One-Step Backward, Two Steps Forward: “Traditional” but Effective Methods that Optimize Student Engagement and Learning Effectiveness

Concurrent Session 2

Brief Abstract

In this discovery session, participants will explore ways to engage learners in today’s fast-paced and sometimes impersonal world of online education.  “Traditional” but effective methods that optimize student engagement and learning effectiveness will be shared and participants will be asked to share and dialogue about strategies that work for them.


Dr. Horning is an Assistant Professor at Pennsylvania College of Health Sciences and teaches in the Health Sciences Bachelors and Graduate Studies Department. Dr. Horning's content expertise lies in healthcare finance, quality, project management, and data analysis. She has experience teaching in accelerated online and blended formats, as well as traditional face-to-face classes. Prior to her faculty appointment, Dr. Horning served as Director of Operations Support for Penn Medicine/Lancaster General Health in Pennsylvania where she served on the Senior Operations Executive team, working mostly on projects involving strategic cost management, operational process improvement, operationalizing new services, and leadership transitions. She has also worked in family practice management, behavioral and mental health, and dental. Dr. Horning is an alumna of Walden University, The Pennsylvania State University, and Bentley College.

Extended Abstract

To accelerate forward, sometimes it is necessary to take a step backwards.  In today’s learning environment, students are being bombarded with an unprecedented amount of information.  However, access to information itself may not necessarily translate into an education that yields value.  Dewey (1916) described education as a social function, a learning community that interacts to transform information into knowledge that has value and personal application.  This transformation occurs through the learning community shaping, forming, molding, and building up the novice within its membership (Dewey, 1916).  As much as educators strive to develop activities and assessment methods to fulfill these learning community functions, there is no substitute for relationships. With fewer opportunities for students to engage in meaningful relationships with their peers and perhaps even the course instructor, a key piece of the education process appears missing.  How do we achieve real-time “presence” of relationships in a digitized learning environment?

The popularity and convenience of online education means that educators have to be responsive and adaptive to create opportunities for interaction in an otherwise and often one-dimensional environment of online learning.  And while course content, video lectures, discussion forums, and other very thoughtfully planned assessments are critical to ensure that program and course outcomes, weekly objectives, accreditation requirements, etc. are met, faculty must also be deliberate in creating an educational experience that contains rich student-to-student and student-to-faculty interactions, and student-to-other stakeholders interactions.  Dewey (1916) posited that education occurs indirectly through the environments educators create.  Therefore, he challenged educators to design purposeful environments so as not to leave the learning process to chance (Dewey, 1916).  I believe it is necessary for educators to reevaluate traditional strategies that have been effective in the past and adapt them to fit the needs of the modern educational environment.  Education runs the risk of becoming commoditized, if we do not embed rich relationships as an integral part of the learning experience.

In this discovery session, participants will explore ways to engage learners in today’s fast-paced and sometimes impersonal world of online education.  The presenter will share “traditional” but effective methods that optimize student engagement that have proven successful for her.  One example that will be shared is phoning students prior to an online course to welcome them, make introductions, ask if there are questions about the course, reiterate instructor availability for assistance, and simply associate voices with names.  A second strategy that will be shared is embedding “special events” into online courses.  Special events are being defined as optional on-campus opportunities for online students to engage with other course participants in a real-time, physical space.  A third strategy is to use on-campus tutoring for online courses.  The presenter will prepare a brief slide deck that will outline each strategy, followed by a reflection period of why/how the strategy used relationships to enhance learning effectiveness. Participants will also be asked to dialogue about whether they think the strategies could be effective for them and why.  The presenter will also iteratively ask for other suggestions or experiences that educators used in the past, prior to the boom of online learning, to see how those strategies can be adapted to the online setting.  Because each strategy is a micro-discussion, participants can flow in and out of the discovery session with ease.


Dewey, J. (1916). Democracy and education: An introduction to the philosophy of education. New York, NY: The Macmillan Company.