31/05/2024 09:16 AM
Opinions on topical issues from thought leaders, columnists and editors.

By: Ts Dr Enna Ayub

The global shift to online education sparked by the COVID-19 pandemic ushered in an era of unprecedented technological innovation. While the mass of online learning has tapered down as most classes resume physically, how education can be delivered online to learners has substantially changed classes, trainings and workshops.

However, engagement fatigue among learners has emerged as a pressing concern. A 2023 article from the Times Higher Education reported students feeling overwhelmed with the content and disconnected from their peers. A critical question then emerges which practitioners need to ask ourselves, “Are we prioritising technology over the needs of learners?” Institutions need to understand the importance of prioritising designing the learning experience from students’ perspectives over technology.

While technology is the conduit of online education, it is the design of the learning experience that determines its efficacy. What needs to be at the forefront is to adopt a human-centric approach to course design, one that is empathic to the learners’ needs and quality of experience from the time they onboard a course until they finish the entire programme.

In line with this is the need to effectively engage students with meaningful discussions that will lead to impactful learning experiences rather than imitating discussion without facilitation from the instructors.

Over-reliance on technology-driven engagement strategies

Another common pitfall in online course design is the tendency to over-rely on technology-driven engagement strategies. For example, to keep students engaged while there is a lack of support resources in the institution, practitioners may resort to using unmoderated discussion forums. When this approach is used too often, it may lead to learners feeling undervalued when their posts do not garner any response from peers or the instructor’s team.

Additionally, designing courses that prioritises the adoption of new technologies with a heavy emphasis on completing a long list of tasks for the sake of tracking progress can exacerbate feelings of overwhelm. The irony is evident as the engagement strategies meant to enhance online learning contributes to online fatigue, which in the long run can impact student satisfaction and inadvertently affect attrition.

To tackle this, practitioners must strike a balance between engagement and cognitive load. This may involve incorporating opportunities for reflection and discussion selectively, while also providing ample time for independent self-paced learning and collaboration amongst peers.

It is necessary to recognise that online engagement strategies developed are not a one-size-fits-all proposition. Different students have different learning styles, preferences and needs. Therefore, a flexible and adaptable approach provides multiple avenues for engagement to accommodate diverse learning preferences.

Fostering a sense of connection and community

In an online learning environment where learners and instructors are remote from each other, fostering a sense of connection and community becomes paramount. Instructors should strive to create a supportive and inclusive learning environment where students feel a sense of belonging by being valued and respected.

Achieving this equilibrium of human-centric and new technology adoption demands meticulous planning and attention to detail to craft experiences that deeply resonate with learners. One of the frameworks of learning design that focuses on human connection at its core is the 5 Stage Model of eLearning by Gilly Salmon.

Designing a course without considering how learners will interact with the instructor, content and their peers in its early stages, risks leaving students feeling disconnected and unsatisfied. For example, never underestimate the importance of ice-breaking activities in online courses. These activities set the tone, establish expectations, and make learners feel welcome.

The goal of online education is not just to disseminate information but to foster deep learning and critical thinking skills. By prioritising design over technology and creating experiences that resonate with learners on a deeper level, practitioners can ensure that online education remains a transformative and empowering experience for all learners.


Ts. Dr Enna Ayub, a Learning Experience Design (LDX) expert in eLearning and design-based research, is the Director of the Digital Learning Experience at Taylor’s Digital, Taylor’s University.

(The views expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of BERNAMA)