Best practices Opinion

8 tips on engaging learners in your course


As we all know from our experience at school, we can learn a lot even when we are not engaged. Students get something out of school even if they sit idle through classes.

But as we also know from our experience, especially in university, that’s not enough, and, for the more demanding courses, it’s often a non starter. Being engaged in, rather than merely attending, our courses, multiplies our understanding of the material, our memory, and, as a result, our knowledge acquisition.

When, then, are some good guidelines regarding engaging learners in your courses? Well, that’s what we’re here to find out.

1. It all starts with the content

Your course material it the alpha and the omega of your e-learning course. It has to be good to be engaging. Fancy features like social learning and gamification only come into play after you have a good solid material to begin with.

You might be a domain expert, but if you’re not that good with the written word, or if your powerpoints make everybody bore to tears, it might be better if you hire someone else to write the material, of get the rights of some already existing textbooks.

2. Spice it up

It’s 2014 already. Pages upon pages of text, dry formulas and the occasional black and white figure doesn’t cut it anymore. Spice your material up with relevant colorful images and figures. Even if they are tangentially related to the topic at hand, they can keep the interest up.

Add YouTube videos ―there are find tons of explanatory, education or relevant videos for every topic you might be teaching.

Audio and music can also be very good tools ― helping the audience of your Spanish e-learning course expands its vocabulary through song for example.

3. Tell stories

Since our ancestors sat by the fire in their caves, all of us share a common characteristic: he love to tell and to hear stories. In fact studies have shown that powerful stories make people better remember what they have heard, as well as having great emotional impact.

So tell a story. It can be something out of your experience, or a fictional story made up to illustrate a certain point in your lessons. Tens years from now, your students might have forgotten all your theory lessons, but they would still remember some of your stories.

4. Be funny

Funny is good. People love to laugh, feel connected they laugh, and are more open to new ideas and thoughts when they laugh. It’s also a powerful weapon against boredom.

Great educators (from Bertrand Russell to Richard Feynman) often use jokes to make their lessons more engaging. It’s a trick every public speaker and politician knows and employs. Don’t overdo it, of course, as that can be distracting. You’re, after all, an educator, not Louis C.K.

5. Turn it all into a big game

Another thing that engages people, including the most bored of students, is of course some good competition. Some students are naturally inclined to compete for good final grades. Those, that some call “nerds”, will be your most engaged students. But you can use a little gamification to engage the other students too.

Divide them in teams ― it’s something that never fails to bring up a sense of rivalry. Give them something to compete that goes beyond the classic exam grades. For example, have each team build a collaborative project, or assign each of the teams a position pro or against a particular issue and have them defend their stance against the other team.

6. Meet in person

Just because you’re doing e-learning it doesn’t mean it alls has to be in the box. You could consider offering hybrid classes, or at least the occasional meet-up in a regular classroom ― beyond teleconference.

Getting to know your learners face to face, and having them meet their fellow students that they might only know from their social ids or your LMS platform’s forums can boost the coherence and engagement in the class a lot, making it feel more “real”.

Ιt’s not something that can be done for all e-learning courses, and it obviously can’t be done on a regular basis, but if your situation allows it, we advise you to consider it.

7. Cater to their needs

To make a class engaging you have to make it relevant. Nothing drops a students’ interest more than perceiving a certain class as irrelevant to his interests and needs.

It’s your job to show them why your course matters. Give them real world examples that are relevant to their everyday experiences. In your exercises and projects, have them apply what they have learned to tackle real problems ― things that they have faced. If you’re teaching guitar for example, don’t just give them classical pieces and arpeggios to work with. Try to also teach them songs that they hear on the radio, from bands they like. If you’re teaching a business tool to enterprise employees, show them how they can use it to automate their everyday tasks.

Oh, and don’t just assume you know what their needs are. Ask them.

8. Take it slow. Or fast.

Don’t strictly adhere to some predetermined course schedule. Going to fast leaves students confused and perplexed. Going too slow bores them.

Try to find the correct pacing for your learners and adapt your course accordingly.

Quiz results and LMS reports can help you see if they are absorbing the material (and you can go faster) or are totally clueless about all you have been teaching them (in which case you need to take more time to explain it).

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