Personalization on the quick! Using eLearn to connect with your students!

By Steven Bennet, Distributed Education Specialist

Introductions, and Why They Make You Feel…Good

Ever met someone new and get formally introduced? And once the formalities are exchanged you (or they) say “you can just call me (blank).” Doesn’t it, on some level deep down, feel good?

That’s your brain saying, ‘This person accepts me as not a stranger and is letting me be personal with them!”*

(*I said your brain, not how you consciously think. We’re talking subconscious right now.)

And that’s the foundation of a relationship. I’m not meaning you’re about to go on a date with the new Assistant Manager at the Publix downtown, (but hey, you might). I’m saying that you’ve gained relatability with them; you’re on a level of interaction beyond the “strangers nodding at each other as they pass on the sidewalk” phase.

And, no…I don’t know why we do that. Acknowledgement, maybe.

The point of the matter is, on the whole, humans are social creatures. Interactions (good or bad) trigger chemical responses in our brains, and they allow us to form connections and lasting memories of those interactions and the things that caused them. And there’s serious science on this subject. Neuroscience, Psychology, and Sociology (to name a few) all touch on the grounds of our interactions with other people and things – and how they affect us.

But so does Education. Or rather, Education can use the science of interaction to its benefit. 

Connecting with Your Students

We’ve all had that class. The instructor comes in, reads off the attendance sheet, and then begins a lecture that lasts the entire course. No questions, no discussion, no dialogue. They don’t even look at you; just back and forth from textbook or notes to the board. You feel like every word is going right through your head, and there’s a slight sinking pit in your stomach as you realize you have to take notes as fast as you can otherwise you’re never gonna pass the quiz. In the back, some guy has given up hope and is fast asleep. And you don’t blame him.

(If you’ve never had one of those classes, you’re lucky. And if you think there’s nothing wrong with teaching that way…well, read this all the way through.)

The fundamental problem here is…delivery of information. You (as the instructor) may think that you have WAY too much material in your course to “take it slow” or “go easy.” But you’d be surprised the amount of effort a student will have in a class that they connect with you. Every student has those classes that they love (and those that they hate). Not every beloved class is an “easy” class. The devotion to excelling comes from an innate desire to prove capability; and in class, when your students feel like they’re not fighting an uphill battle or being force-fed information by someone who doesn’t care, then they’re more inclined to try.

Support point 1: Scholarly articles

    1. “Relationships Matter: Linking Teacher Support to Student Engagement and Achievement” by Adena M. Klem & James P. Connell (2004)
    2. “Motivation in the classroom: Reciprocal effects of teacher behavior and student engagement across the school year.” by Ellen A. Skinner & Michael J. Belmont (1993)
    3. A Comparative Analysis of Student Motivation in Traditional Classroom and E-Learning Courses” by Alfred P. Rovai, Michael K. Ponton, Mervyn J. Wighting, & Jason D. Baker (2007)

Now, some of these studies are on young children, but why should the concepts that applied then not apply now? And one of these is from 1993! These aren’t new ideas, but it can be difficult to implement them. Especially online.

Connection Established

In our connected society, where online dating is commonplace and social media is pervasive, most people have grown accustomed to online interactions with other people. But one place where it happens to fall short sometimes is in online education. I’ve heard numerous students say (and I myself said this when I was a student as well) that it feels like “there’s not really a teacher. It’s like I’m having to do it all alone.” Content that is just copied and pasted in from one course to another feels very “cookie cutter-ish” and doesn’t have that feeling of actually working with an instructor, learning from them. And in instances where courses have to be copied over from Master Courses, it helps to use the tools built into the technology in order to try and bridge that electronic divide we call Online Courses. So how do we do it, and what are the tools we can use?

Replace Strings

Replace Strings are one of the simplest tools available in eLearn. And they look like bits of code, but when they’re used properly, they let you do some really handy misdirection in a positive manner.

For example, if you’re making a new Content Topic or News Item (or even a message in Course Mail, which makes bulk messages SO much easier), you can start the conversation off with “Hello, {Firstname}!” and to you that might look weird as you write it. But to eLearn, that’s a cue. And when a student goes to view the item, eLearn takes its cue and works some magic, showing that student his first name instead of the cue code itself. Even we are working to use Replace Strings to help get students accustomed to the different pieces of information they’ll need at Vol State.

Intelligent Agents

No, I’m not going to start spouting off The Matrix quotes (…Mr. Anderson).

“An intelligent agent is a software that assists people and acts on their behalf. Intelligent agents work by allowing people to delegate work that they could have done, to the agent software.” – Source: Hanh Tran & Thaovy Tran

In eLearn, you can set up an Intelligent Agent to monitor a course for parameters you set. From keeping an eye on student grades (and emailing them automatically alerting them – or you) to sending messages to students once they access a certain content topic. Imagine setting up a course like an adventure; going from one module to another in a scavenger hunt, getting clues messaged to them as they get closer to the prize. When used in tandem with Replace Strings, you can fully automate an entire section of your course while still giving it the feel of direct interaction.

Check out D2L’s Brightspace Community for more info on Intelligent Agents, Replace Strings, and more! Or, contact us by email at and I’ll show you how it works.