Proactive vs. Reactive Communication with Students Online

eLearning, Instructional Design

In a recent blog post, we talked about how gamifying a client’s Learning Management System (LMS) led to a 260% increase in student activity (see the case study here). However, in that case study, we mentioned that it was something else, not gamification, that led to the biggest increases in student participation… and that was something much less trendy and much less technologically advanced. It was simple “proactive” rather than “reactive” teacher/student communication.


With proactive communication, the responsibility of initiating contact with a student in an online learning environment falls on the shoulders of the teacher (or learning institution). With, reactive communication on the other hand, the teacher will primarily only respond to student-initiated comments or questions.


After reading the book “Motivating and Retaining Online Students: Research-Based Strategies That Work” by Rosemary M. Lehman (Ph.D.) we decide to test the impact that implementing a proactive rather than reactive communication strategy would have on overall student engagement results. But first we needed to find a client who was ONLY using reactive communication with their online student population.


One of our clients volunteered for this experiment. They told us that “In the past, we put a lot of the responsibility of the community in the students’ hands. However, we didn’t realize that we didn’t really give our students much incentive to be part of that community. We just gave them the platform and walked away. The community existed as a good idea in an abstract sense [to us] but it never really started to take off until we made it our responsibility and not our students”.


So we got to work on this client’s site and we set up a system of communication where they became a much more active voice in their own online community. They posted questions, started conversations, created case studies and introduced students to each other who had similar interests. The result? A 1200% increase in student participation!


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