What K-pop Can Teach Us About Engagement for Online Courses

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

One of the most common concerns about moving courses online is that engagement is lost. However, it could be useful to draw on the kind of engagement that is central to contemporary Korean popular music (K-pop) culture.

Most articles you may read about the need to teach online courses (as opposed to the emergency remote teaching that most instructors engaged in in the spring) contains the often unchallenged assertion that online courses cannot replicate the engagement of the face-to-face course, seen by many as indispensable to learning.  John Kroger recently wrote in Inside Higher Education: “In the process, we have gained a much clearer understanding of what online education cannot do — or, in other words, the ways in which traditional in-person cannot be replaced. The most obvious area in which online delivery simply cannot replicate the value of in-person learning is in science and technology education. ” For many, this extends to other disciplines as well. Many people believe that being face-to-face is essential to learning. Period. Related to this critique is the characterization of online courses. Drawing on their experience this past spring or bad online course experiences, some argue that online courses are merely videos and quizzes.

We know that learning is a social activity. Instead of trying to replicate the face-to-face experience, we might look to modes of engagement that already work online. K-pop artists and fans have used the digital space to form connections and have engaging and memorable interaction for years. K-pop artists use social media such as Twitter, Instagram, VLive and YouTube to communicate with fans and share content. Fans reciprocate, as evidenced by the large numbers of followers artists have on these outlets. From old-school sharing platforms like MediaFire to closed discussion forums to collaborative Twitter accounts, K-pop fans have been deploying social media to communicate with each other for years.  This was particularly the case in the early years of the global spread of K-pop. If you were a fan of K-pop, it was unlikely that you knew anyone in your real life who was also a fan. As a result, fans turned to the internet. And while many people negative characterize K-pop fan activity,  fans more often deploy online modes to collaborate on philanthropic projects, organize promotion support and just engage with each other over a common passion.  K-pop fans often talk about the bonds they form with other fans without ever having met them.

Instructors could use these platforms in their courses to support the kind of engagement that is crucial for learning.  How can we create opportunities for students to create community in our courses? Do we have a space where students can post things they find related to the course and learn to look at such artifacts critically? Do we provide a way for students to talk to each other? Do we encourage students to form chat groups with other members of class for that important back-channel back-and-forth? Do we limit our interaction with students to just sharing information and content from the course, or can we envision a space in our online course where we just chit-chat with students?

When I mentioned this to a colleague, he responded that people spend untold hours watching YouTube or on Twitter because it is something they like. Could this be the real crux of the challenge facing instructors in the move to online, namely, to make our courses interesting enough for students to spend the kind of time on them as they spend in other activities on the Internet?


John Kroger. “The Limits of Online Education.” Inside Higher Education. 6 May 2020. https://www.insidehighered.com/blogs/leadership-higher-education/limits-online-education (14 May 2020).

Creative Commons License
What K-pop Can Teach Us About Engagement for Online Courses by Crystal S. Anderson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

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