What Strategies Engage Learners Effectively in Online Environments?

    Authored By


    What Strategies Engage Learners Effectively in Online Environments?

    Engaging learners in an online environment can be challenging, so we've gathered eight effective strategies from experienced professionals including Directors and CEOs. From providing timely feedback to implementing active recall and spaced repetition, these insights offer a range of techniques to captivate and educate in the digital realm.

    • Provide Timely Feedback
    • Create an Interactive Story Quest
    • Use Breakout Rooms for Student Dialogue
    • Offer On-Demand Training Videos
    • Engage with 'Ask Me Anything' Mystery Mentors
    • Utilize Short, Engaging Video Clips
    • Mix Diverse Learning Tools in Modules
    • Implement Active Recall and Spaced Repetition

    Provide Timely Feedback

    I have been teaching online for Southern New Hampshire University since 2019, with many students across the globe. Over the years, I have developed some strategies I use to ensure that my learning environment is effective and engaging for my students. Here are some of my methods.

    In an online environment, the main way that an instructor will be able to communicate with students is through feedback. This is especially true if the online environment is asynchronous. As an instructor, make time in your week to provide feedback in a timely manner. The way many courses are developed, the weeks build off of each other, and students need to have that regular and consistent feedback from their instructor promptly so they have more time to implement the feedback.

    I can confidently say that students do not want to sit in front of their screen and watch someone on the other side talking the whole time or reading off a PowerPoint slide. This is a great way to watch your class zone out and stop paying attention. They also don’t want to just sit there and watch endless videos either. As you develop your courses, incorporate different types of activities and assignments. Students like taking polls and modules that have a balance of videos, reading material, and simulations. I love partnering with publishers whose e-books are essentially interactive learning environments. Some other ideas are inserting videos, animations, discussions, and quizzes throughout the content.

    Through feedback from my students over the years, I've learned that students often lose interest in a course when they don’t understand its relevance in their everyday lives or careers. Not every student understands how what they are learning in class can be applied in their careers or personal lives. Part of our job as the instructor is to bridge that gap. Bring in real-world scenarios, share your own professional experiences, and explain how the theories being taught in class are used in the real world. From day one, take the time to learn about your students as individuals so when you are engaging them in discussions, you can appeal to their goals and aspirations, and tailor the course content to them.

    Mary Krull, Shrm-Scp, Prc
    Mary Krull, Shrm-Scp, PrcLead Talent Attraction Partner, Southern New Hampshire University

    Create an Interactive Story Quest

    One effective strategy I've employed to engage learners in an online environment is the Interactive Story Quest. Instead of traditional lectures, I designed a learning module as a virtual adventure where learners had to navigate through challenges and solve problems to progress. Each correct answer advanced them in the story, making the learning process more like a game. Surprisingly, this approach not only increased participation but also turned the learning experience into a memorable journey. It fostered a sense of curiosity and excitement, transforming what could be a mundane topic into an engaging and immersive online adventure.

    Ben Richardson
    Ben RichardsonDirector, Acuity Training

    Use Breakout Rooms for Student Dialogue

    As an English teacher, my goal is to reduce my talking time and increase the students' dialogue. I utilize the breakout rooms in Zoom to create smaller groups of students and assign each group specific questions that they need to discuss and be prepared to answer after a designated amount of time to the entire class. Because I am not in each breakout room, I will assign one or two students to be the group leader, who are in charge of presenting for their group when they're done. This helps to ensure the students stay on task and that the leaders keep the others in line so that they have the answers they need for their short presentation.

    Kristine Thorndyke
    Kristine ThorndykeCo-Founder, TEFL Hero

    Offer On-Demand Training Videos

    As an all-remote digital media company in the insurance industry, we've learned that the most effective strategy to engage learners is through offering training videos they can review on their schedule. When we expanded our writing team, we reviewed our instruction guides and made them more robust. However, when a few team members displayed challenges with some of the more technical details involved in submitting articles, managers hosted online training sessions. We found the highest engagement when we made the videos available to all team members. Since the majority of people are visual learners, everyone learns at a different pace, and our team is spread across various time zones, we found everyone responded best to reviewing a training video on their own, so they could pause or go back to a topic whenever they needed and for as long as they needed.

    Michelle Robbins
    Michelle RobbinsLicensed Insurance Agent, Clearsurance.com

    Engage with 'Ask Me Anything' Mystery Mentors

    "Ask Me Anything" with Mystery Mentors is an exciting and engaging activity designed to spark curiosity and foster interaction in an online learning environment. In this activity, students are allowed to submit questions to a hidden expert, whose identity remains a mystery. The questions can cover a wide range of topics and can be related to the subject being taught or more general areas of interest.

    Once the students have submitted their questions, the mystery mentor responds to each question individually, providing insightful and informative answers. The key element of this activity is that the students are unaware of the mentor's identity. This creates an air of suspense and intrigue, as they try to guess who the mentor might be based on the answers provided. As the students analyze the responses, they can discuss and share their guesses. Some mentors may drop hints or clues in their answers to help students narrow down the possibilities. The anticipation and engagement levels soar as students actively participate in the guessing game, speculating on the expertise and background of the mystery mentor.

    The activity culminates with the big reveal, where the identity of the mystery mentor is unveiled. This can be done through a video message or a live session, adding an element of surprise and excitement to the activity. "Ask Me Anything" with Mystery Mentors not only encourages students to ask thoughtful questions but also promotes critical thinking, research skills, and teamwork as they collaborate to decipher the mentor's identity. It creates a dynamic and interactive learning experience that keeps students actively engaged and eager to participate.

    Connor Ondriska
    Connor OndriskaCo-founder & CEO, SpanishVIP

    Utilize Short, Engaging Video Clips

    As the owner of a video editing and marketing agency, one strategy we swear by to keep online learners hooked is leveraging videos, especially short ones. We create snappy, engaging clips that break down complex concepts, inject a bit of humor, and keep things visually interesting. People love watching short, dynamic content, so we make sure our videos are not just informative but also entertaining. It's one of the best ways to make learning feel less like a chore and more like a fun hangout session.

    Daniel Willmott
    Daniel WillmottFounder, Shortformvideo.co

    Mix Diverse Learning Tools in Modules

    For asynchronous courses, one strategy that has worked well for us is to create a faster-moving and more diverse mix of tools and resources within course modules. For example, rather than designing a module with a 30-minute video lecture followed by a 20-question quiz, you break those elements out into a dozen or more gated segments.

    Start with a 3-minute video clip, then a quick 4-question quiz, followed by a few slides with animations, back to a short video clip, followed by a short game. By building in more learning elements with more frequent changes, learners stay engaged for longer and on a deeper level. In fact, when we measured our initial courses from years ago versus our courses today (which incorporate this faster-moving, diverse approach), learners stay engaged for 56% longer before logging off.

    John Ross
    John RossCEO, Test Prep Insight

    Implement Active Recall and Spaced Repetition

    To engage learners effectively in an online environment, our team at Recall has embraced a dual approach: implementing active recall and spaced repetition techniques.

    Active recall transforms the learning process from passive consumption to active engagement. Users generate questions from their learning material, stimulating their memory and enhancing their understanding of the content. This method proves more effective than simply re-reading or listening to information, as it requires the brain to actively work in retrieving and processing the information.

    Alongside this, spaced repetition ensures that information is reviewed at optimal intervals, promoting long-term retention. This technique leverages the psychological spacing effect, strategically scheduling reviews of saved summaries to reinforce knowledge over time.

    Our approach has not only proven effective in fostering a more engaging and interactive learning experience but also significantly boosts long-term information retention. By integrating these scientifically-backed techniques into our platform, Recall offers a unique and dynamic way for learners to interact with and retain the information they consume online.

    Paul Richards
    Paul RichardsFounder & CEO, Recall