Online educational platforms have the power to transform physical and geographical differences – which may seem like barriers to learning – into strengths of the online learning environment. Connecting students and mentors from around the world using an online platform helps build a global community of learners that in-person education alone cannot establish. Let me walk you through Foundations of Learning Experience Design (LXD), a free NovoEd course open to the public, to show how you can maximize collaborative learning using an online learning platform such as ours.

1: Spark Discussions Among Learners

One key feature that promotes collaborative learning on NovoEd’s platform is the discussion board. Below is a screenshot of a discussion that our learners had on LXD regarding why project-based assignments are not used more often.

Spark Discussions Among Learners Pt. 1

Spark Discussions Among Learners Pt. 2

*participants’ names have been grayed out

Here, learners not only showed agreement with other learners’ ideas, but they also posed follow-up questions (e.g., “…maybe there aren’t sufficient LXD consultants/experts who can advocate/prove the value of project-based learning to HR?”) that added to the first commenter’s analysis. The back-and-forth feedback from peer learners helps enrich each learner’s understanding of the content and pushes them to critically reflect on their own beliefs and knowledge. In your own courses, make sure to encourage your learners to reply to other learners’ comments. Questions that are open-ended and specific, such as the example above, tend to bring out creative responses from learners.

 

2: Peer-based Feedback Improves Learner Achievement

Peer feedback does not merely replace feedback from mentors or teachers; it has a positive effect on learning that mentor feedback alone cannot produce. In fact, a 2015 study by Stanford and Cal Poly State University researchers found that peer feedback on an online educational platform caused a significant gain in student achievement. Within LXD, learners are randomly given three assignments from their peers in which they have to provide detailed feedback.

Peer-based Feedback Improves Learner Achievement

Learners can provide detailed feedback regarding areas of success, room for improvement, sections that were unclear, and additional ideas that can be explored. The overall score that each learner provides is not shown to the recipient, and only the aggregate score for all evaluations is visible, which encourages learners to be as honest as possible in their feedback.

The comment function is also essential in that receiving comments on the first submission has a strong correlation with a learner’s overall course completion rate. An analysis of 4,685 learners found that those who received five or more comments on their first submission had over a 90% chance of completing the course, while those who received no comments had about a 60% chance of completing the course.

3: Actively Involve Mentors

Learning Coaches (the term for “mentors” in our course) play a pivotal role in LXD by keeping the learners engaged in discussion boards and providing detailed evaluations on assignment submissions.

*participants’ last names have been grayed out

Here are some of the best practices for involving mentors in your online courses:

Step 1: Clearly establish your expectations.

Before the mentors begin their work, you should reach an agreement with all of your mentors regarding their expected workload. While some of your mentors may be willing and able to contribute more time toward engaging with learners, others may be limited in their capacity to do so. The teaching team of LXD has defined the three levels of involvement for Learning Coaches as Heavy, Medium, and Light:

  • Heavy involvement: 9 – 12 mentees (approx. 30 min – 1 hour per week)
  • Medium involvement: 6 – 9 mentees (approx. 30 min – 45 min per week)
  • Light involvement: 4 – 6 mentees (approx. 30 min per week)

Likewise, you can establish your own standards for mentor involvement and ask your mentors to identify which option they can commit to. You may also reassure your mentors that their commitments can be flexible. For instance, if a mentor is no longer able to commit as much time as they initially anticipated, then the mentor can notify the teaching team and have some of his or her mentees reassigned to other mentors who are happy to take on more responsibilities.

Step 2: Create a sense of community among mentors.

You can create a separate space for your team of mentors in the admin dashboard and use the space to introduce discussion topics, icebreakers, and learner engagement best practices to your mentors.

Actively Involve Mentors

It is also important to remind your mentors that they are a select group of graduates from your course and show your appreciation for their support toward facilitating the course. Creating a tight-knit group of mentors prior to the start of the course could also increase accountability.

LXD reinforces the power of collaborative learning by engaging active discussions among learners and mentors, enabling detailed peer feedback, and stimulating the learning experience with the use of mentors. You can also use these three strategies to leverage the vast network of peer learners in your courses. If you are interested in experiencing collaborative learning firsthand, you can sign up here for our newest Foundations of Learning Experience session that will begin on August 27th!