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14 Ways To Engage Online Learners, per Dr. Curt Bonk Champion of online engagement speaks to NLU profs

160204-Curt-Bonk-21 Curt Bonk, Ph.D., is on a crusade against boredom, for both students and instructors, in online and blended courses. He brought that crusade to NLU Thursday to share with professors, offering them lots of practical techniques they can use right away in online instruction.

After getting fed up with poorly-designed courses that lulled students to sleep, Bonk, a professor at Indiana University, put his background at the intersection of business, education, technology and psychology to work to design better online learning techniques.

160204-Curt-Bonk-36As an advocate of blended learning, he cited the Stanford University study which concluded that students in online courses learned more than students in face to face courses, with those online courses having a face to face element (i.e., blended learning) creating the greatest learning of all.

Bonk offered the 35 NLU instructors in attendance, and greater numbers teleconferencing in, two different models for creating engagement and better learning experiences in online teaching. He calls the first TEC-VARIETY, and the second R2D2.

The TEC-VARIETY model includes:

Tone/Climate: Set a tone in which learners feel safe and comfortable. Bonk recommends icebreaker activities such as a video from the instructor, and, a tool which allows someone to ask a question and respondents to answer on video.

Encouragement and Feedback: Use polls, such as on, to encourage students’ feedback.

Curiosity: Fire students’ imaginations by including links to interesting news and videos about the topic.

Variety: Use to randomize who is going to present, or what is going to be presented. Bonk uses it to randomize the order of his lectures, so that he doesn’t give the same course in the same order every time. He says it keeps his teaching from getting stale.

Autonomy: Bonk encourages students to consult and other learning sites.

Relevance: Have students Skype with guest experts or peers from another country or school, or visit one of the Internet’s countless data sites, such as on-demand weather maps, census records, etc., to establish relevance of the material to the real world.

Interactivity: Students can collaborate on PiratePad, which Bonk said is easier to use than Google Docs, although that is also a vehicle students can use to collaborate on a document.

Engagement: Try using simulations and games, or let students try things out in a virtual lab, to stimulate engagement. Interactive timeline maps are a great idea to let students compress lots of data into an engaging map. For example, one version of the map could show the U.S. population in 1870, and where people lived; the second version could show today’s population and where people live, plotted on the map. Try for collaboration.

Tension: Create some challenge; get students into debate.

Yielding Products: Ambitious students can write books and upload them on Bonk said one student told him the class wasn’t challenging enough, and asked if he could publish a book. Another student created a mobile app to explain Bonk’s course to future students; still another created a documentary.

The other model, R2D2, stands for:

Reading (both on the printed page and in recorded audio, for Visual and Auditory learners) This focuses on having learners acquire knowledge through readings, podcasts, etc.

Reflecting (for reflective and observational learners) Learners reflect on the content, and check their understanding through means such as blogging and online practice tests.

Displaying (for visual learners) Learners create timelines, concept maps, flowcharts and videos for the instructor and others to view and discuss.

Doing (for hands-on learners) Learners resolve cases, solve problems in a simulation, or post a report.

The activities help learners comprehend the knowledge and make it more meaningful and personally rewarding.

The slides Bonk used in the presentation, and many more resources, can be viewed here:

Slides for NLU presentation Feb. 4.

Tec-Variety website, including free book download

Bonk’s homepage and resources

Curt Bonk’s Bio

Curt Bonk is Professor at Indiana University teaching psychology and technology courses and President of CourseShare. Drawing on his background as a corporate controller, CPA, educational psychologist, and instructional technologist, Bonk offers unique insights into the intersection of business, education, psychology, and technology. He received the CyberStar Award from the Indiana Information Technology Association, the Most Outstanding Achievement Award from the U.S. Distance Learning Association, the Most Innovative Teaching in a Distance Education Program Award from the State of Indiana, and, in 2014, the Wedemeyer Award for Outstanding Practitioner in Distance Education. A well-known authority on emerging technologies for learning, Bonk has authored several widely used technology books, including The World Is Open: How Web Technology Is Revolutionizing Education (2009), Empowering Online Learning: 100+ Activities for Reading, Reflecting, Displaying, and Doing (2008), The Handbook of Blended Learning (2006), and Electronic Collaborators (1998). His recent book, Adding Some TEC-VARIETY: 100+ Activities for Motivating and Retaining Learners Online (2014), is freely available to download as an eBook at in Chinese as well as English. And his latest book with Routledge, MOOCs and Open Education Around the World, as well as a special issue of the International Journal on E-Learning on the same topic both came out in July 2015 (see See Bonk’s homepage for his archived talks and Web resources at: Curt can be contacted at: or