While on-line teaching is increasing, it presents challenges for many students who find it more difficult to organise their studies and engage with their learning. A proactive strategy embraced by some higher education on-line teachers is to increase students’ engagement by “nudging”, particularly low or non-engaged, students. A nudge is an attempt to alter students’ behaviour by reinforcing the importance of critical content, assessment-linked activities, or key resources.

A nudge works best by following a ‘nudge protocol’ that includes:

* determining what to nudge (a key resource or activity)

* promoting a key resource to the whole student cohort

* identifying who to nudge (those students who have not accessed the resource at a particular point in time), and

* constructing and sending a “strength based” communication to the identified students.

However the overuse of nudging can be perceived as a “nag” by students, negating its potential impact. Research conducted at the University of Southern Queensland found that some students who receive multiple and/or frequent nudges experience feelings of being overwhelmed. This could also be the case for nudges that adopt a punitive or discouraging tone. Such communication could intensify students’ “tuning out”, leading to potential ‘online engagement fatigue’.

There is, therefore, a fine line between nudging and nagging in supporting students’ on-line engagement.

To help mitigate this nudge-nag conundrum, it is important for teachers to consider three key points.

First, restrict the number of resources nudged to a single item per week.

Second, obey the adage that “less is better than more”, by minimising the number of nudges to one per week for the first five weeks of study.

Finally, it is important to carefully express the nudge so that the language used is respectful, considered and focussed.

In this way, nudging remains a proactive strategy for supporting students’ on-line engagement by altering their behaviour. Nudging aids them to become more motivated and active learners. It assists students to manage their workload more effectively, engage with content essential for their assessment, and demonstrate increased self-efficacy. These are all important levers for progression and retention. A win-win situation for both on-line teachers and students.

Dr Alice Brown, School of Education, Faculty of Business, Education, Law and Arts, University of Southern Queensland [email protected] Her research and publications focus on online student engagement in HE. @DrAMTBrown Linkedin: Dr Alice Brown

Professor Jill Lawrence, Head of School, School of Humanities and Communication, University of Southern Queensland [email protected] Her research interests include student engagement, the first year experience, higher education and cross-cultural communication. @jilllawrence5 Linkedin: jill-lawrence-48135868



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