In person, we often take listening for granted as something natural and effortless. In a traditional classroom setting, the learner shows they are listening in more concrete ways: whether it’s eye contact with the instructor, spontaneous responses to peer insights, or nodding off towards the end of a lecture, a learner is always sending physical cues about their attentiveness in the classroom.

The digital classroom comes with its own set of challenges when it comes to active listening, primarily since the devices students learn on often double as the culprits of their distraction. Since accountability may become less visible in a digital setting, it becomes even more important for the learner to be engaged with their environment in order to get the most out of their online learning experience. As Dorie Clark, adjunct professor at Fuqua School of Business and author of “Entrepreneurial You”, describes:

“If you’ve been listening in a cursory fashion for years, you might not even realize it, but the information you’re taking in might only be the surface–the tip of the iceberg.”

Developing listening skills in the digital learning environment has become a vital skill for the learner to master (and for the instructor to facilitate). Without it, learners only gain access to the surface level of information. Here are 5 ways to enhance learner listening in your online courses:

1. Establish your visibility

To a learner coming from traditional instruction, e-learning can feel distant and stiff at first. Although a learner may be aware of the supportive community and leadership available for them to access throughout their course, it can sometimes be helpful to remind them that you are there on the other side of the screen, perhaps through a form of videoconferencing. Giving learners the chance to connect a face to a name lets them establish a more personal connection with their mentors. This connection sets the stage for a more dynamic learning environment and gives the learner some initial momentum to feel comfortable engaging with their community. Additionally, it is the live component which sets the expectation for active listening. One way to establish your visibility early on in a course is through a kick-off webinar. This live interaction offers a blended learning environment, which is in the spirit of what a traditional learner is used to.

2. Provide feedback

Individualized feedback is critical to boosting accomplishment. When learners receive personal feedback, they are able to develop and iterate on ideas to their full potential. The initial validation from a facilitator or mentor will allow learners to feel more empowered in shaping their opinions, so that they feel confident to continue contributing. The empowerment may even encourage them to give feedback to their peers, as well! The feedback learners receive from their peers and their mentors makes them feel heard, which inspires them to actively listen so that they can give feedback in return.

3. Make space for communal discussion

Perhaps an even more effective way to instill this confidence in your learners is to build a community where peer-to-peer exchange is the standard. Having collaborative discussions all start with helping your learners feel welcomed and heard. Learners are more likely to listen to each other in a community that encourages the exchange of new thoughts. It takes a bit of effort to build an online community, but the result is well worth it.

4. Establish clear learning objectives

When a learner goes into a course knowing what they want to achieve, but not knowing what steps they need to take to get there, they can feel overwhelmed by the sea of content in front of them. Giving them a clear list of the big topics that will be covered enables them to know what to listen for when the topic comes up. Minimizing abstraction wherever possible allows the learner to feel like the end goal they are striving towards is achievable. When milestones are visible, learners are more empowered to listen deeply since they know exactly how to get to what they are striving for.

5. Link subject matter to prior knowledge

Incorporating activities that allow learners to access prior knowledge creates an all-important connection that what they are learning is 1) significant and 2) relevant. Learners are more likely to listen actively when they are able to associate new concepts to ones they have been exposed to previously. Additionally, linking content to a learner’s existing knowledge makes new information more meaningful to the learner. When retrieval opportunities for high-level concepts are spaced throughout a learning session, as opposed to a “one-and-done” strategy, learners are more likely to remember them long-term.

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If you enjoyed this content, be sure to read about how to build an Online Learning Community in our other article.