How Content Can Hinder Engagement and 2 Ways to Change It

Student engagement is the center of all student learning. If a student feels connected to a theme or subject, they develop a deep understanding of that material. This connection is what all educators and educational product creators work to create for all of their students.

But exactly why is student engagement the key to skill comprehension? And more importantly, what happens when that engagement is not met?

According to the University of Washington, student engagement is so important to learning because it increases student attention and focus. Also, if a student is truly engaged, they will become more likely to use their higher-level critical thinking skills. Independent use of higher-level skills promotes a deeper understanding and improves chances of retention.

Yet, with all of this information supporting the need for student engagement, the rate of disengagement in schools is still relatively high.

Causes of Student Disengagement

Many factors are involved when determining if, when, and why a student becomes disengaged and these issues are not isolated to the US. Student disengagement is such a concern, that possible factors are monitored on an international level.

In a report issued by the CASS Foundation of Australia, age is identified as an important first factor in disengagement. This identification is made based on information gathered by international researchers. The researchers discovered that students who disengage with school earlier in their education, at the middle school years, are more likely to “dropout.” Even more alarming is the discovery that high school “dropouts” can begin disengaging from learning as early as first grade.

In a study issued by Gallup, a poll of elementary through high school students found that as students get older, chances of disengagement increase. Based on the students polled, engagement dropped over 30% between elementary and high school age.

Although factors both inside and out of school arguably contribute to student disengagement, these rates should still be a wakeup call to education professionals. However, there is extensive research indicating that a student’s “connection” to his or her education is vital.

Causes of Student Disengagement

Although it is difficult to pinpoint a single reason students become disengaged, we do know some contributors. As we mentioned in a previous blog post, if students don’t find text relatable, they will find it less relevant. In other words, if students cannot “see” themselves in the content they are reading, they are more likely to disengage.

The CASS Foundation report previously mentioned also acknowledges the connection between relatable content and student engagement. In fact, it reports that curriculum that is irrelevant and lacking a connection to students is a key factor in disengagement.

Other factors in student disengagement include, but are not limited to, socio-economic status, language barriers, and student choice. These three factors strongly contribute to a student’s sense of self-worth, and can all be linked to the content a student is exposed to. Many studies show that students with a lack of self-esteem in school are more likely to disengage.

2 Ways to Make Content More Engaging

Although there are a number of theories and methods for improving student engagement, content also plays an important role. Choosing the right content as an educational tool can increase engagement and motivation.

One way content improves engagement is by being relatable to students. Relatable content is more likely to trigger an emotional response in the student.

As stated in a teaching guide written by Sarah Rose Cavanagh, emotions are designed to motivate behavior and draw attention. The more attention a student has on a subject, the more likely they are to remember it. This will lead to greater retention, deeper connection, and further motivation.

A second way to increase engagement through content is by providing variety. As mentioned, students want the ability to make more decisions when it comes to their education. This is not only true in older students. Younger students want to decide what they read and in what they participate.

Large libraries of content and assets provide students with a chance to make reading decisions. For this reason, it is essential to have a catalogue of different stories that cover similar concepts and themes. Students choose the content they relate to the most and feel more engaged in the process.

Although these concepts are only a few ways to spark student engagement, they are important to consider. Bridging the gap in engagement can begin to decrease high disengagement rates and help to keep students in schools.

In what ways have you found content useful with student engagement? We would love to hear about it! Tell us your story in the comment section.

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