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Helping Educators Thrive while Teaching Online, so They Can Help Students Develop Their Potentials and Promote Resilience and Lifelong Learning in Their Communities

Dr. Bethanie Hansen 

Strategic Educational Leader and Coach

#98: How is ‘The Great Resignation’ Affecting Online Education?

#98: How is ‘The Great Resignation’ Affecting Online Education?

This content first appeared at APUEdge.Com.

Podcast with Dr. Bethanie L. HansenDepartment Chair, School of Arts, Humanities and Education

Employment trends changed dramatically during the pandemic, leading to “The Great Resignation” with large numbers of people quitting or changing jobs. In this episode, APU’s Dr. Bethanie Hansen talks about how the quitting contagion has affected online higher education. Learn three concepts that can help educators stay invigorated in their teaching, and also help retain students in the online classroom.

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Dr. Bethanie Hansen: This podcast is for educators, academics and parents who know that online teaching can be challenging, but it can also be rewarding, engaging, and fun. Welcome to the Online Teaching Lounge. I’m your host, Dr. Bethanie Hansen, and I’ll be your guide for online teaching tips, topics and strategies. Walk with me into the Online Teaching Lounge.

Welcome to the Online Teaching Lounge. I’m happy to be with you today talking about online education, one of my favorite subjects. We’re going to address a little bit about “The Great Resignation.” This is a term that was coined to talk about how many people are quitting their jobs, or have been quitting their jobs in the period near the end of the year 2021.

Regardless of when you’re listening to this, it’s informative to think about trends in the economy, employment trends and how those things impact higher education or online education. The Great Resignation is just a title, right? What we’re really talking about is the trend of people quitting their jobs.

There’s an excellent graphic at a link in the transcript to this podcast. If you take a look, you can see that in fact over a period of months, the number of people that are unemployed or leaving their jobs did increase significantly. It’s a huge departure from trends of the past, and people sit around talking about this and ask, “Well, was it triggered by the pandemic? Was it going to happen anyway?”

There were all kinds of factors of course that we could talk about: New vaccine mandates, there was a candidate’s market in the job force, and also other considerations that led to people being dissatisfied with the status quo and wanting to make changes.

Some people quit their jobs and found other jobs, and it was just a shuffle and not necessarily a departure from the workforce. We also have other people who quit their jobs and started their own business, or started doing something online.

Whatever the trends are, we cannot ignore the fact that these also happen in education and in higher education. We want to know what the impact is to our students, but also long-term how this might impact us in the industry if we are education professionals.

Before we get into much of that, I do want to say that the statistics I’ve mentioned come from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. They began reporting the number of U.S. workers who quit their jobs in December of the year 2000, and they’ve been keeping track of it ever since. Well, the question on everyone’s mind is why is it happening and will it continue?

Differences in Employment Trends

An interesting thing about these trends is that it’s not in every industry across the board. In fact, some of the highest turnover or quitting that we noticed in the past few months according to the time of this podcast are in the sectors of accommodation and food services. These industries are such a relief to anyone during a pandemic where you might want to eat out or have some food delivered to break up the monotony of working from home if you’re in that situation.

When you consider that people may not want to work in those industries, because perhaps they too want to be at home, that’s really impacting the number of workers there are out there. Of course, we have healthcare, leisure and hospitality, professional and business services. We have a large number of people quitting in those industries that are leaving their jobs.

Now, what we want to know is are teachers quitting? Are they resigning or retiring early due to the pandemic or things happening? It appears that in some areas yes, and in some areas no. If you’re an educator, perhaps you can relate to this concept. Many people view education as a calling in life or a mission, and some of these other fields we also believe that about.

Depending on your sense of purpose in your job or your satisfaction in your job, you might feel more inclined to persevere and stay in a job that you’re not as happy with if you feel that you’re making a difference. But, on the other hand, you could also experience the influence of quitting contagion.

If there’s someone around you in a leadership role who has left and you really look to that person for guidance, direction, or an example, and other people around you start to leave your organization as well, pretty soon you feel like leaving. That quitting contagion is just what it sounds like, quitting is contagious. The more people start to leave, the more people start to leave.

As an educator and a life coach, I have coached many people who have stable jobs and have been in their industry for a long time, but they have asked how will I know if I should leave, too? One of the thoughts behind that question is: Will my organization be less and less valuable on my resume if I stay and more and more people leave? Will the quality of my organization go down and will I be sorry that I stayed? A person who shared those questions with me really got me thinking about the many facets of quitting contagion and The Great Resignation and all that’s happening around that.

Now, there are reasons for quitting and we call this churn. When people quit, we have to hire someone new, there’s a lot of turnover, but regardless of the reason, according to some recent research by industry education is the absolute lowest churn industry. State and local education had only a hire rate of 1.3% and a quit rate of 0.9% in September of 2001. That’s compared to the accommodation and food services industry where they hired at a rate of 8%, and we had a quit rate of 6.4%. That’s a huge difference.

Also down there in the very low churn industries, we have educational services. Educational services are a lot of the support staff and folks who are involved in education that are not directly the teachers in the classroom. Everyone else involved makes up educational services, and that group had a hire rate of 1.6% and a quit rate of only 1.7% in September of 2021.

So as you think about different industries and how The Great Resignation or quitting contagion are affecting them, know this, that these fields are not as heavily impacted by the churn, by the resignations, and by the quitting contagion that others may be experiencing.

But how does this impact our students? Online students can take their classes anytime, anywhere, but there are some things that help people stay committed.

In a previous recent episode, I talked about three areas that influence student retention. Today, I’m going to bring in three concepts that influence people staying in their jobs, and we’re going to sort of extrapolate some ideas from those three concepts and apply them to online higher education specifically.

As I mentioned, not every industry is experiencing as much churn and as much turnover in employment right now, at the time of this recording. We can learn a lot from the industries that are not experiencing that, and we can apply that to working with our students.

3 Ways to Help Retain Employees

Some lessons learned from those industries are that there are three elements that help retain employees or help retain people in organizations. Those three elements are: fun, meaning and belonging.

Remember, we want to think about these in terms of how they can apply to us, how they help us stay resilient in our jobs, but also how can we apply these to the students that we teach online?

Increasing the Amount of Fun

The first element of fun is how we do our work. It doesn’t make a lot of sense that we’re going to think about having fun all day long every day if we’re sitting in front of a computer, right? Not every class can be turned into a gamified classroom. But what could we do in our teaching online and in the routine of our work that really makes the way we work more fun?

Sometimes it comes through clarity or maybe the autonomy to create something or make our own decisions. When we give our students those same elements of clarity and autonomy, they too have a little fun with it. We get really impressed by what they might write in a discussion or how they might complete that assignment.

Another thing that brings fun is something that’s stimulating or interesting. There could be some fun in collaboration, group projects, and support for the work. Maybe an instructor video is going to have some fun elements. I know early in the pandemic, I remember coming across a few YouTube videos where the instructors were now teaching their students from home instead of in the classroom live, and there was a little artistry happening. One instructor I remember, in particular, was doing magic acts during the class he was teaching.

There are so many ways to bring fun into your online work and your online teaching. Think about what fun is for you, and what it might be for your students and start integrating some of those elements for more resilience and to combat that desire to quit.

Creating a Sense of Meaning

The second element is meaning. If fun is the way we’re working, meaning is why we’re doing it. As I mentioned before, sometimes the why is this greater sense of purpose or a calling in one’s career. If you have a clear sense of individual purpose in the work that you’re doing, you’re going to have a sense of meaning in your work. The more regularly you can find that, the more you can feel it every day, every week, every month and all year long till eventually you have a whole career filled with meaning.

Your students need to find meaning too. What can we do to bring a sense of meaning to everything that they’re doing? Well, on practical side, if you follow the Quality Matters habits, you know that meaning can be given to students by identifying the course objective that they’re going to fulfill.

You can also identify what career skill or applied principle is coming from their learning, or you could do something like asking the students what this learning means to them and how they’re going to use it. The more it comes from your students, the more that sense of meaning is deep and lasting.

The Importance of a Sense of Belonging

Lastly, a sense of belonging. Belonging is about who you are at work or at school. If you have a sense of belonging, you have permission to be yourself. We all know that regardless of our backgrounds or our life experiences, we know that there are times when we don’t feel like we belong, or when we get a sense that someone we’re with does not feel that they belong. This is an area worth being very sensitive about in terms of how we see others and how we invite them to be themselves.

We have some values that we share at work. The university has values, the school has values, the education industry has some general values, you have personal values as well. If you can live your values and your teaching and your students can live their values in their learning and who they are, we’re going to have the safety to be ourselves and to show up and to feel that we belong.

In some of the research on online higher education recently, we’ve learned that students want a sense of belonging by connecting to the college campus through which they’re taking the online classes. So, if you offer online classes all across the United States of America or all across the world, if students are not able to ever go to your campus and see it, they may not choose it. Increasingly, students taking classes online want to be able to visit the campus, have a connection to the faculty, and feel like there’s some sense of belonging by identifying with that school.

There’s also psychological safety involved with a sense of belonging. So if you show up as your whole self and you bring your values and you are being authentic in your work or your learning, you’re going to be accepted for who you are. That psychological safety is just the sense that it’s going to be okay to share your thoughts, your experiences, your stories, your elements of who you are, and you’re not going to be threatened in that way.

Those three things: fun, meaning and belonging, those are hallmarks of workplaces with low turn or low-turn industries right now, and they can also bring a lot of connection for our online students. Perhaps we could try this as an experiment, bringing in the fun and bringing in the meaning much more overtly and bringing in all that we can do to create a sense of belonging for all of our students. Let’s try that as an experiment and see what comes of it. We’re certainly going to have a more interesting experience and a little bit of a different perspective by getting creative and trying these new things.

I hope you’ll try them out and observe what happens, and then write to us and let us know what you experienced and what your results really are. You can send those messages to me at request on the bethaniehansen.com website, and we’d love to hear from you.

Think about it this coming week and consider your experience with what we’re calling The Great Resignation and how your students may be experiencing it, and what might come of our bringing that fun, meaning and belonging into the online classroom. I wish you all the best as you try these things out this coming week in your online teaching.

This is Dr. Bethanie Hansen, your host for the Online Teaching Lounge Podcast. To share comments and requests for future episodes, please visit bethaniehansen.com/request. Best wishes this coming week in your online teaching journey.