How Digital Curriculum Helps Engage and Motivate Students to Persist and Progress

By Jean Sharp, Vice President of Content Development

For non-traditional students, outside factors can often interfere with a student’s learning in a traditional brick and mortar setting. Digital curriculum can be an empowering experience for these students. In traditional teacher-centered classrooms, non-traditional students often indicate that they have little control over their learning. In a digital curriculum environment, however, they are often better able to make choices over the path and pace of their learning. Digital content simply affords options for non-traditional students that often better meet their learning needs.

Who is the Non-traditional Student?

Let’s take a moment to discuss what we mean by a “non-traditional student.” In the broadest sense, a non-traditional student is one who would benefit from gaining more control over the time, place, path and pace of their instruction. Some factors that commonly affect non-traditional students include:

  • The student has to work to contribute to the family, and that schedule interferes with their ability to attend class or complete homework.
  • The student has to help provide care for siblings, parents, or perhaps their own children, and that responsibility is at odds with the school day.
  • The student needs more time to learn certain concepts and skills, but the classroom teacher is moving on to the next lesson tomorrow.
  • The student already knows this “stuff” and is “wasting time” learning it again.
  • The student would benefit from doing an assessment first to demonstrate what they already know, but the teacher requires them to do all the assignments.

 

Guidelines for Effective Lesson Delivery

Implementations vary widely depending on the program and the circumstances under which students are engaged in digital content. However, several simple guidelines can lead to success:

Engage with the content to prepare for success on assessments.
In Apex Learning comprehensive courses, we provide Study Guides that support guided note-taking through direct instruction. We have consistently found that students who complete Study Guides as a strategy for engaging in learning and determining key takeaways in the direct instruction frequently demonstrate mastery on their formative assessments in fewer attempts.  In other words, because the students are prepared, their path through the learning is more efficient overall.  In contrast, students who do not prepare themselves for success often “churn” with assessments, needing to complete them more times to achieve mastery.

If students are taking the course for credit recovery, consider the prescriptive course version.
Prescriptive course versions offer unit-by-unit pre-tests, which provide an opportunity for students to demonstrate what they already know about a particular topic. The prescriptive pre-tests result in a personal learning pathway that assigns activities for the student to complete based on his/her demonstrated results.

Develop good habits of learning.
Students must develop good habits of learning if they are to succeed with digital content. Students in non-traditional settings are often behind in credits and have some skill deficits as well. Here are a few strategies that have resulted in good outcomes:

  1. Help students set goals for the course, for the day, or for the week. Setting goals is one way in which students can take control over their learning.
  2. Many students find it is helpful to focus on one or two courses at a time. In traditional classroom environments, non-traditional students may struggle with the course load. By concentrating on fewer courses at a time, students can better focus and make progress faster than the traditional 18 week semesters.
  3. Persistence is key. Students working in digital curriculum need to “stick with it” and develop strategies for overcoming obstacles they may encounter in the learning process. 

 

Learn how to seek help to keep learning progressing forward.
Students benefit from supportive relationships with caring adults as they journey through their courses. Non-traditional students benefit from being explicitly taught how to utilize these resources. This could be as simple as accessing supports and scaffolds that are built into comprehensive courses to make grade level content accessible. Or, it could involve asking supportive adults who serve as learning coaches and mentors when the content is difficult to understand. 

 

Relatable Content

Non-traditional learners are capable learners; they simply need different ways in which to learn. Because Apex Learning’s courses are developed to cover the content that students need to master, and because we provide students with supports and scaffolds to access that content and learn from it, we believe that our non-traditional students can and will be successful in our content.

Students appreciate the fact that we don’t water down the curriculum because they can’t do the work. Instead, we provide tools, supports, and good instructional design to make the content assessable, meaningful, and relevant. For example:

  • The learning is designed with clear takeaways.
  • The instruction focuses on what students need to learn and do.
  • Instruction is chunked in ways that make learning clear.
  • The curriculum is designed to actively engage students in the content. In other words, students are not simply reading the page or watching a video presentation but are actually doing an activity to learn.
    For example, many of our courses require projects or performance tasks which allow students to bring together what they’ve been learning into a larger focus. Often times, these activities are required by the standards. In our approach, we walk students through a performance task or project, direct them to resources, provide modeled responses, and offer clear rubrics to demonstrate what success looks like.
  • Supports and scaffolds are built in at the point of instruction where they would be most helpful to students, making on-grade-level content accessible. 

 

The Role of the Educator

You may have heard the saying, “I don’t care how much you know until I know how much you care.” From my experience, this is the truth of our non-traditional students. These students benefit from relationships with caring and supportive adults who will help and not judge them. I find that most educators in a non-traditional classroom environment have to care as much about their students as they do about their subject matter.

The most effective and successful teachers I have observed in non-traditional learning environments, know their students. They encourage, emphasize, and can cut them a little slack when life bumps up against the classroom.  They set clear expectations for their students. They offer more than one path to get there. And, they coach! They view their role as both a learning coach and mentor. Sure, they can answer the subject matter questions, but they are particularly effective at helping students believe in themselves as learners. In the years I’ve spent in alternative education environments, I remember teachers who were tough but compassionate. These teachers had a way of seeing the potential in these students who had stopped believing in themselves. They also understood that small successes were first steps in reengaging in learning. 

Digital curriculum provides options to non-traditional students that better support their learning needs. There are many reasons why non-traditional students are not thriving in a traditional brick and mortar setting. In a digital curriculum environment, students are able to take control of their learning and find a path towards success.

 

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