Paella, and successful online engagement


No visit to Spain is complete without sampling a delicious dish of paella. However, obtaining agreement on the “best” or “original” recipe for this Valencian or Catalan delicacy is more problematic. Is it a meat dish? Is it seafood fare? Does the rice go in first or last?…

The 7th annual EOCCS learning community symposium, hosted by UPF Barcelona School of Management in September 2023, enjoyed a similar debate when considering online engagement. What is the ideal recipe for learner engagement? Can asynchronous delivery be engaging? Does the latest technology need to be deployed?

Amongst academic delegates and keynote panel members, there was unanimous approval of the notion that engagement leads to learning. The potential for dropping out is a basic measure of engagement, but data analysis can give greater insights for proactive engagement. Not surprisingly, the exact recipe for successful engagement was less certain.

But let’s get back to culinary basics – what are the key ingredients for good online engagement (according to our panellists and delegates)?

  • Access:
    Even in developed countries with good broadband coverage, ease of access to the basic tools with which to engage cannot be taken for granted. It depends on the target market to determine the most widely used systems – mobile phone? Tablet or laptop? Full PC?
    This, in turn, advises the design of lessons and modules – video/audio? text/ short readings?
    Access can also be limited through a lack of digital skills. Whilst we can assume certain digital skills amongst learners and faculty, digital learning or teaching skills are not yet ubiquitous.
  • Academic rigour:
    Learners actually like to be challenged, and if the expectations of learning outcomes at bachelor’s or master’s levels are to be achieved, then standards cannot be allowed to fall. Academic rigour in content coverage, assessment design and access to resources, as well as in clear and sensible guidance around assessment criteria, collaboration and plagiarism, must be maintained.
  • Active and authentic learning:
    So, although standards are kept high, the means by which they are achieved can be varied and flexible. Online engagement needs “real world” expectations – not simply case studies but authentic assessments and activity-based learning as with collaborative groups rather than individual assignments. Just like the “real world”, problems with many different responses are welcomed.
  • Personalisation:
    Flexibility also extends to the idea that “one size does not fit all”. Learning design needs to take into consideration the learning preferences of individuals as well as their physical circumstances. Whilst it creates an administrative nightmare and exam board complexity, rolling enrolment and self-paced momentum need to be considered for parts of the learner population. In addition, the recognition that “remote” learners need personalised support
  • The learning community:
    Remote learners (and faculty) can become isolated and lonely – and disengagement can follow. Maintaining a vibrant community outside the classroom, especially where asynchronous delivery is used, is an important factor in learner cohesion. Often, graduation ceremonies show just how much of a community the learners have forged. Extra-curricular events and opportunities throughout a course (not just ice-breakers at the start) can be designed into the experience in order to increase engagement.

Just as Spanish Paella differs in different parts of Spain, its derivatives in The Philippines (Arroz a la Valenciana), Latin America (Arroz con pollo) and the USA (Jambalaya) show regional and cultural differences.

Engagement is also a concept that must be seen in context. The context of the learner, the online infrastructure, the subject matter, the regulatory guidelines, the level of study, and the cultural norms.

Buen Appetito!

With many thanks to our panellists:

  • Professor Josep M. Duart Montoliu, President, EDEN Digital Learning Europe; UOC, Spain
  • Dr Casilda Güell, Dean, OBS Business School, Spain
  • Professor Davinia Hernández-Leo, Department of Information and Communications Technologies, UPF-BSM, Spain
  • Dr Cristina Sancha, Academic Director of Bachelor Programs, ESADE Business School, Spain
  • Professor José Manuel Martínez-Sierra, Director General & Provost, UPF-BSM, Spain

For additional insights, events and perspectives about EOCCS, visit the conversation here.