CAREER COLLEGE CENTRAL: Online Learning = Distracted Learning (Part 1 of 2)

More students than ever are taking online classes for college credit. However, many of them are also dropping those classes at an alarming rate. If you were to scan websites and marketing materials from companies in the space you’d think the problems didn’t exist or have already been solved. Not quite. Many platforms and tools simply collect links to web sites, files, or who knows what – so instead of driving focused learning they are adding to the distractions and a distracted student can quickly become a disengaged student.

Today the majority of college students are non-traditional. Many are part-time, commuters, have jobs, families, and obligations outside of their coursework. The last thing they need are more distractions. But if you’ve had the opportunity to walk through a course built in either an LMS or a typical publishers platform you’ll see an experience significantly less intuitive and in stark contrast to the applications students use on a daily basis, like Instagram, Snapchat or Facebook. As one student recently told me “I was afraid when I had missed the training [for Junction], normally I have to sit through training in class, then go through training online and then Google the parts of the training I didn’t understand.”. Faculty using these platforms often have to sit through hours, or days of “professional development” just to learn the basics of rostering and gradebooks. And while faculty are provided dedicated support, students are given a quick tutorial and left to sink or swim.

Much of the distraction comes from the “one-size-fits-all” approach of most platforms. A list of links and poorly formatted texts meant to comprise a course is the perfect recipe for a distracted student. We all know when you send a student to an external YouTube link, it is basically an engraved invitation to spend the next hour watching lip sync battles, sports highlights and cat videos. And you’ve just lost your student.

The problem of distracted learning is very real. Online learning is not going away and a concerted effort from EdTech companies working with faculty and administration can help to eliminate some of the problems facing current online students. Students have enough self-inflicted distractions without technology companies adding to that. We should be here to help focus, engage and enable, not get in the way. 

Liz Weir is Senior Director of Sales at Junction Education, an edtech startup building the next generation flexible courseware platform. 

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