One major advantage of online learning is that an instructor can use the power of the internet for course content. Instead of having to create each lesson as a lecture in a face-to-face class, they can direct students to the exceptional content that already exists on the web. In this way, the online instructor transitions from content creator to content curator. The instructor’s expertise is not the information stored in their mind but their ability to distinguish good from bad content and wrap that content into an effective lesson.
But that “wrapper” too often amounts to an instructor dropping articles or videos into the institution’s learning management system (LMS) with a sentence or two introducing each of them—what I call the “content dump” mentality. While the instructor also adds discussions or assignments to make students apply that content, this engagement comes after the fact within the LMS. Learning science tells us that understanding and retention are maximized when the engagement happens during the act of learning itself, not after. A coach does not explain to players how to swing a baseball bat and then have them practice it a week later. Yet that is exactly how much of teaching is done in higher education.
This is why a major movement in online education is to embed student engagement into learning content itself. While apps exist to add interactions to text and videos, there haven’t been any easy ways to add interactions to web content. Now the Insert Learning Chrome extension has filled this void. An instructor can add a variety of interactions to website content, including articles on the web, that guide the student through it as well as measure how well students understood it. In essence, Insert Learning turns web content into lessons.
The instructor starts by downloading the free Insert Learning extension from the website, which will put the IL icon into the extension bar at the top of Chrome. Then the instructor is taken to the website to sign up. From here the instructor creates a class, which provides a class code to give to students to join.
The instructor can now create the lessons: the webpages with interactive content added. Note that the free account allows for two lessons. If the instructor wants to create more, they need to sign up for a subscription, which allows for unlimited lessons for $99 per year. Students will need to also install the free Insert Learning icon into their Chrome browsers. The instructor also has the option to invite co-teachers and to share their lessons with other teachers, which allows groups of teachers who use the same content to collaborate on lessons.
After setup, the instructor finds a resource on the web that they want to use in their class and starts adding interactions to it by clicking the IL icon. This opens a small side menu. The instructor clicks the first icon to assign the lesson to the class and then starts inserting any of the following interactions to the content where they want.
Highlight text: The instructor can highlight a section of text and add a comment to clarify or amplify what is said. This comment will hover over the highlighted text.
Sticky note: The instructor can add a sticky note, which is a box that appears at the point of insertion. Instead of hovering over the content, the system expands the content to make room for the sticky note below it. But this is much more than just a sticky note system. The box can include a video as well as embedded code. The embedded code feature means that instructors can add other apps to the page, such as a Quizlet quiz, a PlayPosit video, a Google Form, or a Padlet board. I can see the Padlet board being used for students post outside content that illustrates what the page just covered, thus providing an opportunity to apply the learning at the moment of learning itself. (Note: If you find that a particular piece of embedded code does not work, it is normally due to a setting in the original app, such as requiring students to log in to the app to see the content, so be sure to check the app settings.)
Questions: The question function allows instructors to insert open-ended or multiple-choice questions into the webpage as well as give them point values if they want the questions to be graded. This is a powerful way of both reinforcing learning and determining whether students get the material. The student answers all come back to the instructor’s dashboard on the Insert Learning site.
Discussion: Another powerful feature is the ability to add a discussion board directly to the content. Unlike a question, students will see each other’s responses in a discussion board. In a traditional online course, the discussion is decoupled from the content. Students will likely have forgotten important details about the content by the time they are asked to discuss it. By inserting a discussion forum directly into the content, instructors can ask pointed questions that build on the content while it is still fresh in a student’s memory, again improving understanding and retention.
Take a look at this very good tutorial from Gareth Cook on how to use Insert Learning and consider how to incorporate it into your teaching toolbox.