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SNAPSHOT: Online Learning

About 90 percent of students who take a class online don’t complete it. New research on brain activity could help educators measure student engagement during online learning, which correlates with knowledge acquisition and course completion.

The study, published in the journal of Neurobiology of Learning and Memory, used EEGs and informational tests to assess attention levels and learning in individuals who watched educational videos. The study was conducted by Samantha S. Cohen, a postdoctoral researcher at Columbia University who recently completed her Ph.D. at CUNY’s Graduate Center. Her co-authors were City College of New York Professor Lucas C. Parra, CCNY postdoc Jens Madsen, CCNY alumni Gad Touchan, Denise Robles and Simon Henin, and volunteer Stella FA Lima.

A student works on her laptop with a cup of coffee and a notebook located nearby

The authors hypothesized that when participants have similar EEG responses while watching videos, those responses are “driven” by the material, representing neural engagement.  

Participants were also tested on the material in the video to measure their knowledge acquisition. More neural engagement corresponded with memory strength. These results are consistent with the known link between attention and memory.

The study showed “a measure of EEG that is sensitive to both attentional state and knowledge acquisition.” That finding has implications for online classes, where low retention rates are attributed partly to “lack of engagement.” Learning materials could be tested for neural responses in small groups “before they are disseminated … to predict (their) educational efficacy.”