Online Education

Under what conditions do digital tools help students succeed?

To feel competent, autonomous and socially integrated: these are the three basic needs of students that we must meet if we want them to be able to learn effectively. In any case, the psychology of education teaches us this, and these needs contribute to the motivation and well-being of students.

The closure of universities and educational institutions during the Covid-19 pandemic has caused a massive use of digital tools in teaching and learning. At the end of this period, teachers did not put aside these computer tools and skills. On the contrary, hybrid education (combining face-to-face and online activities), which has been gaining momentum for several years, has become even more established in the university environment.

What adjustments are needed to continue to meet student expectations? How can digital tools meet their needs and support their success?

to feel competent

Research has long shown the positive impact of formative feedback, that is, feedback that aims to inform students of their level rather than to grade or evaluate them. This feedback can be provided after exercises, assignments or activities completed in the course, and digital tools allow them to be automated. For example, it is possible to implement MCQs, supplementary exercises, association or classification exercises and provide feedback to students based on their answers.

Feedback can include a correct answer with an explanation or additional information, but it can also refer students to specific parts of the course. They are all the more effective because they contain information.



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This approach allows students to become aware of the gaps that exist between targeted learning objectives and their current state of knowledge and guides them in the steps to take to fill those gaps. Formative feedback therefore enhances self-regulation and enables students to manage their own learning. They can thus observe their progress through assessments without an academic stake, and research shows that this mechanism can promote positive perceptions of their skills.

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Offering students this type of online activity also transforms their relationship to error. Students are less afraid of making mistakes when practicing online because when they make a mistake, it’s easier for them to go back and start over, over and over again. Moreover, receiving negative feedback from the machine rather than the teacher somehow erases the associated social pressure. Under these conditions, making mistakes would have little detrimental effect on students’ sense of competence.

Feel autonomous

Studies suggest that to satisfy this need for autonomy, it is necessary to mobilize students’ intrinsic motivation, especially by emphasizing interest in the taught content, encouraging deep understanding of it, and explaining the context with professional practice. Again, digital tools can support this sense of accomplishment by personal choice, not coercion. So teachers can consider:

  • provide students with management tools – calendar, timetable, automatic reminders – allowing them to keep track of the course and structure their learning;

  • make essential resources available from the start of the course – allowing them to work and progress at their own pace;

  • allow students to record traces of their learning – ePortfolios, the possibility of annotating documents, highlighting them, adding bookmarks, etc.

  • provide personalized learning plans based on student knowledge – individualization or differentiation of learning.

A track that can also be explored is the implementation of gamification elements in lessons, such as levels to be achieved or challenges… In gamified devices, students tend to choose more challenging tasks and submit work of higher quality, which reflects greater intrinsic motivation.

To feel socially integrated

Students and teachers sorely missed out on human-to-human exchanges during the pandemic-induced school closures, and digital interactions ended up doing very little to compensate for the lack of face-to-face interactions. When the teachers taught via video conference, they “felt like they were speaking into a vacuum”: most students cut off the camera and microphone, uncomfortable with the idea of ​​showing up in front of all the other students. .

Digital can expand the conversation beyond the classroom.
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However, in the context of hybrid teaching, digital tools can be a way to extend or even generate face-to-face interactions, especially when teachers are addressing large groups of students. Joint tasks, organizing discussions, implementing projects or tutoring activities are activities that are difficult to organize in groups with more than fifty students.

On the other hand, these activities can be facilitated by the use of various tools: collaborative spaces with shared documents, instant discussion channels allowing the exchange of text, voice or video, asynchronous discussion forums.

In addition to their own interest, setting up this type of activity and offering remote interaction allows students to integrate and belong to a group – a promotion, a work group or even a group of friends. Although it takes place primarily face-to-face, the need for social closeness can thus be reinforced in various ways.

Obstacles to consider

Research allows identifying ways to support students’ needs, but also raises tensions related to transformations in teaching practices. Even before multiple links, teachers’ reluctance to use digital tools was very present.

Teachers are not necessarily trained in these tools and develop a low sense of self-efficacy regarding their use and computing in general. In some cases, they are not aware of their usefulness. This sentiment, coupled with sometimes disastrous experiences during the pandemic, only weakens teachers’ use of technology.

Despite everything, 60% of teachers (40% in Belgium, 45% in France) receive professional training on the use of digital tools, which shows that, despite obstacles, teachers are taking responsibility for their professional development in this area.

If we still doubt it, the “digital natives”, these young people who have not known a world without the Internet, are not naturally gifted with special computer skills. Even if they have access to the necessary material, they sometimes lack instrumental skills (effective use) or strategic skills (searching, sorting and evaluating information). Thus, the use of digital tools in the classroom requires taking into account their basic needs, but also guiding them in their use. Showing students how to navigate institutional platforms to access exercises and resources will save them time and frustration.



Read more: Debate: Why digital should be taught at school


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