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Five Tips for Building Engagement in Online Learning

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Young student engaged in online learning.

Online learning offers a wealth of opportunities for students, but it also comes with unique challenges.

For educators, student engagement is key (and perhaps even more so than in traditional settings!). Luckily, there are a bevy of online multimedia tools and strategies to help with this.

Let's take a look.

What are the challenges to online learning?

While online learning can be powerful and effective, it's also very different from traditional classroom experiences. Here are some of the most common challenges when trying to build engagement in a fully online course.

  • Lack of instructor presence: A physical classroom provides students with a sense of security and safety. With no physical instructor present, students may feel disconnected from the course. This can make them less motivated to participate and more likely to become distracted by their surroundings.

  • Amount of material: Online courses typically have larger workloads than traditional courses because instructors have fewer opportunities to provide feedback or individualized attention on assignments. Students may feel overwhelmed by all the content they need to absorb to complete their assignments successfully.

  • Lack of student-to-student interaction: Some online learning environments don't allow for much peer-to-peer interaction, which can lead students to feel isolated and discouraged when they're struggling with an assignment or concept. Without this social support, many learners find themselves disengaged from their coursework and inhibited from asking questions that might help them better understand concepts.

  • Online distractions: There are so many things competing for our attention online that it's easy to stop engaging with someone else's ideas and simply move on to another website or email. The internet offers many distractions that can easily pull students away from their original task — even if they're trying to have a conversation with someone else!

  • Fear of judgment: Many students worry about how they'll come across when communicating online. They worry about how others will perceive them based on their writing skills, social comfortability, and other factors affecting communication quality (like not knowing what to say). It's easy for these fears to make students feel uncomfortable about trying out new methods of communication, such as using online discussion boards or collaborating on projects with others.

Five activities to build online engagement

We said there was good news, yeah? In today's world where learning has morphed into synchronous, asynchronous, and blended forms of instruction, instructors find themselves also teaching a new generation of learners who crave flexibility, choice, and real-world connections. 

It's no secret that the world of education is changing. The traditional classroom model is being challenged by a new generation of learners who crave more flexibility, choice, and real-world connections.

Here are a few ways to quickly and effectively build engagement in online courses.

1. Use video in your lessons

Meet learners in a medium they already love and engage with on a daily basis. Interactive video tools are a fantastic way to engage learners and provide additional content that they may not be able to get from their textbooks or other resources.

2. Create an online community

Create a group discussion forum on Google Classroom or Facebook Messenger. Ask students to comment on a blog post or video that relates to the lesson, then have them respond in their voices by sharing their opinions, experiences, and questions. This gives students the chance to share their ideas with other students who might not have thought about similar issues before.

Already using video? With our interactive design studio, PlayPosit, you can embed discussion forms into your video content, so learners can actively participate as they consume instruction. 

3. Encourage peer tutoring

Peer tutoring and interactive peer review allows students struggling with a concept or topic to get help from someone who has already mastered it. Peer tutoring is especially beneficial for those learners who have difficulty asking for help or interacting with other students face-to-face because of learning style preferences, shyness or introversion, time zone differences, etc.

4. Flip instruction

Flipped instruction is an approach that turns traditional lectures on their head by having students watch pre-recorded lessons at home and then coming to class ready to learn. You can flip any type of content, including videos and presentations. It's especially effective for videos because students can pause and rewind them as needed — or even skim through the video before class, so they're prepared for discussion time.

5. Create a virtual gallery walk

This is a great activity to do with your class when working on projects or assignments. You can use the Google Slides app to create a virtual gallery walk (or use any other presentation tool). Each student uploads their work to the class site and then makes it available for everyone else to view. When students view each other's work, they can make comments and ask questions about what they see.

Already using video in your instruction? Have student create their own content, then combine into a playlist for a student showcase!

For more on active learning strategies in online or in-person environments, see: Top Active Learning Strategies for Learners