Tips for Engaging Online Students
Sean Higgins
engaging online students

Distance learning is not a one size fits all approach. Each student has different educational needs and learns in different ways. Learning online requires students to prioritize their own time, which is a challenge for many of them. Students aren’t being forced to show up, do their work and participate, so engagement is a challenge. There are things educators can do to help students stay immersed and engaged with online learning. Online learning should be an active experience rather than a passive one.

Facilitating a community is key for creating an engaging student environment.

Students aren’t interacting face to face, so they can feel isolated in their learning. Teachers can simulate a community by creating virtual spaces to connect. Make sure many activities involve connecting with other students, and this should go beyond just responding to each other’s discussion posts. Ideally, students will have times where they get to see the faces of their classmates and teachers via video, whether that be using Zoom or another tool. 

Video learning should be active, not passive.

When possible, lectures in video format can be better for comprehension than students going through material on their own. A 2018 study found that interactions like guided questions, action-oriented tasks and social exchange are important parts of active learning when using video. Effective guided questions will call attention to key takeaways while still allowing room for creative answers when possible. Action-oriented tasks make material more relevant and relatable to real life, which will likely stick with them. For example, have students write a mock cover letter or perform a task they would need to do on the job. Active learning over passive learning will better engage students. 

Teachers should also make it easy for students to meet with them, and might even want to require it.

Some students might need extra help but aren’t comfortable reaching out to ask, so check-ins with students can greatly improve their learning. When meeting with students, hear them out and be open to devising solutions that will better meet their individual needs. Be consistent with office hours and communicate those clearly to students. For example, create a recurring Zoom meeting for an hour break in your day and allow students to hop on the call if they need some help. Try to simplify your virtual space so students can easily find what they need and they don’t miss important information.

Adapting as you go is necessary for engaging students.

Lesson plans may make sense when they’re created, but need to be changed or pushed back once they’ve been implemented. Being flexible around simplifying material and tasks can help students be more successful. Resist giving more coursework, because things may be more overwhelming and take more time.

COVID-19 has caused a major shift in every area of life. Education is no exception. Adapting to distance learning means finding ways to engage students online. Educators and students are showing their resiliency by adapting everyday. These tips for engaging students can help them get the most out of the online learning experience.

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