ILO Research Explores How Students are Engaged in Online Learning

Since its launch in 2014, the Iowa Learning Online (ILO) team has continued its research into best practices in online course content, instruction and program operations. In 2016, Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Midwest researchers provided technical assistance to ILO staff to investigate student engagement data from online courses to determine best practices for supporting student success.

The project used anonymized student data from ILO’s learning management system to identify student engagement patterns in online courses during the Fall 2015 semester. Although an imperfect measure of student engagement, for purposes of this research “engagement” was measured and defined as “clicks” within the enrolled course. The research goal was to determine whether these patterns were associated with students’ performance in their online course.

Research indicated the following key findings:

  1. ILO students exhibited five distinct engagement patterns in both core and world language courses, as measured via “clicking” activity:
    • Passive attrition: Moderate activity at the beginning of the course, with gradual decrease in activity through the term. Despite intervention, these students were no longer meaningfully engaged in the course after midterm.
    • Minimal clicking: Consistent level of low activity throughout semester.
    • Moderate clicking: Consistent level of moderate activity throughout the semester.
    • Elevated clicking: High level of activity in the first five weeks of the term, then slowly decreasing  by the end of the semester.  
    • Mid-course elevated clicking: Low level of activity to begin the term, then quickly rising in the middle of the term, until decreasing to a moderate amount of activity by the end of the semester.
  2. Overall, significant associations were found between online course engagement, as measured by ILO students’ clicking activity and final course grades.
  3. Of ILO students enrolled in courses during the research period, 90 percent successfully completed their courses.
  4. On average, ILO students that consistently engaged in their online courses, with even a moderate level of activity, completed their courses.

Conclusions & Recommendations

Students who show consistent engagement throughout the course term are more successful in the course than those who do not engage, decrease their engagement over time, or who delay their engagement until after the semester midterm.
ILO consultants can work with schools to identify early indicators of engagement patterns of students, and provide students with appropriate supports to increase engagement as needed.

Contact Cale Roe with questions about using available data and analytics to improve student engagement in their ILO online course.