Are you keeping your learners engaged?
As a learning design strategist and online course creator, it troubles me that the vast majority of students who enroll in online courses never complete these courses. Currently, there are no national statistics that might explain why students stop participating in online courses. However, there is a great body of educational research and best practice methodologies in the realm of teaching and learning. Online student engagement is a particular focus of this scholarly research, and and the research findings can inform learning designers and online course creators.
But for now, let’s get really practical. Let’s examine ten best practices that will help keep your students engaged in your online courses.
10 Engagement Strategies for Online Learners
Engagement Strategy #1 – Offer Learner Onboarding
Prime your students for motivation and engagement just before the course starts by doing some or all of the following:
Send a welcome email to introduce yourself to your students. Embed a video in the email that features a personalized greeting [from you], so that students get to know you.
Create a virtual course orientation and give students a course tour. Let them know how the course will unfold and what they’ll be doing for the first module of the course.
Tell students how to get in touch with you when they have questions or concerns about the course or any course assignments.
Engagement Strategy #2 – Drip Release Course Content
In some cases, it might prove highly engaging to drip release course content. That is, set up the course so that students must complete certain modules or assignments before proceeding to the next assignments or modules. This is a judgement call, but it’s one worth considering. Consider doing this if your students are unlikely to be successful in your course unless they work through the course sequentially.
Engagement Strategy #3 – Provide Cognitive Support
Help trigger and direct students’ attention, focus, and thinking as they move through the course content. For example, “While you view this video, focus on the three key elements of ___________.” This simple strategy for guiding students cognition can really help keep students engaged in the course content. It also helps students make deeper connections with new information.
Engagement Strategy #4 – Provide Social Interaction
Set up an online portal or channel for students to interact and socialize during the course. Some options for student interaction and discussion include:
A course embedded discussion board
Engagement Strategy #5 – Assign Roles and Responsibilities to Students
One creative engagement option is to assign students roles periodically or throughout the course. For instance, you could assign different students (or pairs of students) to serve as discussion moderator(s) for a given week or for a specific discussion topic in the course.
If you assign group projects, students could be assigned roles within their groups – e.g. project manager, content writer, copy editor, graphic designer, visual designer, creative director, etc.
Engagement Strategy #6 – Assign Peer Support Groups or Support Pairs
Another way to deeply engage students in the course is to organize peer support groups or support pairs. This works best if you are very specific about the purpose and function of these support teams/pairs. How will they communicate with one another? What are their responsibilities to their peers? What kind of support can they offer one another? How can they help hold each other accountable for completing course assignments? etc.
Engagement Strategy #7 – Real-Time Live Support or Training
Most high-value online courses now offer some degree of live, interactive support or training on a regular basis. A few communication tools that you might consider using for live teaching are Google Hangouts, Zoom, JoinMe, Skype for Business, Adobe Connect Meetings, or WebEx.
Engagement Strategy #8 – Social Sharing
Students greatly benefit from sharing their work in the course. After all, you are taking them on a transformational journey. Let your students share their milestones, projects, and success stories throughout the course. Some social sharing tools include Facebook Groups, Padlet, Pinterest, Google Groups, Google Docs, VoiceThread. or an embedded course discussion board.
Engagement Strategy #9 – Reminders, Feedback, and Evaluation
A lot of commercial online courses really miss the mark on this strategy. Yet students are much more likely, and much more incentivized, to complete course assignments if their work is going to be reviewed and evaluated by their instructor. If you are teaching high enrollment courses that would preclude you from providing your students feedback on their work, then consider having students turn in their assignments to a dropbox or assignment folder. You could offer collective feedback on students’ submissions citing what the majority did well and what they could improve upon. Showcase some exemplary work and illustrate how assignment submissions that is not up to speed could be improved.
Engagement Strategy #10 – Differentiate Instruction and Vary Course Content
This too is a critical strategy for keeping students engaged. Learning style preferences vary from person-to-person, so be sure differentiate your instructional strategies and diversify your course content. The best way to do this is to ‘audit’ your course to determine whether or not your course content is too heavily reliant on text, video, or audio instruction. Then, make some simple changes. For example, if you course content is delivered primarily through video, provide written transcripts of the video as an alternative option for your students who prefer to learn by reading.
So there you have it! You now have a variety of ways to easily make your online courses more engaging.
Click HERE if you’d like a list of all the tech tools listed in post.
Please share your successful strategies for student engagement in the comments section below. We’d love to hear from you!