Eduspire instructor and Leading Tomorrow Founder, Dr. Jolene Erlacher, hosted a webinar recently called “Student Engagement in Online Learning,” and was kind enough to write up these eight tips to summarize, which we’ve shared below. Please visit our Distance Learning Resources page for additional materials compiled by our helpful network of instructors and colleagues.

During two decades of teaching in both K-12 and college contexts, I have had to adapt a lot of my teaching strategies to the many changes we are seeing in technology and students today. For the past eight years, I have taught online courses for several different schools and developed a deep appreciation for the opportunities that exist in virtual classrooms. Here are a few of my favorite tips and tools for maximizing student engagement in online learning:  

  • Tip 1: “Push” Important Info to Students

We live in a world where notifications and reminders help us focus on what is important amid the onslaught of information we encounter. As a result, we need to “push” important information to students. I do this by posting and emailing weekly updates, highlighting what is important in each module. During the first couple of weeks of class, or when there is a new type of assignment or activity, I post/send a special reminder or explanation, even though all this info is also clearly posted on the LMS. Students benefit from knowing what to focus on, understanding how to manage their time, and getting information that minimizes mistakes or confusion. 

  • Tip 2: Be Present/Engaged

In the online context, students cannot “see” us the way they do in a classroom, so we need to be intentional to show we are present and engaged. We can do this by contributing to discussion on forums, liking or responding to comments, and making specific comments unique to each student when responding to assignment submissions. I also try to reference student comments or insights when giving video lectures or facilitating discussions to show I am paying attention to what they are saying and doing. 

  • Tip 3: Be Personable/Authentic

Being personable online requires us to really express our personality. Including some videos and facilitating live discussions helps convey our teaching style. I always host a virtual orientation the first week of class so we can see facial expressions and hear voices. We can let our personality shine through in videos, posts, and comments by sharing personal fun facts and stories or using emojis. Also, responding to student needs and requests for help with empathy goes a long way toward building rapport.   

  • Tip 4: Connect Individually

Learn specifics about each student, reference these, share resources they might find interesting given their interests, etc. I create an introduction forum and ask everyone to post a short bio during the first week. This helps me learn and remember names and backgrounds.  Responding promptly to questions and creating times or opportunities for appointments if students need to connect via phone or video chat communicates you are available to help them.  

  • Tip 5: Allow for Choice

When we have some choice in a situation, we tend to feel more motivated. As a result, I often give options for assignments. For example, sometimes students can choose between participating in a written online forum discussion (introverts tend to prefer this!) or a live virtual discussion (verbal processors love this!). On some activities, I allow submissions to be either written or a recorded video. They can often choose between a paper or a project. I also like to give some freedom, when possible, for students to choose topics or applications to explore in course assignments. 

  • Tip 6: Encourage Student Ownership

Sometimes students prefer that instructors do the hard work of teaching and providing feedback but engaging them in these processes ensures better learning. I like using peer reviews, student-led presentations, and group activities to maximize student ownership in learning.

  • Tip 7: Get Feedback!

The greatest contribution to my learning as an online educator has been student feedback. I do at least one mid-course feedback survey/form, in addition to final course evaluations, in every class I am teaching. I ask the following: what is working, what is not, what would improve your learning experience? I immediately respond to areas of concern and make changes to the course based on helpful student input. Students value that I listen to them and care about their learning experience. 

  • Tip 8: Learn from Colleagues

I have found solutions to so many of my challenges in online teaching by connecting with and learning from colleagues. I also regularly try to take courses or watch webinars that help me learn new tools and methods. It can be easy to get into a routine, so adding some new tech tools regularly helps keep our online teaching sharp! 

I hope you find these tips helpful and encouraging as you engage students in online learning!