Education

How to Make Online Learning More Engaging and Interactive

Online learning is taking off. However, for teachers who are used to the conventional classroom setting, teaching from home can be challenging.

Engaging students in your online learning program is vital to ensuring they learn effectively.

So, how do you make your lessons fun and engaging for your students? Here are ways to make online learning more engaging, according to experts.

Karen Gross

Karen Gross

Author | Educational Commentator | Senior Counsel, Finn Partners | Former President, Southern Vermont College

Do activities that use the senses, particularly at the start of class

This is key to keeping the autonomic nervous system in check. These can range from balance exercises to writing with the non-dominant hand to tactile exercises (creating a connective chain with paperclips).

Limit seat time

Limit seat time where one has to concentrate to no more than 40 minutes; then engage in some physical activity to distract people and get their body to engage. This helps the mind engage.

Use color blocks as indicators of where they are in terms of learning

Have children have a colored block on their desk (tabletop) to show where they are at in terms of learning: red is not ready; green is ready; yellow is unsure. (If they do not have blocks, they can color paper and place sheets of red, yellow or blue on their desk or visible to the educator.

This allows children to have some control over their readiness and willingness to engage. Since many kids feel out of control now with all the changes and transitions, some limited control is wise. And, if there are red blocks for more than two or three days, teachers should enquire.

Teachers should consider personal contact with students

This can be through email or through regular mail. This will make the education feel more personal — even if online. Knowing children’s names and calling them in positive ways during class helps too.

Be aware of ghosting

The problem of ghosting is occurring and teachers need to be made aware of this and assess the reasons the child/children is/are not participating. This is key and it cannot be allowed to linger.

Have a feeling thermometer that each child creates where he/she can share their feelings across their day

Feelings can be positive or negative; they can change over the course of the day. The key is to recognize feelings — without that, it is difficult to understand or explain thoughts and behavior. If you can name the feeling, you can start to tame it.

Allow children to play and experience the joy of learning; that cannot disappear online

Laughter and joy and self-expression are more central than ever. This can be done through humor, tongue twisters, other word cames, charades, and other activities.

The point is to engage children in fun activities — play can lead to learning. And, if children are not getting pleasure from learning, the quality and effectiveness of learning are diminished.

There are many sources to which to look for these kinds of activities. One is Tongue Twisters and Beyond: Words at Play, available at Amazon.

Give children the freedom to do online work wherever they are comfortable

A desk is not always the best place. it might be a bed or a comfy chair; it might be with silence or noise.

Different learning environments work differently for different children. Let them pick a place that works for them. Seriously, it matters where one learns, and having choice matters too.

Manju Banerjee

Manju Banerjee

Vice President of Educational Research and Innovation, Landmark College

Online learning is the new normal in education. We have emerged from the emergency response mode that we were thrust into earlier this year to now seeking promising practices that work. The research base is still scant, but experiential knowledge is quickly adding to what we know and how we can become better.

Today, there are more than 6 million students taking online courses as part of their higher education program. The vast majority of public school students are also online, whether fully or in a hybrid fashion.

Yet, the reputation of online programs continues to lag behind that of face-to-face instruction. There are several valid reasons as to why that is the case.

Many teachers feel that they get to know their students much better in a face-to-face context. They can pick up non-verbal cues and use physical space and movement as instructional tools. For example, when a student is distracted, moving near the student’s desk can help refocus the student’s attention.

Teachers are aware of the many different ways in which classroom behavior can be managed in real-time in a physical classroom. But managing online behavior, especially when it is not happening in front of the instructor, can be difficult.

Opponents of online suggest that online learning lacks the engagement that exists in a face-to-face classroom. To better respond to this criticism, one needs to start with the different nuances of online learning.

A course is online if over 80% of the learning activities happen online. It is fully online if all interactions and course content are delivered via the internet. All office hours and student-teacher- advisor meetings also happen online. There is no physical or in-person interaction in a fully online course.

Some online courses are poorly designed. One example is where the same course content as face-to-face is simply hosted on an online platform. Yet others define online as digital learning activities coupled with several live video conferencing sessions.

Unfortunately, none of these variations measure up to a truly online course; and therefore, lack student engagement.

The following section offers recommendations to make online learning more engaging:

Start with the proper protocol for online course design

Start with a course map, which is essentially a visual representation of the course content with modules and microunits for the topics. To increase engagement, make the microunits shorter than a face-to-face course topic.

Most young students, and teenagers for that matter, find it difficult to focus in front of a screen for more than 30 minutes of academic work.

Next, identify, create, and curate the content. Organize the content and check for accessibility. Then populate the course shell with the content. An online course should be dynamic and assessed and revised frequently.

Creating course content that is engaging can be simple

The key to content engagement is to deliberately introduce “instructor presence.” This can be done by embedding short 2-3 minute video clips created by the instructor. Consider dropping in the instructor’s voice at every opportunity.

There are many tech tools to aid teachers in enhancing instructor presence in their online courses. Landmark College offers professional development sessions on creating online courses that support students who learn differently.

Engagement is enhanced when there are links and scaffolds that support different learning needs

Repeat instructions often. Reduced text on a screen helps students with reading or visual processing challenges and can enhance engagement.

Synchronous sessions are an important part of the engagement

Be aware of best practices for synchronous or live video chat sessions. Sessions should be relatively short and should contain elements of “fun.” Try using elements of gamification to make the online course engaging. Use badges to motivate students to reach their learning goals.

For example:

  • Determine skills/skill set to be learned
  • Group similar skills together
  • Assign levels (Novice, Explorer, Apprentice, Professional/Master)
  • Make the badges
  • Let students have fun collecting badges

Make sure to build in physical activities within the live discussions

Try to ensure equal participation while also respecting individual preferences. Students cannot be mandated to turn on their video if they do not want to do so.

Remember that online learning places different demands on the brain compared to face-to-face learning

Maryanne Wolf, Director of the Center for Dyslexia, Diverse Learners, and Social Justice at the UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies notes that we lose “deep reading” skills when we read online.

Online reading is usually a search and finds approach compared to the insightful critical thinking that happens when reading on the pages of a textbook. Embedding reading cues and teacher voice into the text or the video that students are watching helps to create engagement.

Have a live video conference about being part of a learning community and shared experiences

Every so often, have a live video conference that is just about being part of a learning community and shared experiences, rather than about the course and learning.

This is a time of heightened anxiety for many students; helping them build trust with the digital platform, their peers and teachers, goes a long way to create engagement and motivation.

Most importantly, trust your instincts about good teaching practices. Face-to-face is not the same as online instruction, but given the overarching goal of student success, many educators are finding creative and innovative ways to support their students in online learning.

Dr. Cheryl Holcomb-McCoy

Cheryl Holcomb-McCoy

Dean of the School of Education, American University

Teachers must develop creative ways to get to know students in online classrooms

I’m a fervent believer that supportive, trusting, inclusive, and authentic student-to-teacher relationships are key to student success. As such, teachers must develop creative ways to get to know students in online classrooms.

This can be done by facilitating individual or small group meetings/chats with students outside of classroom time. Some teachers can opt to implement these meetings weekly, biweekly, or maybe only once a semester.

No matter how often these are implemented, individual online meetings allow teachers and students to connect, and more importantly, they provide an opportunity for teachers and students to discuss how things are going in the online classroom.

Instructors have told me that they find out “what’s going well and what’s not going well.” It’s also a nice way to possibly find out how students are doing socially and emotionally.

If a student is struggling, the teacher can then make an appropriate referral to a school counselor, special educator, or another support professional.

Dr. Tere Linzey

Tere Linzey

Licensed Educational Psychologist | Founder, BrainMatterZ | Author, “Measuring Up!”

Make sure the school has a good Audio Visual Lighting Tech

The school should have an advanced tech in order to avoid connection drops. If there are connection issues, this will get in the way of important class lectures, fun class exercises, and PE period.

When there are connection issues, this lowers the class morale and increases stress. So it is important that the learning experience is not hindered by a poor connection.

Use colors that are bright

We are all feeling low energy due to COVID-19 and the classroom is a place to get away from the anxiety-inducing state that we are currently in. That said, using bright colors in a class discussion has been proven to stimulate the students’ brains and increase energy and participation.

Use things they can manipulate

Introducing different games into the curriculum can create a more interesting experience. It is important that these games be hands-on and easily manipulated. The key is to add games in the curriculum to bridge the gap between virtual and physical i.e. the class and the computer.

Use motivating verbiage – When a student succeeds in answering a question correctly or even if they make a mistake, it is especially important right now for the teacher to reinforce motivation in their students. This will increase morale and create a more hands-on environment.

Use gratitude and research-based strategies to change chemicals in the brain to positive

Having the class write three things they are grateful for 21 days will change the brain in a positive way chemically. Teachers can incorporate this into their daily lessons to create a more positive learning experience.

Build rapport with students

Make them feel that they have an open environment. Encouraging them to discuss different topics openly will create a friendly environment and increase motivation for students to learn.

Dr. Deb Geller

Debra Geller

Associate Dean of Students, UCLA

As students at all levels from elementary to higher ed are spending more time taking online classes, instructors need to get creative to keep the courses engaging.

Consider starting class with a brief mindfulness activity to ground the group, and ending with a quick check-in—what one thing did they take away from class?

Applications like Zoom enable small group interactions, which are essential. In my classes, I regularly divide the class into small groups of various sizes for group work, followed by large group discussions.

Giving age-appropriate assignments where a student or group of students lead a class discussion on a topic engages those students, and also that their peers are respectful and engage back to peer-led discussion or activities.

Encourage the student leaders to use games and other interactive activities to demonstrate that they understand the topic and reinforce them with their peers. For presentations, allow students to create a video and play that back as an alternative to a traditional presentation. The TikTok generation is skilled with their phone cameras.

Most importantly, mix it up. By changing the pedagogical method every 20-30 minutes, you keep the students engaged.

Seema Thomas, MUP, MPA

Seema Thomas

Adjunct Professor of Urban Sustainability, University of the District of Columbia

As an adjunct professor virtually teaching, I think about this issue often. For lecturers, we’re competing against many other distractions- a student’s computer, their phone, tablet, and now even their watch to name a few.

I find many parallels that can be drawn between the education and entertainment industries, specifically, the on-demand nature. It then begs the questions – what distinguishes an educational course from another?

While content is critical, I have found the key to engagement is facilitation

One can employ a variety of strategies. Some involve touch points of engagement – a simple check-in to keep students on track and others approach to involve more active forms of engagement in which they have to synthesize information and draw/share important inferences/conclusions. For example, I’ll pepper my lecture with touchpoints, such as polls, providing input for a word cloud, chatbox questions, etc.

To keep them aware of the information shared by peers, I may not enlist the help of volunteers but focus on cold calling, but preparing students before.

Finally, one of my favorite strategies is the use of the breakout room. It’s a major strength of the virtual setting — at random, one can create many types of groups and they can easily convene over the lecture. While this could be replicated in-person, it’s much faster virtually and it allows students to connect with students that they typically wouldn’t encounter.

I miss the in-person setting, but if education professionals explore and try different techniques, there’s a world of opportunity, but it requires reframing the online learning experience.

I shifted my mindset into translating virtual lectures into virtual workshops to engage students for lasting retention and knowledge acquisition.

Michael Peterson

Michael Peterson

Lecturer, Oakland University | Owner, Challenge Island – Oakland County East

Promote interaction between the instructor and the students

Since online learning can sometimes feel less “connected” than being in a room live with people, it’s even more important to promote interaction between the instructor and the students, and among the students, using whatever means possible.

As an instructor, you can do this by periodically asking questions for students to answer via chats, surveys, hand-raising, or using whatever tools are available in the online platform.

As a student, challenge yourself to get involved in the session, either by taking notes, asking a question using whatever means are available, calling into the instructor’s office hours (even if it’s just to say hi), or participating in online discussions either during or after the session.

Just staring at the screen will quickly lead to distractions, and won’t allow your brain to get engaged with the material.

Provide a checklist of activities that students need to do

Many students report that it’s more challenging for them to stay motivated and keep track of everything they need to do, to keep up with online learning. To help with this, instructors should provide a checklist students can use, to know what they need to do by when (read the book, submit a homework assignment, watch a video, etc.)

As a student, if a clear list like this isn’t offered, create one of your own! On top of helping you get more organized, this will help you feel a more tangible sense of accomplishment as you put that checkmark in place next to the item you’ve just completed.

Heather Reingold

Heather Reingold

Director of Leadership and Training, Athena Scholastic

Building strong relationships with students is the key to an engaging online classroom

Students who feel they have a teacher who cares about their success are more likely to complete work and participate in class. Just because the face-to-face aspect ends doesn’t mean your ability to engage with students does. Use communication tools and creativity to create a warm and welcoming online classroom environment.

Here are some examples on how you can communicate with students:

  • class home page
  • email
  • instant messages
  • phone calls
  • text messages
  • video conferencing
  • discussion boards
  • eCards for birthdays

Use your imagination to develop creative ways to engage students in your class:

  • create or share age-appropriate memes
  • post funny school appropriate videos
  • post motivational sayings
  • incorporate music to begin, transition, or end online class sessions
  • gamify class sessions by having students work individually or in small groups to answer content-related trivia questions or solve puzzles/problems
  • develop quick tutorial videos to assist with common questions
  • have a virtual show and tell

Teaching in a virtual world does not mean you lose the personal connections with students. If done right, you could even builder stronger relationships with your students. This results in high-performing students who are engaged in your classroom.

Kurtis Morrison

Kurtis Morrison

Chief Growth Officer, Bunch

There are 3 pillars of engaging online learning experiences – micro-learning, personalization, and edutainment.

In the age of social media, people prefer and are used to short-form content

This requires boiling down information into succinct mental models that can be consumed on the fly and revisited. At Bunch, we teach leadership skills in 2-minute daily tips.

The process involves taking a well-researched but dense piece of content, sifting out the sharper frameworks, and then delivering this shiny nugget of knowledge.

Personalization builds on this to reinforce the experience

Educational providers typically have more data available now than ever that we can use for relevant and useful learning experiences. Bunch offers aspiring leaders different content based on their individual leadership style.

Anything educators can do to connect the individual to the experience in a way that resonates will have more success not only in enjoyment of the experience but in retention moving forward.

The last pillar is edutainment or educational entertainment

This is where apps like Duolingo come in. “Dry” content seems to be over – people lack the attention span to stick with it. The experience needs to be at least a little fun either through gamification, social connection, and interactive opportunities to learn by doing.

We’ve included badges and other methods of earning points with our tips to help bring this experience to our product, and it’s been a massive success to date.

Alison Henderson

Alison Henderson

CEO, Moving Image Consulting, LLC | TedX Global Speaker | Author, “Closing the Distance in Distance Learning, A Teacher’s Guide to Online and Mask Communication”

One key way to increase engagement is through humor and play

Teachers shouldn’t be afraid to laugh with students, be a little silly or play games. I encourage games that require cameras on (since that is one of the key complaints of teachers is not seeing student’s faces).

For example, if you play “eye spy” with student backgrounds or “Simon says,” students turn their cameras on and get a quick break from the lesson and technology apps.

Another favorite with students is a class created “handshake” they can use to start and end class. Three quick moves can be seen on the screen. It always makes students laugh and smile as it is created and “performed.”

The class can then use the handshake when they return to the classroom and still need social distancing. Teacher’s having fun and not being 100% serious encourages students to take the risk to engage more.

Theresa Pickett

Theresa Pickett

Former Classroom Teacher | Educator, Outschool

Over the summer, my children began taking online classes on Outschool. There were several lessons about engagement that I learned as both an Outschool teacher and parent myself.

Be open to the idea of themed activities

Teachers of these classes prepared engaging, themed activities to make it well worth the small fee each class costs. With themes as fun as Minecraft, puppy dogs, unicorns, American Girl, and more, children become more interested in diving deeper into concepts for subjects they might not usually learn in their spare time.

Don’t exclusively rely on technology

I learned that excellent online teachers become familiar with technology, but don’t exclusively rely on technology to make the course engaging. Some technology that made learning more entertaining included Peardeck, Flipgrid, Nearpod, and Kahoot.

Turn the content into a project-based or game-based activity

In addition to implementing technology, many teachers turned the content into a project-based or game-based activity. One class took a concept as simple as babysitting and turned it into a virtual board game that the class had to work their way through together.

Children from all over the country who had never met suddenly had a reason to act as a team to reach the end of the board game on the screen together.

Another class on music theory became a virtual field trip to Walt Disney World with each learner using their Fast Pass and music knowledge to earn their badge by the end of class.

The time to prepare and design interesting course matters when it comes to engagement

If you are rushing to get a new lesson to students each day, there isn’t always the time to focus on engagement.

The more you can implement game-based or project-based interactive lessons virtually, the more it becomes natural to do so with future lessons, even if you do have less time to prepare.

Regardless of the design of the course, questioning increases engagement

When my children heard lecturing for too long, they didn’t feel as included in the course.

Continuous questioning keeps them aware of the concepts and interested in what would happen next. As an Outschool teacher myself, I make sure to include these strategies in my own classes.

Build a positive and supportive classroom environment

Finally, building a positive and supportive classroom environment increases engagement. Sometimes this means giving access to the chat feature in Zoom for students to lift each other up with helpful comments using provided sentence starters.

Sometimes it means turning the chat feature off if students aren’t focusing on the topic, or if the class chat begins to feel less supportive than it should be.

Recognition is a must

Students should always have the opportunity to be recognized for their hard work, creativity, and effort. Often, that recognition means more coming from classmates than exclusively from the teacher because they aren’t able to see and chat with each other in real life. Keeping that connection going virtually can build student interest in the class itself.

Sarah Miller

Sarah Miller

Former Public School Teacher | Founder, Homeschooling 4 Him

Ask feedback from the students

A great way to make online learning more engaging is to ask for feedback from students. As a teacher, it’s helpful to craft your questions in a way that will allow all the students to respond.

Asking a yes/no or true/false question and asking students to respond with a thumbs up or a thumbs down will allow you to see the feedback from each student instantly, and to determine if there are any students who aren’t engaged in the lesson.

Incorporate games into the lessons

It can also be really helpful to incorporate games into the lesson time to help students engage with one another.

One of my favorites is the Zoom scavenger hunt. In this game, the teacher calls out a category and the students have to race through their house looking for an item that fits within the category, then bring it to show to their classmates.

This game could be a fun icebreaker at the beginning of a lesson to get to know your students better. It could also be used within the context of the lesson to reinforce concepts being learned.

For example, in a lesson about states of matter, the students could look for items that are solids, liquids, or gasses within their homes.

Nancy Penchev

Nancy Penchev

Instructional Technology Teacher, Scheck Hillel Community School

Build relationships

Get to know your students. Find out what they love, about their pets, what they eat for lunch…and let them know who you are as well. Tell them about your bad hair day, how your cat will not stop stealing your chair, and how your day is going.

Be real and authentic. When you take the time to get to know your students and build that relationship you will have a better class.

Use tools like Flipgrid to post a question like: tell us your best joke, 2 truths, and a lie, what would you rather do: ride a rollercoaster or bungee jump…questions that encourage chatting and getting to know one another.

Include some fun

Whether you are teaching Science, Math, Reading, Social Studies, PE, Art, Music…whatever- add in some fun! Add a game, scavenger hunt, read aloud to your lesson. Sitting in front of Zoom all day is exhausting.

Get kids up and moving with a hunt to find shapes or numbers for Math, look for words and letters, find clocks around the house, use recycling to make a model of what you are studying.

Movement and brain breaks will help kids pay attention to the important details and keep their minds active.

“Teach Me Tuesday!” Implement a time for students to lead the class

They can teach a math problem, demonstrate how to make something, or share their talents. When students get to take leadership positions, they take ownership and responsibility for learning.

Have a kid who loves Minecraft? Let them show how Minecraft works. Have a kid who has cool games at home like Osmo, let them share how they learn math with a Pizza company.

Have a kid who plays the piano? Let them share their playing ability, and share how they feel when they play. Have a kid who volunteers with a charity? Have them explain the charity, what they do, and why they feel it is important.

Student’s voice is important in learning, and with Teach Me Tuesday…or any other day…kids are being recognized as leaders.

Beth Horton

Beth Horton

Music Educator | Founder, Sharing the Love of Music | Creative Education Specialist, Tonara

Many teachers have been suddenly thrust into the realm of online learning while still others have been looking for ways to reach more learners with online courses. Regardless of the reason, online learning has seen quite a boom lately. How can you differentiate yourself from the rest and create truly amazing and engaging online learning experiences?

Adjust teaching to fit the medium

Teaching students one-on-one or in groups in person is an entirely different medium than the online teaching environment.

A lot of teachers worry so much about the technical components of their online courses (software, microphone, computer, camera, etc) that they completely overlook the most important component of the classroom – the interaction between students and their instructor.

As you make the shift from a live interaction between yourself and your students, remember to use the medium to your advantage. Engage your learners with the group chat features and polls available on most platforms.

Be prepared for the fact that they might not want to speak in a classroom setting, but will “talk” your ear off in the chat section instead. Remember too that you are going from being in the same space to being a floating head on a small screen in front of them. Adjust your gestures and speech accordingly by using big gestures, slightly slower speech patterns with lots of variety in tone, vivid facial expressions.

Finally, there will be some lag due to latency, so learn to wait a little longer than you might be used to for your students to reply.

Be organized

Classes will be much more enjoyable for you as an instructor if you have all of your materials, links, screen-shares, etc. organized and ready to go prior to the start of your class. Make sure that you login to get your “classroom” prepared at least 10 minutes before the start of class, even if it’s one that you’ve taught several times before.

Use a learning management system (LMS), like Tonara, to ensure students have easy access to course documents, recordings, and lesson materials.

Students will need extra reassurance and support when they are learning online and organizing additional resources for students in an LMS is a key way to create a safety net for them and will save you time as many of the resources can be repurposed for future courses.

Show yourself and your students grace

Internet will occasionally fail, your computer will decide to install automatic updates 15 minutes before your first class of the day, apps will go down. This is all part and parcel of teaching online.

Make sure that you are positive, flexible, and patient with yourself when these things occur. Of course, they are frustrating situations beyond our control, but these events are also a part of the life of an online educator.

Take a breath and show yourself some grace. Extend that same patience and kindness to your students if they too are having an “off day” with their technology.

I had a student log in to a piano lesson last week and for whatever reason, the sound on zoom was not working for him. He could hear me but I could not hear him. We each took a breath and just rolled with it. I asked him to Facetime with me instead so we could complete the lesson.

A bit of frustration as I could not screen share the music activity I had planned, but we were able to have a happy and productive lesson anyway. He was flustered and frustrated but by staying calm and using some flexibility and fast thinking, we were back up and running. He was quickly reassured and was ready to focus on a great lesson.

You’ve got this! With a lot of planning and patience, you will be ready to have engaged and motivated students. This is not an ordinary classroom, so enjoy the creativity to explore the new medium of online teaching to reach your students in new and extraordinary ways.

Jessica Speer

Jessica Speer

Author, “BFF or NRF (Not Really Friends): A Girl’s Guide to True Friendships”

With the swift shift to online learning, many students and parents are struggling to stay engaged and on top of school assignments. This is not surprising given that distance learning requires more focused attention than learning in a traditional classroom.

More distractions at home, inconsistent schedules, and nobody there to help students get back on task contributes to student disengagement.

The following five tips will help make home-based learning more manageable.

Create a structure

Schedules help with time management. Most children and adults need structure and routine to be able to focus on work.

Class schedules and structure are built into in-person learning. When learning from home, it’s essential to mimic this structure by setting up a consistent workspace and a daily schedule.

Determine what time at home learning start and end? What will each day look like? Make sure water and supplies are on hand to minimize distractions.

During times of stress, sticking to routines may be difficult. Go easy on yourself and try to re-implement the routines that worked well in the past. This will create a structure for your day and a sense of safety and control in your home.

Create a workspace

Since many students are distance learning from their bedrooms or the kitchen table, it’s important for them to feel good about their surroundings.

Make sure the learning space is relatively organized, and all the supplies needed are readily at hand. The workspace should create a sense of order and calm.

Related: Best Ergonomic Home Office Setup

Build-in breaks

Staying in one place all day can make it hard to stay focused during distance learning. Traditional classrooms have built-in breaks, such as changing rooms, recess, and lunch. Notice what blend of focused work and movement breaks work for you and your child.

Studies show that 15 minutes of intense movement a day, such as jumping on a trampoline or jogging around the block, helps focus and attention.

Establish one organizational system to keep track of schedule and assignments

A simple, centralized system, such as a whiteboard, planner, or to-do folder, will help students manage daily tasks and assignments. Parents can help younger students break work into manageable chunks.

A full day of on-line learning or a big project can feel overwhelming. Help kids break tasks into manageable pieces.

Practice patience

Go easy on yourself. This is a difficult time full of uncertainty, stress, and change. Be sure to implement stress-reducing habits to take care of your health.

Getting rest, eating healthy, spending time outside, exercising, and connecting with friends (even on-line) are essential parts of self-care.

Create a list of relaxation tools that work for you and your child. These lists do not have to be the same. Put your plans in plain view and practice them daily.

Lindsey Wander

Lindsey Wander

Founder and CEO, WorldWise Tutoring, LLC

Interesting

Find topics and source materials that appeal to students, so they will be chomping at the bit to participate. The best lessons are those where students hardly realize they are learning at all. Teach from your heart. If you enjoy teaching it, they will enjoy learning it.

Relevant

Assign stories (or case studies) to read, or have students watch someone tell a story about how they applied a principle or practice in real life. Use stories to illustrate the impact of what they’re learning—an additional motivator. Get students involved by stopping the story to find out what they would do in the hero’s place. Or show the same story from alternate perspectives if that’s important to the learning outcome.

Keep your course relevant, timely, and current. Include the latest research and developments, news, policies and regulations, opinions, etc.

Engaging

Before class, use a short, nongraded self-assessments to determine what the student already knows. Determine what to skip over or dive deeper into based on the results.

Give students some choice in assignments. They may lean toward diving deeper into specific topics or may prefer one delivery method over another.

Asking for feedback on the learning experience and content before, during, and after each class. For example, you may think students will enjoy group projects, but find out they actually dread the idea.

Engage learners’ brains by using a mix of content delivery methods—video (no longer than 6 minutes), text, audio, and presentations. In class, think of what you are teaching in smaller “chunks” — micro-lectures, interspersed with silent activities and group work. Try switching it up every 15-30 minutes.

Interactive

Remind students they’re not alone and not being ignored by checking in with them between classes. These check-ins are a good time to get feedback too.

Highlight students’ individual experiences. Encourage them to share those distinct experiences and help them tap such experiences for their coursework. Prepare thought-provoking topics to promote interesting discussions.

Add creative reward systems. Play games with a clear learning objective in mind. Don’t play games only for fun. Also, competition can be good sometimes, but collaboration is good all of the time. If possible, design your games to encourage students to work together.

Meaningful

Foster intrinsic motivation. Remind students how their new knowledge and skills will help them make a difference in the world, even in small ways. Talk about how this new expertise helps them improve or contribute to their family, school, or community.

Spread out learning activities beyond just your time together. You can send students on WebQuests before the next scheduled class. Or, you could try flipping the class: have students watch instructional videos and read relevant articles before class at a time of their choosing, then use the time together for discussion, guided practice, or application.

Try to challenge your students to connect what they are learning with the real world so that each moment can be a learning experience. Don’t, however, just dump extra homework on them. Any added tasks shouldn’t be a chore; they should motivate students to become life-long learners and connect what they learn with their life.

Douglas Walker

Douglas Walker

Director of Research and Development, Hadley

Know your learners well

Do your own homework before attempting to teach. Survey your learners, interview them, and, importantly, listen. What are their interests? What do they want to learn? What do they struggle with?

And when you’ve created content that you think fills the bill, ask them again. We’ve learned not to assume but to ask and listen.

Keep it short

Look at engagement metrics on your site for clues. You likely only have a few minutes to make your point. If a topic needs more in-depth instruction, consider a series. We’ve found that we can even teach the braille code in short segments. And our completion rates show that folks much prefer learning it that way.

It was better to have a series of shorter learning objects where learner momentum builds that one long lesson that folks gave up on.

Keep it practical and highly relevant

For voluntary learners like Hadley’s, it’s all about how quickly and easily they can put what they’re learning into practice.

Talk to your learners like people you like

No one wants to be talked down to or pandered to, especially older adults who have acquired vision loss later in life. So we ask our learning experts to pretend as if they’re sitting right alongside a friend or relative at their kitchen table. It works. Learners can feel the difference that comes with a friendly voice that respects you.

Diana Singer

Diana Singer

Education Specialist | President and Founder, Diana Singer Education

First and foremost, there are many challenges to remote classrooms and learning, but the three greatest are:

  • Students staying on task and being engaged and excited.
  • Organizational skills to stay motivated during class and to successfully complete work during and after class.
  • Parents working from home without repetitive interruptions.

Eliminate distractions by setting up the child’s own private space for studying

Kids’ success with remote learning starts at home with their parents. It’s important for all kids to have an environment at home that is conducive to remote learning, such as finding the perfect quiet space.

By second grade, children have homework in several disciplines and need a quiet space to focus as it’s easy for them to lose focus in the lesson, making it more difficult to get them reinterested.

I always recommend parents purchase a desk to set up in the child’s room, so they have their own private space. This will allow for a greater chance of them maintaining focus, as they’re in a quiet environment free of distractions.

Depending on age, children can also become more engaged when being involved in the decision, what desk to buy, where to set it up, what other supplies they should get.

Set an example of being respectful

Another important aspect to keep in mind is that parents are role models. I mean this in the sense that children model the behavior they see, so if you and the other adults in the home are respectful to others, speaking kindly, not interrupting, and most importantly, are active listeners, children will do the same.

To that point, if you are raising your voice out of frustration, they will emulate this tone and/or dialogue in the classroom. In my practice, I always advise my consultations that the children are the parents. These skills will serve any student well as they continue to learn remotely with a class and teacher.

Encourage the love for learning

The most successful and empowered students are those who have been encouraged to love to learn from an early age. Independence creates motivation and ownership of the educational process.

Self-confidence and independence make students succeed within the classroom and with their relationships with parents and educators. This is especially important to prepare students for competitive admission processes and for curriculums in both private and public schools and will, in turn, reduce the need for ‘helicopter parents’ or parents to constantly check in on whether or not their children’s work is complete or if they’re understanding the assignment.

Allen Koh

Allen Koh

CEO, Cardinal Education

There are a large number of benefits from online learning, but it is not without its challenges. There are many ways by which students can successfully adjust their study habits as they make the transition to fully online learning and it becomes much more engaging.

The familiarity with the system’s learning interface is a must

A learning management system (LMS) is the most important requirement for students to interact with the subject matter and their assignments. Therefore, it is an absolute must that students invest time in familiarizing themselves with the interface and with their specific assignments.

Students should come prepared for their classes and have their reading done so that they can ask relevant questions. Students should look ahead at their scheduled assignments and take particular note of the due dates so that they can better craft a realistic plan for completing all of their work. Also, there are set deadlines and timelines for assignment submissions that a student should adhere to.

Provide access to presentation or lecture notes

Even in virtual classrooms, there is scope for class participation; teachers ask questions, and students can respond and communicate proactively. Students must ask for assistance to be successful in virtual classrooms.

For better understanding of a subject or topic, students may require the presentations/lecture notes to be shared with them after classes so that they can revisit what has been taught and strengthen their hold on the subject matter.

They may also need extra sessions for doubt clearing, which they should not hesitate in asking their teacher for. This will also present them as a keen learner and conscientious student.

Invest in good studying and teaching equipment

Teachers should invest in a standing desk, a yoga ball, and other equipment to enhance an overly sedentary workday at home. They should also create a more rigid learning schedule and make expectations crystal clear in classes.

The learning goals for the remaining school year should be reiterated to students, and those goals should be broken up into smaller goals so students will know quickly whether they are falling behind.

Emphasize the importance of attendance

Importantly, attendance matters. There are incidents where many students turn off their cameras and resort to fake or proxy presence, which more often than not teachers are able to find out. Resorting to such tactics can give the student a notorious reputation.

Students should realize that sincerity will go a long way towards getting noticed positively as well as absorbing much more in their studies.

Take advantage of available free software packages

There are many ways that teachers can ace remote instruction and make online learning much more fun. These include the use of video recording through available free software packages such as OBS that allow teachers to record their videos along with customizable heading, presentations, animation, video inside a video. This makes the delivery of video-recorded lectures much more fun and interactive.

If the school/college/university infrastructure allows a lecture capture system, the students can get real into their learning. It makes both teachers and students feel that classes have come alive.

While presenting lectures, teachers can use an inbuilt whiteboard feature. This facility is available in many online teaching software that allow teachers to scribble on them and students feel that the teachers are performing just like in a class. This facility can be used in conjunction with various tablets available in the market that can be attached to the device, example laptop etc.

Teachers can also provide interactive activities like quizzes and group communication for direct involvement in, and set up virtual office hours to help students out. Further, they can create breakout rooms for students’ discussions. As the organizer, one can float in different rooms to check on the discussions.

In an online class, things typically run in a modular format and it does not have the normal structure of a face to face class. There is a need for students and teachers alike to organize their time and themselves accordingly.

Benwar Shepard

Benwar Shepard

Teacher, Jackman Middle School | Lead Instructor, Department of Sound

As we transition into a distance learning model for the upcoming school year, it is important as teachers that we deliver engaging and high-quality learning experiences for our students.

Here are a few practices I’ve utilized within the virtual classroom to make sure I’m providing the best learning experience possible for my students.

Provide a variety of activities for your students, including synchronous and asynchronous learning

It’s difficult to stare at a screen all day with limited, in-person interaction. For this reason, it is important that we remain active in the online classroom.

Try starting off the class with an introductory video you sourced online. Give your students exercises to complete during class. Take the time to check-in with your students. Give your students time to work in class at their own pace, and have them share their responses with the class. Offer your students many opportunities to speak or present their ideas. Keep the conversation flowing to spark interest and keep your students eager to participate.

Keep your student’s attention spans in mind

In today’s digital world, it’s crucial that we keep our student’s attention. Modern technology has filled our lives with never-ending distractions, impacting the way we consume information. We have to deliver our messages in a way that keeps our students focused.

Make sure to provide direct instructions in small, digestible chunks. Depending on the age group, the information should be provided in blocks of 3 -5 minutes (no more than 5 minutes at a time).

Social interaction during a pandemic

Some of our students are only getting social interaction through their schooling online. There has to be room for some type of social interaction through fun activity.

Kahoot! is a fun trivia game available on Zoom and Google Meet that encourages learning at all levels. The chat box is also a good option for communication in any video conferencing platform.

Expectations in this new model of learning

This is a new model of learning and we should not reinforce old expectations into this new model. We have to update our class guidelines to be realistic.

It’s not our students’ fault that we are in this situation. As we adjust, we must make sure we’re not on autopilot. We need to consistently consider the new time, the setting in which they are learning in, and what things they may or may not have access to in their home. Most importantly, we should not punish them for the things out of their control.

Our students’ emotional needs and expressional outlets

As we’re countering a pandemic and a social setting we’ve never seen before, we have to find ways to tend to the emotional needs of our students as well. Our students need us as a support system too.

Provide one-on-one check-ins for those who could use the extra time to chat. Take the time to ask how your students are doing and what’s going on in their lives because teachers are oftentimes their main interaction throughout the day.

Provide expressional outlets such as journal prompts to get them in the routine of expressing their emotions. Any form of creativity (whether it’s art, music, writing, etc) can help them translate their feelings into an expressive, physical form.

Jenn Breisacher

Jenn Breisacher

CEO, Student-Centered World

Student engagement is something that teachers are always trying to hack, but the current educational climate has increased that tenfold.

I polled teachers on social media asking, “On a scale of 1-10, how concerned are you about student engagement this year?” and 82% of those who responded said 8 or above.

This is a very real issue every day when dealing with children, especially now that we have so little consistency in how we are educating them.

Keep your students guessing

Of all the pieces of the engagement puzzle, when it comes to distance learning, the most important aspect is to keep the students guessing.

What does this mean? We know that repetition is necessary for anyone to learn the material to a level of mastery. However, repetition does not need to mean redundant.

If you students sign into class every day knowing it is going to be the same mix of activities that they have every other day, they are not going to be excited about learning, plain and simple.

There are so many options out there to take the same content and wrap it up in different mediums. These can be programs like EdPuzzle, FlipGrid, and Nearpod or assignments that you have used before that you create into a new platform like an escape room, simulation, or STEAM-like assignment. Go on a virtual field trip, have a surprise guest speaker, create a pen pal experience with a class elsewhere (a great website to find other teachers looking to connect on the same content is ePals.com).

Create experiences that make the students want to show up each day to see what in the world you have in store for them now.

The most important piece to remember is that when the students are more engaged in their work, it makes your job as a teacher easier. You might have to put in a little extra legwork before, but watching your students actively engage and learn (even if it is through a screen) makes a huge difference in everyone’s stress level and enjoyment.

Sergey Golubenko

Sergey Golubenko

Head of SharePoint Department, ScienceSoft

Use eLearning software with extensive gamification features

They help make learning engaging, motivate learners, and facilitate knowledge retention.

  • Mini-games train problem-solving skills, for example, choosing the right set of chemical substances and the order of operations for a required chemical reaction.
  • Simulations help teach learners practical skills through imitating real-life situations, for example, sales training may include dialogue simulations that help employees communicate with customers in a professional way.
  • Achievement points are granted to learners for completing an assignment, a topic, a course, or passing a test.
  • Leaderboards show learners’ real-time scores depending on their learning progress, which encourages competitiveness among trainees and stimulates learning.
  • Badges can be assigned to learners depending on their learning progress (e.g., Newbie, Expert).

Using micro training for formal learning, as an addition to formal learning, or for self-learning

Micro training allows learning in small batches at any time and place by using mobile devices. However, to be effective, micro training should offer diverse content that will help to hold learners’ attention.

Graphic micro training content can be represented by presentations, interactive guides, pictures, diagrams, graphs, and charts. Video content may include short videos, webinars, video podcasts, animation (e.g., whiteboard animation, kinetic text-based animation).

Both graphic and video content can offer key takeaways from formal training, help learners prepare for workshops, and refresh knowledge during the post-training period.

Quizzes and tests in micro training help learners assess their training achievements or revise the learning material if needed, as well as motivate employees and encourage further training.

Sarah Danzl

Sarah Danzl

Head of Global Communications and Client Advocacy, Degreed

Tailoring each learning opportunity to each individual will ensure they continuously learn

Any type of learning will be dis-engaging if it doesn’t put the learner at the center of the efforts. Alignment between an individual’s learning, the company goals, and (most importantly) their career aspirations, is key to engaging people.

It gives them the ‘why’ behind taking an online course or learning pathway – to open up new career opportunities that take them a step further towards their goals. Tailoring each learning opportunity to each individual will ensure they continuously learn.

The days of whole-day training in a stuffy off-site seminar room are long over. Online learning offers a way for people to fit learning into their workday, in manageable bite-sized chunks, in formats that they prefer.

Use this to your advantage by tailoring your learning opportunities to individual preferences. Research by Degreed and Harvard Business Publishing Corporate Learning found that 64 percent of people prefer to access learning through a web or mobile browser and 67 percent turn to their professional network to build new skills (meaning that a social element that enables knowledge-sharing is vital).

Don’t underestimate the power of your learning and skills data

Online learning creates a stream of data that can be used to understand what courses, content, formats, and timings work for each individual.

By regularly checking this data you can refine your learning strategy and adjust content to changing needs. You will be able to divest the content that isn’t working, focusing more resources on the areas that are in high-demand and most engaging.

Sam Liang

Sam Liang

CEO and Founder, Otter.ai

Utilize transcription services

There is a distinct realization that one of the central effects of the pandemic is that it has sped up an immediate and permanent shift in favor of remote learning, creating a new educational experience. Lecturers especially have had to challenge themselves to reconsider fundamental aspects of how their students learn best.

This presents serious technology issues as, in reality, the classroom has changed little since the first American schools opened in the 17th century. In fact, I would argue that technology has helped to facilitate a ‘re-imagination’ of just about every sector – except education.

Transcription services address one of the challenges that has arisen with remote learning over video conference tools, the balance of taking notes and engaging with the lecture on the screen, both central pillars of the learning experience.

Transcription services that transcribe lecturers in real-time and allow for highlighting of notes during virtual lectures are providing students with a hybrid learning opportunity.

This duality enables students that might learn best by reading information rather than hearing it, but also students that just want to focus purely on the lecturer can receive notes that they can refer to after the lecture.

Adam Cole

Adam Cole

Director, Grant Park Academy of the Arts

For the last three months, I’ve been building an online learning site called TruerMU which empowers students to study blues and jazz improvisation with the help of video content.

The secret to making it engaging involves the following: A good invitation, good content, and good structure

A good invitation is essential so that people are excited about what they’re about to study. We want them to go in there knowing that, by the end, they’re going to be able to do something they couldn’t do before: makeup music on the piano. We generate excitement through our promise that it’s going to be easy and fun.

Once they’re engaged, we have to keep our promise. Each video has to be short and simple so that they can learn something new in just a minute. We have to maintain the momentum from start to finish.

In order to maintain momentum, we take into careful consideration of the overall structure of the lessons. We introduce one concept at a time, and it flows naturally out of the previous content. Students will always know where they are on the journey so that they continue to have confidence they’ll reach the end.

Amy Kelly, MBA, MNM

Amy Kelly

National Director of Family Engagement, Devereux Advanced Behavioral Health

Hold an online scavenger hunt

Create a scavenger hunt list and ask students to gather items from their homes to share with their classmates online. Be creative – ask youth to find baby pictures; the first award they received; or the oldest pair of shoes they own.

This activity allows students the opportunity to get up from their desks and move around – but don’t worry – they will be excited to return and share what they found.

Start a digital “show and tell”

Ask students to take pictures and/or create videos of people, places, and things they miss right now (due to social distancing guidelines), and share them with their class.

This is a great way for youth to learn presentation skills, find out more about each other, and celebrate the things they look forward to in the future.

Challenge students to create virtual field trips

Ask students to research a special place they would like to visit (or have previously visited).

Kids can download photos of that location’s top attractions, share information about these places with their classmates and discuss their virtual field trips so everyone learns (and travels) together.

Sean McPheat

Sean McPheat photo

CEO, Skillshub

The key to an interesting online learning session is variety

The more an online learning session can interact with the learner the better. If it’s delivered live through webinar this means using LIVE Q&A, private discussion rooms, online whiteboards, discussions, and the like.

If it’s a traditional elearning session then it needs to include a diverse range of learning methods including presenter led, animations, quizzes, drag and drop content layers and the like – anything to get the user involved and not just passively watching something like a movie.

The key to an interesting online learning session is variety. Learners soon get bored. If you can create a blended learning environment the better. Today, our attention span is smaller than it has ever been so even a period of just 10 minutes with the learning being passive will mean they start to think about anything but the learning session.

So when designing a session think about the learner’s journey and what feeling or emotion you want them to experience at each stage. Is it curiosity? Is it confirmation of something? The way you design a session will ultimately create a feeling. Just make sure it’s not boredom!

Dr. Charles Green

Charles Green

VP of Instructional Innovation, Relearnit

Faculty should develop a strong cognitive and social presence in their online classrooms

One way to accomplish this is through the thoughtful application of video. It can be used to provide personalized welcome messages, modular lectures that accompany weekly readings, virtual office hours, and “just-in-time” feedback on graded assignments.

Create orientation and training videos for students in their online programs

These types of “reusable learning objects” help proactively address many common questions and problems students encounter during their first weeks of classes.

Rather than having instructors spend valuable time responding to administrative or technical questions, these videos allow faculty and students to focus on and engage in the subject matter of the course.

Arash Fayz

Arash Fayz

Co-Founder and Executive Director, LA Tutors 123

For many of my students, remote school has been especially challenging because it has been coupled with the added stress of the pandemic and social isolation. Students are likely worried about those around them catching COVID-19 and are bored at home and then on top of that school is suddenly lonely and more challenging.

Easing students’ anxiety (potentially even encouraging them to see a therapist if the situation requires it and it is financially possible) and providing them with social outlets will go a long way towards making remote schooling more successful.

Make sure to give hands-on activities

For very young kids, one way to make remote school more engaging is to make sure they have some hands-on activities in addition to Zoom classes (which are frequently difficult for small children to sit through).

Maybe that means doing art class in person with markers or paint, or letting them spend some time outside (weather/space permitting). Introducing some games or interactive components to their learning can also help kids from getting bored.

Middle school students may not need games or finger painting breaks as much as younger students, but they still need visuals or diversions to keep them engaged. Middle schoolers might benefit from educational videos on related subjects (Hiphughes is good for history), or podcasts that can help them practice language skills (Radio Ambulante is excellent for students studying Spanish and features specific resources on their website for using the podcast as a language learning tool).

These sorts of supplementary resources can substitute for some of the lectures or class discussions that aren’t taking place now that school is remote.

If possible, let students enjoy a flexible schedule

The major benefit for high school students working remotely is the ability to be more flexible in their schedule in a way that better fits their sleep cycles and attention spans than a rigid in-person education. Let them take advantage of this!

Within reason, and the rules of their particular online schooling, let students be flexible with when they work and how they work.

Giving them breaks or letting them sleep in a bit can help students mitigate some of the stresses brought about by high school work and remote schooling in particular.

Have a dedicated workspace for them

In order to make remote school more engaging, parents might want to consider a mini whiteboard and dry erase marker for their child. This can be helpful for showing their work to a teacher over Zoom or asking questions.

Depending on what children are studying and budgetary limits, parents might also want to consider buying something that students typically use in their favorite elective at school. That might mean an easel and canvas for a student who misses their painting class, a musical instrument, or even a lab kit. This can help go some way towards replacing some of the opportunities children are currently missing out on.

It also is extremely helpful to provide students with some sort of dedicated workspace set up so that online school still feels like regular school (i.e. a separate desk or even just a cardboard barrier around their workspace).

Wanda Kay Knight

Wanda Kay Knight

Author | Educator, Peacock Door and More

In our present scenario, online school is especially tricky. Past of this is because it is not a choice for many. It is not what parents necessarily wanted nor is it what the students hoped for.

Because of this, expectations, desire, and understanding of the process is vastly different than it would be if the situation was a decision or a choice like with regular home school/online situations.

There are parents who don’t understand why their kids are sitting in front of the computer so much; others wonder why their kids are sitting in front of the computer more. They worry their kids will not be receiving the proper education.

When a teacher talks too long, it worries them; when a teacher doesn’t stay long enough, it worries them.

Then, the students have their own set of issues. Some don’t want to be seen on the computer, so they black out the screen; but that means they can easily slip away and the teacher would never know.

The kids get bored just listening to the teacher talk too much, but on the other side, it is easy for them to just ignore everything. And, if all that were not enough, technical issues can plague the classroom—computers and internet issues can easily bring a great lesson to a halt.

But, fortunately, there really is good news. And fortunately, there are ways to turn the negatives around and most of them just take a little patience and ingenuity. There really are simply ways to keep parents happier and students learning and thriving.

Be acquainted with the technology

First things first. Everyone, teachers, students, and even parents (as much as possible) needs to become acquainted with the technology.

Rather it is Zoom or Google Classroom or whatever various educational supports the school provides, get in there and share the screen and show the students how to turn their lessons in, how to click on whatever needs to be clicked on, and how to upload assignments and all those little things work.

The last thing this online situation needs is extra frustration and panic because nobody knows how to turn in lessons or find the link to their Zoom class.

Make everything a click away, if possible. Organize the links and classroom meeting places all in a nice, easily accessible place.

Related: How Important Is Technology in Education

Be prepared to be patient

You will encounter resistance and frustration in the beginning. Everything is new—but, like most things in life, ice does get broken and smiles do emerge and even the shy ones eventually seem to crawl out of their shells.

Make sure your background to your “classroom” is as pleasant as possible

Make your surroundings cheerful. When the students show up for class, talk to them for a few minutes just like you would in a brick and mortar situation. And while patience is especially important as everyone begins this experience, it is also essential to stress that they are expected to show up on time for Zoom meetings (or whatever type you use) just like they would in a regular classroom.

Take breaks

But, after all of that is said and done and after everything is as organized and ready to go as possible, it is still essential to realize that in an online classroom, it is very easy for students to get bored.

Organize your lessons around the idea that the students need breaks every half hour or so, and they need to move around a bit. Teach for a half-hour, take a quick break, let them work independently for a bit and then everyone needs to come back and start something fresh.

Don’t be afraid to use visuals

While teaching the lessons, don’t be afraid to screen share or make use of video clips that make subjects like math and science more visual.

For example, there are fantastic clips on YouTube that can explain things with a new voice, and with more energy than you might be able to provide in your “classroom.” This is a fantastic time to utilize short clips that pull your lessons together and emphasize some of the points you are trying to show.

Pull out the PowerPoints

Have the students prepare their own creative projects and share their work with the class by making them the temporary host. At first, they will groan and none of them will want to go first. So, just like in a normal classroom, pull a name out of the hat.

Once they get to take over the screen and show what they have done, it becomes easier and the class feels more real and more intimate.

The online classes are much like a regular class except it is even more essential that organization and technology run more smoothly.

Just like a normal classroom, if you create a warm/comfortable environment, pull the students into conversations with projects and stories, use learning tools that enhance lessons and change up the learning experience, smile a lot, and remember that they are just kids, well, in the end, it’s all going to be just fine.

It is actually surprising how much camaraderie, learning, and even fun can happen in this new form of schooling.

Aki Murata, Ph.D.

Aki Murata

Educator | Writer | Speaker

The key to student engagement depends on how the learners find the content relevant and meaningful for them

“Because you need it to pass the grade,” or “Because you need it to get a job,” are not enough for sustaining deep engagements. When students are engaged, they are motivated to learn, and behavioral issues disappear.

While this is an important topic in in-person teaching, when switching to online, it poses additional challenges, as it becomes more difficult to maintain student attention for a long period of time.

I will outline some suggestions for young learners and adult students below. In both cases, the more connections teachers can make with students’ own interests and lives would make a difference, while using the online portion of the lesson purposefully for communication and connection building.

For younger learners (Grade PreK – 8), minimize the synchronous portion of the lesson, while providing students activities to complete at home and in communities.

For example, while learning any core math content topics (e.g., addition, subtraction, fraction, proportional reasoning, data, and statistics), encourage students to collect data at home for something meaningful.

Young students can make an inventory of their toys (numbers of dolls, stuffed animals, cars), count the number of video games they have (and categorize them by kinds), call their relatives about favorite meals, and show the data using different graphs and charts.

Teachers can creatively pose math questions depends on the grade level (e.g., how many more cars do you have than stuffed animals?) and compare the data among students. In another example, introduce them to nonfiction literature, and encourage them to write about their community, what activities are going on during COVID, etc., while students also learn new vocabulary and writing (e.g., exposition, descriptive, persuasive).

The key to making these engaging activities into deep learning is by embedding content learning in the activities (as noted above: addition, fraction, new vocabulary, persuasive writing), and teachers may find it pleasantly easy to accomplish the goal.

For older students (high school, college), also limits the synchronous portion of the lesson purposefully

Passively watching a long synchronous lesson video is tiring for students of any age (For asynchronous videos, they can pause, take breaks, and repeat as they wish). Provide them clearly-written syllabus so they understand what is expected in the courses. Deadlines for assignments should be clearly communicated to allow students to plan their work ahead.

In flippe4d classrooms, students can read textbooks (or watch asynchronous lesson videos) to preview the lesson content. In the synchronous lessons that follow, students bring questions or work with peers on group projects.

Instructors can make sure the students know there are different kinds of online sessions found on the classroom website (e.g., Q&A session, group session, review session), and they are required to participate in all of them, but they can create their own schedule. In this way, students’ initial content learning happens independently, and the online portion of the class will become active with students asking questions and working on tasks.

Whenever possible, allow students to choose the topics to complete their course projects. For example, if they are learning about American history, have them choose a historical figure to research and write about them.

For mathematics (and engineering/science), they can research and choose a monument, building, or structure, and write about how their design makes the building geometrically and mathematically solid.

Samantha Curiale-Feinman, MS.Ed., TSHH

Samantha Curiale-Feinman

Director, New Frontiers Executive Function Coaching

Online learning has become a growing trend in education over the past decade. Removing the need to be in a certain place at a certain time to learn has opened up a whole new world for developing skills in a flexible way. Factor in the COVID-19 pandemic, and we see that online learning has increasingly become the standard rather than the exception.

Although an online learning model may allow for an increased level of flexibility and access, it requires adaptation on the part of the student to navigate. Here are some ways to optimize engagement during online learning opportunities:

Begin with a dedicated learning environment

People thrive on structure and routine, and a traditional learning environment provides a classroom, desks, and resources that many find helpful for getting the work done.

To replicate that during your online learning experience, create a dedicated space where you will be responsible for completing your virtual coursework.

Make it your space – try and locate it in an area that is distraction-reduced, uncluttered, and decorated in a way that makes you want to engage in the curriculum in the space.

Add some fresh plants or aromatherapy, as well as natural light and fresh air if possible. It will set the stage for an inspiring and productive online learning experience.

Engage in remote social interaction frequently

Online learning can feel more engaging by interfacing with teachers and peers as often as possible. Students thrive on dynamic interaction during the teaching and learning process.

People are motivated to learn when they have the ability to go back and forth with each other or with their teachers to provide encouragement, support, and reciprocal guidance. Further, people are motivated by the positive reinforcement received from teachers and peers when it comes to feedback on their work.

Students can take advantage of virtual drop-in office hours or text and/or email check-ins to increase engagement. Organizing an online study group or social gathering can help to develop community amongst a virtual class.

Structure meaningful breaks for yourself

In a traditional learning environment, breaks are naturally embedded within a daily schedule through activities such as moving through the halls to switch classes or planned lunch and recess times.

When considering how to increase engagement with online learning, it is important to be sure to embed breaks into the experience. There are several benefits to taking short planned breaks during learning. Breaks allow for overall increased levels of focus and productivity, as well as decreased levels of stress and burnout.

Related: 20 Best Books for Teachers on the Edge of Burnout

With a motivating space to work and some strategic decisions concerning engagement with the class and structured breaks, online learning can be not only engaging, but convenient and fun!

Peter Murphy

Peter Murphy

Co-founder and CEO, Pocket Prep

One of the best ways to make online learning more engaging is to cater it to all screens and all devices

We are seeing an incredible amount of educational content and access happening on desktop only, and the mobile devices market has a lot of room for opportunity when it comes to engaging educational content.

Not everyone can commit to sitting down at a laptop or desktop for hours on end, especially at home in the middle of a pandemic. Not everyone can even afford a personal desktop or laptop.

The reality of modern-day education is that the majority of classes or courses are continuing to rely on the desktop computer format for interactive and multi-faceted learning.

Being able to learn or study from the ease of your phone or tablet is a powerful tool. It allows you to study from almost anywhere and at any time. Plus, studying or learning on a mobile device encourages regular use and attention as it’s easier to access.

Science has continually shown that regular and constant exposure to something you’re trying to learn, even if it’s just 10-15 minutes a day, is better for long term memory than bulk studying like cramming.

Being able to engage with educational content on mobile devices, especially course materials like learning portals or study resources, will bring online learning to the next level.

Ana Casic

Ana Casic

Media Relations Coordinator, Talent LMS

Use storytelling

Keeping learners on their toes is challenging, especially when it comes to online learning. Remote learners are easily distracted, overwhelmed, and bored. To immerse them into the material and make online learning engaging, use this powerful tool that creates bonds and boosts retention. I talk about storytelling.

Stories help us connect and engage with the information we’re receiving, and transform it into knowledge.

They create an emotional connection with the learning material and are a vessel for information — which is enveloped in the story. So, include stories in your modules, use a narrative hook to grasp their attention, and create characters that face similar problems.

Final tip, take advantage of metaphors when explaining something complex. Metaphors will help your learners understand challenging concepts easier.

To wrap up, for creating online learning experiences that stick and hook your learners, use storytelling. Tell interesting stories and watch how your retention rate skyrockets.

Andres Lares

Andres Lares

Managing Partner and CEO, Shapiro Negotiations Institute

Keep it short and fun

To make online learning more engaging it’s critical to make it short – because people’s attention spans online are shorter than in person.

Its critical to make it fun – adults and kids should be laughing, and depending on the topic and age group possibly even getting up from their chairs and move around. And finally it should be fast moving and visual.

Much like while watching a good movie you don’t want to blink and miss anything, even less run and get popcorn, the same is for online learning where you want to make it compelling, often via great storytelling, in addition to interaction throughout (e.g. breakout rooms, simulations, quizzing, etc.).

Patrick Boyle

Patrick Boyle

Investment Management Professional | Founder, On Finance

Since the COVID-19 lockdown, I have been providing much more online content for my university students.

A lot of thought needs to go into creating good online content

You need to understand the technology, you need a good camera setup, good lighting, and good sound equipment.

Good presentation skills are important for in-person teaching

A teacher should not rely heavily on PowerPoint slides, they should speak directly to the students and engage them as much as possible. Students should not be reading large blocks of text from slides and making notes, that is what printed materials like a textbook is for.

Make them feel that a real person is speaking directly to them

Similarly, online students enjoy well worded and colorful explanations and the feeling that a real person is speaking directly to them. The beauty of a recorded class is that you can edit it and make sure that things are explained as clearly as possible.

For most of my online classes and on my YouTube channel, I aim to speak clearly and directly to the student. Often, they are watching a video to have a person explain a concept to them, and filling the screen up with text is not always helpful.

Even with mathematical finance, if you can clearly explain the concept in plain English and the reasoning behind the calculations, it makes it much easier for the student when they are later working through a textbook example.

Teaching technical subjects is interesting because you are not just getting a person to memorize a formula, you are trying to get them excited about the subject and interested in the underlying ideas.

Over time they will forget the formula, but they can quickly look that up. The ideas surrounding how the problem was solved, and your enthusiasm for the subject will hopefully stick with them for their whole career.

William Cooke

William Cooke

Head Coach, William Cooke Coaching

Fostering an environment of empowerment and collaboration

Furthermore, I recommend teachers tie in discussions of motivation and benefit. Creating intrinsic motivation for courses is a powerful method of improving learning.

Teachers can do this by allowing learners to explore why they are taking this class, what motivates them and what benefits can be expected. This creates a bond of trust and accountability as well as genuine engagement. Combining this with plenty of time for interpersonal contact allows great engagement and bonding in the online classroom, for sure.

Utilize study groups

In courses that feature only prerecorded or written material, creating a study group on Zoom for enlisted cohorts is a good way to include this exercise. This allows support to be generated from within the learning community, fostering collaboration rather than ‘expert lecturing.’

Alexandra Zelenko

Alexandra Zelenko

Senior Marketing/Technical Writer, DDI Development Company

Focus on gamification

The Gamification market is expected to reach 12 billion US dollars by 2021. Adding gamification elements drives deeper engagement because it taps into human emotion and people’s natural tendencies to socialize, learn, master, compete, and achieve. 67% of users reported that a gamified online course was more motivating than a traditional course.

With that in mind, take into account the following elements such as scores, badges, leaderboards, competition before launching an online learning course.

Not only can users go through the learning path and get badges, but leaderboards will also allow them to see the overall progress and keep them engaged. In addition to that, the competition element helps users accomplish desired tasks and better engage them.

Kaine Shutler

Kaine Shutler

Managing Director, Plume

Ensure the design incorporates everything that users will need to access in a way that’s clear, easy to navigate, and succinct

From a design perspective, it’s all about firstly taking the time to understand who your users are and what they need. It sounds obvious but if you start moving into design and development without truly understanding their core needs, everything starts to feel messy and incohesive.

For example, I think we can agree on the importance of a user dashboard; it’s a key starting place for any design as it’s the first screen beyond a login screen that your users will see. From there you need to ensure the design incorporates everything that users will need to access in a way that’s clear, easy to navigate, and succinct.

Without that first planning stage, elements get lumped in, there’s no focus on the user journey and no prioritization of elements.

It might not sound like much, but a well put together dashboard keeps users engaged.

They don’t fear coming to the platform because they can find what they need and are signposted to areas that are relevant to them.

Take the time to think about everything your user might need before rushing into any design or development – the dashboard is a great place to start – the rest will follow.

Kateryna Reshetilo

Kateryna Reshetilo

Marketing and Business Development Manager, Greenice

One-fits-all approach to online learning doesn’t work and is a major reason for the lost interest among students. There are three approaches for this – differentiated, personalized, and adaptive.

With differentiated learning, the learning path of a student is determined on the basis of the preliminary assessment.

Personalized learning takes this a step further and makes it possible for the learning path to change along the way if the learners needs change (all based on pre-set rules and algorithms).

Adaptive learning has the same principle as a personalized approach, but it is implemented with more sophisticated technology such as big data and artificial intelligence.

Gamification has been an important tool for driving engagement of online learners for over a decade already

Educators use educational games and game elements to inspire friendly competition and make studying more fun.

Good examples of eLearning gamification are 1) Serious games – gamified quizzes that have an entertaining theme, scoring system, leaderboards, etc. 2) Game elements embedded in courses – scoring systems, leaderboards, and rewards.

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