One of the key things about learning is that it is incredibly satisfying. Most of us remember moments when we learned something new, discovered something we didn’t know yet, and how wonderful this made us feel. Building our expertise, our skills, and our knowledge is something that increases our self-esteem and makes us want to become better people. That is something that Thomas M Rollins Teaching, the developers of The Great Courses and The Great Courses Plus, aim to promote. They want to give people the greatest opportunities to learn as much as they can throughout their lives. They do this by offering courses in a digital format, however, and that means they have a significant challenge to overcome, which is how to keep students engaged.
What Is Engagement?
It can be difficult to define exactly what engagement is. In fact, many experts have been debating its exact definition for years. However, everybody agrees that it boils down to people’s ability and willingness to participate in something. In traditional classrooms, it is relatively easy to see who is engaged. Engaged students make eye contact, ask questions, and even show interested body language. But with digital learning, this is a lot more difficult. It is impossible to tell whether someone finds the material interesting, or even whether they paid attention and viewed the entire course.
Engagement is about:
- Capturing attention.
- Compelling students into action.
- Focusing on self-motivation.
- Providing activities.
- Connecting the subject matter to the real world.
- Providing personal meaningfulness.
How to Engage Using a Digital Medium
One of the key things about digital mediums is that there is no one to one, live interaction between the student and the teacher. Hence, it could be argued that anybody could deliver the information they need to, so long as they have a script with what to say. While this may be true for content alone, it won’t engage the student.
It is for this reason that Thomas M Rollins teaching takes a very long time to develop any new course. They do not believe in simply taking a PowerPoint presentation and turning it into a course that people can flick through. They don’t believe in having someone read out the necessary information. The Great Courses are developed, firstly, by speaking to existing students in terms of what they would like to learn about next. Once they have a subject matter, their team spends a great deal of time identifying the top 1% of professors who could deliver this information. Then, they interview and audition them to determine whether they can present the information in such a way that they will engage the students. This entire process often takes as much as two years to complete.
So how do they do it? That is, unsurprisingly, a family secret that will not be shared. But suffice to say that the fact that The Great Courses have been around for a quarter of a century and that they continue to be one of the biggest and most respected in the world, means that their system is working.