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Ladders, pyramids and student engagement

October 22, 2013
Armstein's ladder of participation

Ladder of citizen participation

I recently attended a presentation by two people who had been deeply involved in a political campaign. They talked about using social media to move people up a metaphorical ladder of involvement (at right) in electing their candidate. What caught my attention was that they referred to citizen participation as engagement, and we all know that student engagement is the educator’s holy grail.

It was not hard to think of ways to apply this metaphor to learning, so I began searching the Internet to see if others had already done so.

Li's engagement pyramid

Engagement pyramid

Instead of pedagogy I found another typology from the field of marketing. Charlene Li’s “Social Engagement Pyramid” shows increasing levels of online customer activity. Li found in 2010 that 78% of people in the USA were engaged at the basic level of watching (does that mean that 22% did nothing at all?). 26% produced some kind of content and fewer than 1% curated a collection of content.

Although it doesn’t apply directly to student engagement, this will be a useful model to share with the students in my multimedia course.

How might we visualize levels of student engagement in a learning activity? It may not be as simple as a one-dimensional ladder or pyramid; we would probably want to account for multiple factors, such as:

  • Direction: who is in control, the instructor or the students?
  • Substance: is it meaningful or contrived?
  • Realism: are students in the real world, in a simulation, or is there no connection?
  • Production: are students making/writing/speaking or consuming/listening/watching?

Active Learning - KolbThe model at right, developed at BYU, is the closest thing I have found. It maps Kolb’s learning dimensions against levels of active learning, including representative activities along a continuum.

What do you think? Do good models exist? What else would you add? How would you visualize student engagement?


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