How to Engage College Students

by | Feb 1, 2021

how to engage college students

We’re all distractible. Even the best educators can have a hard time engaging students in the classroom all the time. With the addition of hybrid and remote learning models, the student attention challenge is even greater. We’ve compiled some tips for how to engage college students, regardless of learning model. 

Use chunking

The idea of chunking was introduced by Harvard psychologist George Miller in the 1950’s after observing that most people cannot recall more than seven pieces of information. Applying this to the classroom means structuring your class time to allow students to retain information in smaller bits, or chunks. Delivering less information in shorter chunks of time is a more effective way to engage college students and work within the limits of concentration.

Set an agenda

Students are more likely to stay engaged when they know the plan. Writing the day’s agenda on the board or sharing it online will help students visually see what’s coming. This is especially helpful for longer length classes where attention can wane more easily. Students experience a sense of accomplishment as they complete each section of the class, which helps engage college students more effectively. To see an example of this in action, see this article written by an experienced online learning architect.  

Be interactive

Long lecture formats are not an effective way to keep students engaged, especially if students are attending online. Using the chunk format suggested above, make time for class interaction. Ask great questions and allow time for discussion. Or break the class into smaller work groups to cooperatively solve a problem or respond to a question. These work groups can provide social support to one another outside the classroom as well, which can help additionally engage college students during class time. 

Offer support

Caring about student wellbeing and offering help is an essential way to engage college students in your classroom. It also helps improve overall college retention for your university. While a professor’s personality matters to some degree, of equal importance to students is the sense that professors care about them as individuals. Showing responsiveness to student questions and being available to them outside of the classroom are additional ways to demonstrate that support and good student care. 

Keep it real

When 245 students were asked what they liked most about their learning experience in the classroom, one of the top three responses was related to teachers using real world examples. Students reported boredom as the number one reason they weren’t engaged in the classroom. The use of real world examples helps students connect the dots between theory and why it matters or applies to their future, making it feel more relevant in the moment. 

Get creative

Moving beyond traditional lecture format in the classroom requires creativity. In turn, creativity in the classroom encourages students to engage creatively in their work, which is a valuable skill for future work and life. For a list of how to engage college students with creative learning techniques, check out this list from Iowa State University. 

As you continue exploring how to engage college students in the classroom, consider the options above and try one on to see how it improves your class time. We’d love to hear how it goes!

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