One of my many different freelance roles is a tutor for MOL who is the partner for the CIPD’s Flexi Plus Learning System. This learning programme is designed to offer students a blended learning experience, combining face to face workshops with workbooks and then an on line environment.

Over the last two years I have been developing ways to support my students to become more engaged with on line learning as I have grown to recognise that it is the learning facilitator and not the technology that determines engagement.

These are my main learning points:

Be Pro-active

As a tutor I need to be pro-active in the use of the various elements involved in the learning process. If I want a discussion to be started relating to one of our workshops then I will not only set the question but I will often supply an example of practice to demonstrate the point.

Don’t be a Lurker

I encourage the participants to comment as well as reading entries and I role model this by making comments on the discussion boards and the on line blogs. I do more of this at the beginning and then let the participants take over. I combine this with advice to the participants to participate and “don’t be a lurker”

Set Expectations

By the end of two months of the programme beginning I have set an expectation that I expect each participant to have written their personal learning blog, added a comment on the suggestion box/or made a suggestion and made a comment on the discussion board. I brief students on this commitment and then track them against this commitment and remind them about it during a telephone tutorial before the end of this two month period. This ensures that everyone has written something on both the private and public parts of the learning environment.

Be Passionate

I express enthusiasm for the element of the programme that will be conducted on line, I encourage the students to embrace this as an opportunity to learn and share on best practice outside of the classroom environment.

Provide a Learning Reason

In addition to the benefits of on line learning from their peers I also suggest to the participants that they will learn about elearning by personal experience. They will be much better able to contribute to discussions in their organisation about the use of virtual learning environments from the users’ perspective if they have had more than just a theoretical experience. I make a benefit of the slightly clunky nature of the Blackboard backend to our virtual classroom because this will make them better purchasers of any system, they can ask better questions of the technology providers.

I have now got a tipping point with my groups on the Certificate programme; they are now driving the virtual learning environment forward without loads of effort from me. I am starting to notice comments from them about this being a valuable part of the blended programme. I am looking forward to developing and involving them even further as my own skills and experience develop. I would love to hear about other tips of how you have got engagement in the virtual world.