibilities for children, other family members, a partner or friend with a disability, medical condition, mental health difficulty or drug or alcohol dependency. These responsibilities may place additional pressure on a student to balance their time and meet the academic challenges of a course.
Key issues affecting students with caring responsibilities
What can teachers do?
Support available at the University