Illustration Inspiring A Love for Learning

Inspiring A Love for Learning



Article originally published on E-Learn Magazine on Apr 03, 2018 – Click here for the Spanish version

At Blackboard, we recognize that an LMS is simply not enough to solve your most critical challenges.  As we look to the future, we are focused on developing a comprehensive, digital learning environment aimed at helping institutions to solve their core challenges. Instead of building products separately and integrating them into an LMS, we are taking a much more holistic approach. providing education insight, we are driven to help improve learner engagement and enable academic effectiveness to solve those core challenges. At Blackboard, we began this journey producing numerous pieces exploring academic effectiveness. Now we will shift our focus to learner engagement.

What do we mean by learner engagement?  You will often find references to both student and learner engagement in higher education.  The concept of ‘student engagement’ tends to be broader than ‘learner engagement.’  Student engagement is often used to refer to a broad scope of activities designed and coordinated to catalyze students, from all segments of the student population- from first-generation college students to adult learners- to actively, positively participate in the full array of the college experience from the classroom to extra-curricular activities.  The National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE), identifies two critical factors that make up student engagement: how an institution uses resources and organizes the curriculum and learning opportunities to get students to participate in activities linked to student learning; and the amount of time and effort students put into their studies and education activities. By using the term, ‘learner engagement,’ we are intentionally narrowing our focus to the learning experience.1 In short, learner engagement is inspiring genuine interest, attention, and interaction in the learning process. 

What does learner engagement look like?  It is easy to equate learner engagement with class participation, but that’s simply not true. Oral participation is not a good indicator of learner engagement.2 In a physical classroom, oral participation can be an element of learner engagement, but other behaviors may be just as important such as eye contact, posture, seat location, note taking, and facial expressions. 2 Learner engagement has three facets:3

  • Behavioral: Reflected by what learners do in the learning process such as ask questions, demonstrate persistence, concentration, and attention, and participation in discussion or class activities. 
  • Emotional: Attitudes toward learning- from painful dislike to highly valuing the acquisition of knowledge and skills. 
  • Cognitive: Effort and strategy.  From a simple willingness to learn, to going above and beyond expectations to accomplish learning outcomes. 3 

Behavior, emotional, and cognitive components of learner engagement work together to influence learning, whether it’s taking place in a face-to-face classroom or online. 

So, what are a few ways Blackboard can help instructors promote learner engagement?   

Expand Opportunities for Active Participation 

Provide many and varied opportunities for students to participate in class.  Just like speaking out in the physical classroom is not the only way to be engaged, instructors need to find many opportunities for students to participate. With Blackboard’s learning environment, students can participate virtually in a class discussion, share videos or news clips with the class, reflect in a blog, collaborate with classmates in wikis, or even participate in peer assessment or peer assisted study sessions, such as at Deakin University.4  Instructors and students can also engage in real time with live audio and video conferencing.  In the virtual classroom, students can present and share ideas, participate in a discussion or review session, collaborate on the whiteboard or engage in a class poll or live quiz.  Students can share how they are feeling about the instructions with a pulse check or with feedback in the chat. Students and teachers can participate from anywhere with any devices for both synchronous and asynchronous options.

 Enable Voice and Choice in the Learning Process

In traditional learning models, instructors decide what students will learn, how they will learn it, and the pace at which they will learn.  Students love having choices; it gives them a sense of ownership and control in their work. When students have voice and choice with respect to learning, their engagement grows.  But how can instructors provide voice and choice for students?  Blackboard can help enable voice and choice in a way that is easy and efficient for instructors.  With Blackboard, instructors can allow multiple options for students to choose to demonstrate their learning. For example, for a final project, an instructor can define a single rubric to evaluate learning outcomes in an efficient manner but enable students to choose from a final research paper, a presentation, or even collaborative project with peers. Students can even opt to review the authenticity of their own work to ensure they are properly cited their sources.  Additionally, instructors can leverage conditional release capabilities to create personalized learning paths for students.  These paths can provide flexibility with the pace, can be determined by demonstrated mastery levels, or guided by student preferences.

Another way to enable voice and choice and empower students to own the learning process, is by providing accessible digital course content.  To engage with digital course content, students must have access to digital content that meets their needs.  And, students learn best with content matches their learning styles. According to the U.S. Department of Education about 11 percent of K-12 students in the United States, aged size through seventeen, have a disability. 6 At institutions of higher learning, sixty to eighty percent of students with disabilities do not disclose their needs to administrators or instructors and many more students remain undiagnosed.7 Creating inclusive learning experiences is one way to ensure every student can engage in your course.  With auto-generated alternative forms of content, Blackboard helps institutions adapt to a variety of student needs and learning styles with tools that enhance the learning experience and increase the resources available to all students. With alternative formats readily available, students can choose the content format that best meets their needs or learning style. To take that a step further, Blackboard supports institutions and instructors throughout the learning environment fostering inclusive learning best practices to drive continuous improvement.

Flip Your Class from Passive to Active

Or, flip the whole process on its head with a flipped classroom approach. With Blackboard’s environment, you can completely flip the learning experience. Instead of using face-to-face class time for lecture or ‘content delivery,’ instructors can create short micro videos for students to watch, learn, and take notes outside of class.  Then, students and instructors can make the most of face-to-face class time answering questions, coaching students, and engaging the class in more hands-on activities such as labs, simulations, quizzes, and discussions.  Instead of using class time for the lowest levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy, knowledge and understanding, class time can be used to reach higher levels such as application, analysis, evaluation, and creation.  According to Jon Bergmann, creator of the flipped classroom model, “Flipped learning works because, number one, it makes the group space or the class time an active place of learning and all the research out there shows that active learning is what makes the big difference. Secondly, and something that I think is very overlooked, is that it allows students better opportunities to have better relationships with their teachers.”5

Leverage Analytics in Your Digital Learning Environment

With respect to digital learning, the emerging field of Learning Analytics offers a research-based approach to improve learner engagement. There’s much to be learned from activity in the digital learning environment. Instructors can analyze the way learners engage with courses in fine-grained detail. Learning Analytics identifies how learners interact with course materials, learning activities, and one another. They can look at patterns over time, see where learners stand relative to others in their class, and identify the activities and topics that produce the highest level of engagement.

  • Did that discussion forum that was certain to garner an exciting debate really get learners fired up?
  • Did the extra-credit project that called for learner collaboration exceed expectations in terms of learner involvement?
  • How many learners are truly engaged or how many are just agreeing with their peers?

Rich information on these interactions can help educators develop a more accurate and timely understanding of which learners may be at risk of failing a course.  And, by understanding precisely how learners are engaging with their courses, instructors can make changes to strengthen learner-course interaction.8

Learning Analytics can also reveal the impact of different course design choices on learner engagement and achievement. By providing instructors with the ability to examine and compare success across varying methods of instruction, Learning Analytics helps them continuously improve the quality and effectiveness of their courses. When instructors are equipped with an “early warning system” alerting them to learners who are struggling and when they’re able to improve their courses on an ongoing basis, learners will be more engaged -and learning will be more effective.8

Learner engagement, specifically student activity within the digital learning environment, is a significant predictor of learners’ grades in a course. According to Dr. John Whitmer, while conventional demographic and prior academic experience predict 3-5% of the variation in learner grades, Learning Analytics data can predict up to 50% of that variation, as this data is detailed, contextual –and most important –can be acted on immediately.8 With Blackboard’s analytics solutions, instructors are able to see which learners are at risk –and why. The more likely learners are to engage with their courses, the more likely they are to improve their grades, and the less likely they are to drop the class. When an instructor sees that a learner’s not taking part in online discussion forums, and is likely at risk for dropping a course, they can immediately intervene in a highly personalized way. .

While these are just a few ideas to get started, the possibilities for driving learning engagement with Blackboard are endless.  Throughout this edition of E-Learn, we will continue to explore the concept of learner engagement in greater depth.


1. NSSE National Survey of Student Engagement. (2018)

2. Frymier, A.B., and Houser, M. L. (2016). The role of oral participation in student engagement. Communication Education, 65 (1), 83-104.

3. Weimer, M. (2016). What does student engagement look like? Faculty Focus.

4. Deakin University Peer Assisted Study Sessions Video: 

5. Bergmann, J., and Gomez, C. (2017). Jonathan Bergmann: How to Turn the Class Around:

6. 1 U.S. Department of Education, Ofice of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services. (200). Thirty-eighth annual report to Congress on the implementation of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, 2016, Washington, DC: Author. about/reports/annual/osep/2016/parts-b-c/index.html 2

7. National Center for Education Statistics, fastfacts/display.asp?id=60

8. Whitmer, J. (2016) Learning Analytics: Improving Learner Engagement and Student Success.

Illustration by: Triibu Studio