February 18th, 2019 E-Learning

Learner-generated content is a great way to flip the classroom and engage students.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the amount of content you’re producing for your online course, it may interest you to know that there’s another way. Your learners themselves can generate course content, and doing so is likely to lead to better outcomes.

Of course, the purpose of learner-generated content isn’t to offload your job onto you learners. Instead, it’s to look for ways of turning what is often a passive role into an active one. Where before learners simply had to read your course lessons and watch videos, content generation puts them in a creative position. Now they not only have to put what they learned to use, but they must do so accurately and authoritatively.

Wondering what user-generated content looks like in action? Here are a few ways you can encourage and facilitate your learners as they dive deeper into your subject matter.

1. Make your forum a central part of your online course.

As we’ve discussed previously, online forums are a great way to build a community around your course. But far too often they’re treated as an optional space for learners to hang out if they have nothing better to do. After a while, the lack of posting and updates makes the whole forum look like a graveyard of dead conversations rather than a lively center for discussion.

If you’re lucky, a few friendly and engaged learners might take initiative and keep the conversations going, but even the most willing learner usually needs motivation to re-engage, given the external pressures of family, friends, and work.

However, you can encourage learners to take greater part in the discussions by including them in class assignments, and by participating in discussions yourself. Since learners have invested in the course to gain from your expertise, responding to and prompting further conversation in the forums is a great stimulus.

2. Assign learners to lead online discussions.

Of course, if you’re the main voice leading the forum, the content isn’t exactly “learner-generated.” For that, you’ll need the learners themselves to take a hand in starting class discussion.

One way to do this is to ask individual learners to take charge of a discussion. Depending on the number of learners, lessons, and topics with in a lesson, you could divide the responsibility any number of ways. And if learners are able to choose which discussions they lead—and during which weeks—it will lead to better outcomes, because they will be able to shape their discussions around both interest and availability.

When you ask a learner to lead a forum discussion, it will be helpful to give them some guidelines about what you expect and how they can succeed. For instance, you can ask them to post a few paragraphs about the lesson, and then respond at least once to each learner who comments.

It’s also important to sell your learners on the importance of participating in forum discussions. If they understand that taking part will help them achieve their educational goals, they’ll be more enthusiastic about participating than they would if they consider it mere busy work.

3. Encourage your learners to write their own blogs.

A more intense assignment for your learners might be to ask each to start their own blog and post weekly about what they’ve learned. This places a greater time commitment on learners, but the payoff is incredible.

Writing about at topic requires the learner not only to have read about it, but to have understood it well enough to rephrase and pass on to others. And as an instructor, reading what learners have written gives a much clearer picture into what they’ve understood than any quiz or test could do.

Furthermore, blogs can give learners a tremendous sense of accomplishment. By the time they finish their course, they will have a series of articles written chronicling their progress. And if encourage learners to comment on each other’s posts—or comment on them in the forums—it can be another way to grow participation among learners.

4. Create a place for learners to share news, articles, and essays.

Finally, even if your learners aren’t generating original content themselves, giving them a place to share the content they find elsewhere is another way to promote discussion. For instance, you could ask each learner to go find an article relevant to the weekly lesson, then start a thread in the discussion forum to share the article, along with their own thoughts about it.

Doing so will keep learners on the alert throughout the week for articles that might be worth sharing, and that in turn will keep your lesson content top of mind.

Flipped content generation gives your students agency over their learning experience.

In a sense, flipped classrooms and learner-generated content are nothing new. After all, Socrates was famous for a teaching style that focused on question and answer, where it was the learner’s role to produce theories and arguments, and the instructor’s role to challenge and question them.

This collaborative discussion style is a teaching approach that has been adapted across centuries, and it’s only natural to find it used so frequently online. Communities have formed around forums and discussion boards since the earliest days of the Internet as a way for like-minded people to discuss shared interests together.

In fact, their general popularity gives online instructors a distinct advantage, because it means most users are familiar with the format. If it can work on Facebook and Reddit, there’s no reason it can’t work for your course, too.

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