5 Ways to Create a More Engaging Online Classroom

One of the most unique and stubborn challenges for online learning is building engagement. In a brick-and-mortar classroom, student engagement is enhanced by the physical limitations imposed by space and time as well as the various interactive moments instructors construct to provoke thought and response. Online, those factors do not lie in favor of the classroom content, so engagement needs to be fostered in ways that work asynchronously for diverse learners in a range of locations.

Whether you are building courses for professional learners who want to update and expand a skill set or students involved in a certification or degree program, the same practices work to keep learners involved with the material. Here are a few of the best places to start.

1. Design for interruption and distraction.

When building content for online learners, it is a lot more productive to assume they will face regular distractions and interruptions they can not help than to assume they have the ability to block off study time in a closed space that replicates a classroom setting.

Not only does it account for learners who juggle particular challenges such as child care or lack of privacy and quiet space, but it also allows for convenient and easily accessible courses and content. When inevitable power or internet outages from severe weather occur or students get sick, an online course needs to be forgiving enough to accommodate the delays they cause.

2. Check in regularly with your learners.

There is no way to tell why online learners are putting in the time they are or opting out of certain tasks if you never ask them, especially in an environment where you do not meet face to face. You can check the analytics and learner progress tracking information to see what they do, but only the learners themselves can tell you why they do it.

Check-in measures such as forums and course evaluations give you the chance to learn what users are finding engaging and valuable and what might need improvements. This creates opportunities to help those who are stalled because of issues processing and understanding the material. That makes them very useful for everyone involved, and it gives you a hands-on opportunity to put course participants back on track if they fall off.

3. Employ the 3 Levels of Design Appeal.

Visual design and rhetorical choice are vital to the first impressions and ongoing experiences of all participants in a digital learning environment, no matter its purpose or the organization behind it. In a sense, the vast majority of their interaction with the space is a matter of navigating documents with interactive features, so it is important to design those documents according to known best practices. This means balancing the visceral, behavioral, and reflective appeals identified by professor John Norman as they are made.

Visceral appeals make the student excited to pursue the material on an instant emotional level by playing to the things that cause gut reactions. Posing a question or mystery is a great example of a rhetorical visceral appeal because some people just have to pick at questions until they are answered. It’s also a good example of a behavioral appeal because it prompts the learner to take an action. Solve the mystery! And, it caps the three levels off by encouraging reflection as well.

There is a sense of accomplishment in a task finished, which helps provoke thought about the process that led to it. Most appeals do not work on all three levels at once, so it is important to make regular design appeals with different features of the course content, including visual design.

4. Choose your points of engagement intentionally.

You have a lot of options when it comes to engaging students. Discussion forums, private chats and email consultations, and various forms of assessments are just a few, and it is easy to brainstorm more if you set your mind to the task. In the rush to provide diverse experiences appealing to the range of learners in your courses, designers can easily lose sight of the purpose of each type of engagement and the kind of information contained in the learners’ responses to it.

For that reason, it is important to not only diversify the ways you engage with students but to pin them to course objectives or individualized learner priorities in ways that suit the material you are working with.

5. Refresh course material regularly.

Learners easily pick up on course content that has not been updated in a few years. Not only does the information age, leaving out context, development, and common knowledge that has come to light since its creation, it also falls short of engaging them as they learn best.

Changes to technology and in-seat educational trends inform the expectations of learners, and as such, they are constantly changing with each passing year as new approaches are developed. To stay relevant to your learners, you need to update not only the content but the way it is delivered and the points of engagement you use to track learner progress as you get feedback.

Want to learn more about building engagement in your online courses? Check out our recent webinar, Learner Engagement: Trends and Strategies to Supercharge Your LMS to explore ways to increase learner engagement and supercharge your training programs with our experts.

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