8 strategies to increase student engagement in online courses

Share this article
Start 14-day trialLearn more
Reading Progress
Table of Contents
Text Document Icon
Text Document Icon
Table of Contents

People seem to be increasingly more interested in social media and online games than they are on building new skills and on learning. It’s a problem that is affecting all levels of education, from elementary school to college and, of course, online course creators.

There are many reasons why students pull away from course participation. Lack of motivation, lack of time, difficulty understanding material, but the more common one (and hard to admit) is boring programs.

But all courses don’t have to be boring.

In this article, I’ll give you 8 strategies to help you keep your students hooked on your online course, so you can get them better results by increasing their engagement.

1. Use Storytelling

People have a much better memory when it comes to stories, especially ones that appeal to their emotions. There is a higher chance that your students will relate to characters in your stories or to your examples, which will also make them more engaged.

For example, throughout your online course, you can tell the story of a person you know who became successful in the topic you are teaching, the story of a fictional character, or even talk about yourself when you were in your student’s shoes (the last one is the best, as it shows more empathy).

A good rule of thumb is to avoid telling stories that are too long, as they can become tedious to follow for students. Also, try to talk about the things that they’re going through at the moment in your story to make it more relatable.

2. Create State Changes

The problem of short attention spans seems like a hard one to solve.

But people’s attention span’s haven’t really decreased. It’s just that we can very easily swipe away and do something else if a course or video gets a tiny bit too boring.

We have a lot of options.

And yet we still binge-watch Netflix series, so it’s still possible to hook people in for longer periods of time, but how?

The education and marketing expert Wes Kao talks about the concept of State Change on her blog, which can help course creators create more engaging content.

For her, a State Change is:

anything that punctuates an instructor’s monologue and offers a change in pace that causes students to perk up and snap back to attention.”
Source: @wes_kao’s blog.

In a live online course session, a State Change can be created by adding the following things every 3-5 minutes:

  • Asking students to comment in the chat box
  • Switching from screen share back to gallery view mode, or vice versa to create environment changes
  • Asking students to unmute to participate and engage together
  • Having other people talk
  • Putting a question on the screen to ask students to reflect silently
  • Cracking a joke and adding humor
  • Asking students to pause to internalize what was said
  • Q&A
  • Group Workshops

And in an asynchronous course (which is not live), you can add State Changes few minutes by asking your students to:

  • Complete a task
  • Check out a resource or a website
  • Answer an open ended question
  • Answer a quiz
  • Participate in your course community forum
  • Encourage peer-to-peer learning by encouraging them to help out new members of your course
  • Complete an assignement and upload it

With SchoolMaker, you can create such Step Changes by adding Steps to complete under each of your lessons, which can  be in video, audio, text, or any embeddable format.

3. Use real-world examples

Examples are especially useful for beginners, who do not always have the same level of understanding about your topic as more advanced people.

They make the content of your online course less dry and more engaging than simply reading theory.

It’s usually better to give real-world examples, as they are more relatable and easier to visualize.

This is why it’s easier to learn statistics than advanced functions, as in statistics a math teacher usually gives a lot of real-world examples and exercises, whereas functions are taught in a more abstract way.

So if you use real-life examples in your teaching, your students are more likely to be interested and stay engaged.

4. Go straight to the point

Your goal is not to sound smart, it’s to serve your students so they can get more results.

“Omit needless words”
William Strunk,
The Elements of Style

5. Use visuals to make information more digestible

Here are things that really benefit from being illustrated:

  • Progression‍
    Visuals can often be more effective than text only to show a procedure, process, or showing some kind of progression. For example, this is how we could illustrate the 4 stages of learning:
https://assets-global.website-files.com/61c424b91ec379b147e90005/62974af92c8a1bd2294ccf1d_4-stages-of-learning.jpg
  • Concepts
    Visuals can help explain concepts by simplifying them through graphs, charts, or infographics. For example, this is how we could illustrate the Dunning Kruger effect, which are the stages through which someone goes when learning a new skill:
https://assets-global.website-files.com/61c424b91ec379b147e90005/62974b5110a3b815c299f434_-Zgek8WSQTXC_4nqJEviQmXLtGBxcxsGNCZ0WfIH9pex87d9V3erxY6jUmmP0pl0K7vAJ0Tu79d4e1pDRRbw1yRf_xGnegaRcQAFC6H6R4wGD8JbSu8IXK9vcA7IK76Z25sJ-DN2ql7CFZex_g.png
  • Big numbers‍
    When referring to big numbers that may be hard to visualize, it can help to compare these numbers to something the student is already familiar with. For example, this is how the World Wildlife Fund helps us visualize the deforestation rate in the world on their website:“According to the UN, we lose 88,000 sq. km of natural forest globally every year — that's an area of forest the size of London lost every week, or roughly one football pitch every 2 seconds.” WWF
https://assets-global.website-files.com/61c424b91ec379b147e90005/62974b863064e017274077df_azmg98tJd7lQUUTU00YrHP-2OzaUA9E8NZTFjVAl9G3jP1eyCtSoX8d4RjKi2LF9aYAjCjV-W1P75astzNDMKU-vnFj0H7hTYZhdNV4auug_mh9m1VxNC3x9tb7bNXyb2yIgfdUYfYXQGXfTiA.jpeg

A few additional tips when creating visuals for your course:

  • Avoid adding too many visuals as it can make your learning material difficult to follow. (a good balance is having one or two visuals maximum per slide).
  • Avoid visual clichés, everyone has seen this kind of stock photos to represent “business” or “teamwork” way too many times.
Boring 😪
Boring 😪

6. Create a community

Most online courses are just a bunch of videos that students have to watch alone without any interaction. This creates absolutely no accountability for them, so it’s very easy to just watch and never do anything.

This is where traditional education has some advantages. In a classroom, students can talk to each other, ask questions to their teacher, and they are kept accountable. If anything, you are expected to show up and turn in some kind of work.

But when you’re building an online course, it’s not so easy:

  • There aren’t many reliable solutions for users to communicate. You can use a Facebook, Discord or Telegram group, but people won’t engage in it as much as you’d like because the community isn’t well-integrated with the program.
  • People are rarely kept accountable for their progress in a course, and they tend to drop off.
  • Asking questions to the teacher and receiving answers can be a messy process, spread between emails, course comments, and social media. Students ask themselves “will I actually get an answer? Am I even asking in the right place?”. This creates friction, and it seems easier to just not ask for the student.

Ok, so this is where the sales pitch comes in. We built SchoolMaker to fix those exact issues that plague most online courses by adding a built-in community for all our customer’s courses.

We provide a built-in community to keep your students engaged and create more accountability.
We provide a built-in community to keep your students engaged and create more accountability.

7. Use rewards and play

Another way to keep your students engaged is to reward them for advancing in their learning journey.

Let’s say that you are teaching a friend how to play a video game.

If you spend an hour explaining all the different button combinations and rules of the game to this person, they’ll probably go and get a pizza while you blabber on.

https://assets-global.website-files.com/61c424b91ec379b147e90005/62976b758fb0bbc407d6d063_play-1.jpg

You already know that it is worth the effort to learn all the combinations to do cool things in this game, but this friend doesn’t yet.

Instead, you could just explain enough for your friend to do basic things, then let them have some fun, you could then teach them the next move, then the next one, and so on. They’ll end up learning everything they need to know (and actually have a chance to remember it!).

Here is how it would look:

https://assets-global.website-files.com/61c424b91ec379b147e90005/62976f1263e161e2621f26fc_play-2.jpg

As it turns out, this is the optimal way to teach people because it’s very rewarding to make something out of what you learned right after understanding how to do it.

Having your students practice often (after each lesson), your course will help them improve quicker and get more results, as well as having a higher engagement in your programs.

8. Use technology to your advantage

Online education has evolved a lot during the last few years, and the tools around it as well.

With tools like SchoolMaker, you get:

  • An integrated community for you and your students.
  • Ways to make your courses more actionnable with steps like quizzes, assignements, or embeds to complete at the end of each lesson to create state changes.
  • Features to engage directly with the members of your courses like consultations and live sessions.
Start 14-day trialLearn more
How to create an online course book cover
Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Vivamus pulvinar elit ac ligula rhoncus, sit amet tincidunt elit lacinia. Phasellus posuere, ex vitae dapibus tempor, augue purus volutpat turpis, nec accumsan neque tellus sed ante. Etiam vulputate, dolor ac vestibulum imperdiet, felis mi maximus elit, vitae ullamcorper diam tortor non diam. Donec blandit arcu orci, tincidunt aliquet tellus semper a. Suspendisse pellentesque tempor nunc at suscipit. Maecenas id ullamcorper nulla. Vivamus suscipit euismod velit non dictum.Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Vivamus pulvinar elit ac ligula rhoncus, sit amet tincidunt elit lacinia. Phasellus posuere, ex vitae dapibus tempor, augue purus volutpat turpis, nec accumsan neque tellus sed ante. Etiam vulputate.
Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Vivamus pulvinar elit ac ligula rhoncus, sit amet tincidunt elit lacinia. Phasellus posuere, ex vitae dapibus tempor, augue purus volutpat turpis, nec accumsan neque tellus sed ante. Etiam vulputate, dolor ac vestibulum imperdiet, felis mi maximus elit, vitae ullamcorper diam tortor non diam. Donec blandit arcu orci, tincidunt aliquet tellus semper a. Suspendisse pellentesque tempor nunc at suscipit. Maecenas id ullamcorper nulla. Vivamus suscipit euismod velit non dictum.Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Vivamus pulvinar elit ac ligula rhoncus, sit amet tincidunt elit lacinia. Phasellus posuere, ex vitae dapibus tempor, augue purus volutpat turpis, nec accumsan neque tellus sed ante. Etiam vulputate.
Get it for free