Five learner-centred strategies to boost student engagement and retention.

by Jodie Young, Richard Dando


Five learner-centred strategies to boost student engagement and retention.

~ Student retention ~

OCTOBER 23rd 2018
Jodie Young
Richard Dando

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72% of the analysed teaching and learning strategies from universities outside of the current top 100* had retention as a key focus area. 

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Retaining through engaging

In our recent review of teaching and learning strategies from 50 universities across the globe, student retention featured at the heart of many of the strategies. 72% of strategies from universities outside of the current top 100 rankings had retention as a focus area, with this figure dropping to 50% for universities inside the top 100*. Reasons for student attrition are many and complex and student engagement is only one potential factor. It is, however, one area over which universities, arguably, have most control. In this post we identify three critical factors for promoting student engagement and our top five strategies for supporting learners to maximise their chances of completion and success.

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It’s vital that learners feel prepared and supported during all stages of their studies and have tools for reflecting on and sharing their experiences. Having a course-agnostic learning platform to help your learners record learning as and where it happens – curricular or extra-curricular – promotes a more cohesive university experience.

Strategy #1: Support learners in managing transitional experiences

Orientation, work integrated Learning, undertaking research, preparing for accreditation or seeking professional employment; these are common scenarios that can often leave learners unsettled and lacking in confidence. Embedding structured and personal reflection into the learning design can make a huge difference in helping learners make sense of these potentially challenging times. Educators can scaffold this process by creating prompts and frameworks for supporting and enhancing reflection. Encouraging learners to create blogs or journals containing images, audio and video, provides another avenue for personal reflection or sharing with a select audience for encouragement and feedback.

Image shows how students record and reflect in PebblePad's Learning Experience Platform

Recording and reflecting in PebblePad's Learning Experience Platform

Strategy #2: Give students ownership and control over their learning

Providing students with an active learning environment in which they can plan for, record, reflect, question, and challenge their learning is a great step towards ensuring genuine engagement. Giving learners the means to create their own templates to support the recording of any activity or experience in a format of their choice, or being able to build any number of showcase portfolios for the purpose and audience they need, allows autonomy and flexibility. PebblePad puts users in control of these 'learning assets', defaulting to private and secure with options for sharing and collaborating with peers, publishing to the web or submitting for feedback and assessment.

Image shows an art student's PebblePad Asset Store

An example of a student's digital 'Asset Store' in PebblePad

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Learners do best in an environment where they are able to form a good sense of themselves as learners – how they are progressing towards learning outcomes and goals, becoming aware of their preferred strategies and processes, the development of a professional identity. Helping students to evaluate their progress with specific goals in mind, and monitor their longitudinal development in one personal learning space, is a sure fire way to boost persistence and a sense of purpose. 

Strategy #3: Focus on assessment for learning in addition to assessment of learning

Learners who feel that they are working in partnership with their educational guides are more likely to engage as active participants in their own progress, and one of the most important aspects of supporting learner development is through assessment and feedback. Here at PebblePad, we believe the most powerful feedback is formative, meaningful, constructive and timely, so we’ve built an assessment engine – ATLAS – that supports these process as well as summative assessment and grading. And getting others involved in providing feedback and assessment couldn’t be easier. ATLAS allows external examiners to view and/or assess work on nominated workspaces, as well as peer review functionality to foster support and learning with a collegial focus. 

Image shows snapshot of PebblePad's assessment space - ATLAS

PebblePad's Integrated Assessment Space - ATLAS
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Strategy #4: Identify and support students at risk

Students in need of additional support can sometimes slip through the cracks. Having a system that provides real time insight into student work as it develops – even when the students are remotely located or on placement – allows for identification of learners who are disengaged or potentially at risk and enables early support and intervention. External supervisors or mentors can provide feedback and allow university faculty to be kept in the loop without waiting until the end of a placement period, creating a supportive framework for monitoring and assisting learners in need.

Image shows an example of a student's digital workbook in PebblePad

An example of a digital placement workbook created in PebblePad
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How can we help learners stay motivated? For us, here at PebblePad, we believe this is best achieved by encouraging students to manage their own learning and expectations of themselves, and by helping them to make connections in their learning through gathering evidence and creating stories of their learning journey and achievements.

Strategy #5: Allow students to track their development and showcase their achievements

Learners often ask questions such as ... Why am I learning this? How is this going to help me in my future career? Asking students to provide evidence of their skills development, and encouraging reflection on that evidence, helps students make connections between theory and practice, understand the relevance of their studies, and contributes to the development of professional identity. PebblePad supports learners to organise and engage more deeply with their learning by encouraging learners to tag their assets in order to connect evidence to key competencies, experiences, topics, timeframes, or any criteria the learner chooses. From here they can create collections or activity logs, or build portfolios to create narrative accounts of development and achievement to help them showcase the very best version of themselves as future-ready learners

Image shows an example of a digital portfolio created in PebblePad
An example of a digital portfolio being created in PebblePad
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If you're looking at ways to implement learner-centred initiatives to boost student engagement and retention, and you're keen to learn more about the kinds of features and functionality you might want to consider, then why not download a copy of our free technology comparison checklist?

PebblePad's Technology Comparison Checklist
Download your free copy


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* University ranking is taken from the 2017 published data from QS World University Rankings by Quacquarelli Symonds (QS).


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Jodie Young is Content Manager here at PebblePad. An experienced educator, talented writer, and a genius at simplifying the complicated, Jodie spends her days planning, crafting and publishing content for the PebblePad community and wider higher education audiences. Outside of work, Jodie is a published poet and can occasionally be spotted performing at open mic events around her hometown of Melbourne, Australia. To the disappointment of some of her colleagues, she avoids employing rhyme in her copy but her expert stamp is still recognisable on many of our hugely popular publications.

Richard is PebblePad's Head of Brand & Communications and joined Team PebblePad as a consultant in 2012 after working in a range of L&D roles in the charity and technology sector. On any given day you're likely to find Richard with a sketch pad and more coloured pens than you can wave a stick at, leading on all things creative and strategic on the communications and brand front. Richard is super passionate about all things PebblePad, and spreading the word about PebblePad and the amazing things it can do really has become his technology baby. Outside of work, he’s the proud dad of two happy, human children.