Engaging the Online Learner

04 Oct 2020 7:51 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

Genevieve Condon, MS Forensic Psychology and Legal Studies 

Senior Lead Faculty Psychology, Bay Path University, TAWC 

It is no surprise that online learning is becoming more popular as time goes on. As of 2019, 65% of students have participated in an online course (Sellers, 2019). With this comes the need to ensure that online education is as dynamic and engaging as its traditional counterpart. While this may seem like tough undertaking, with technology, dynamic staff, and various activities sprinkled throughout the course ensuring that the online learner remains engaged is possible. 


When looking at the online learning environment, we want to ensure that we are hiring instructors that are well versed not only in their area of teaching, but in how the online classroom works. This does not simply mean how to navigate Canvas or Blackboard, but rather, being able to anticipate what the students may need. Part of this is going to be real time interaction and various modes of communication (Peterson, 2016). The real-time interaction and various modes of communication can go hand in hand. Students long for interaction so offering a phone call, a live webinar or Skype/Google chat is ideal. Also, posting weekly announcements in video format is useful and adds a personal touch. Students are then able to see the instructors face, and listen to their voice. This may seem small but it adds a visual approach to learning and makes the classroom seem more dynamic. 

From a personal perspective, it is also vital to set time aside to “breath”.  Technology is flexible and makes individuals easily accessible across different countries and time zones. However, many of us working in education are constantly connected. I know that personally, all my emails go to my phone so I am available even when I am not sitting at my computer.  Often, I will find myself out to eat with friends, and replying to an email or sitting at my daughter’s school function doing the same. However, this can get exhausting. Setting expectations are important within the classroom. What are your office hours? Do you typically respond quickly to all emails? I respond quickly, even on weekends and evenings, however, there are evenings I reserve for myself and family, and when the university is closed for breaks, I set this expectation within the classroom. It is important that we take time for ourselves to prevent burnout and ensure that we are at our best for our students. 

Another option is to set days for certain tasks. You can reserve Monday’s for grading, Tuesday’s for lesson planning etc. (Sellers, 2019). While this approach may not work for everyone, it can help with time management and enforce a strict schedule for students and help with their expectations. This can aid us in being task oriented and lessen the overwhelming sensation that can come when teaching, especially multiple courses. 

Curriculum Design: 

When building curriculum and lesson planning, learning to learn is a phrase that is essential to success (Gulati, 2014). Learning to learn can be defined as the ability to create learning goals, motivate oneself to learn, apply learning strategies, and self-reflect to guide future efforts (Gulati, 2014). To ensure that these abilities are met, as an instructor we plan. This requires that we do the following: 

  • Explore: Understand and define what is required. Here, being able to have specific goals for the course will be helpful. These are generally referred to as course competencies. 

  • Plan: After it is understood what is required to learn, identifying the necessary steps and coming up with an action plan is essential. What skills must the students know? How will be assess these skills? 

  • Implement: We must put each step into motion.  

  • Assess: This is where course evaluations and the course requirements are essential. Requiring discussion posts, assignments in the form of papers, videos, etc. to examine what the students have learned and whether the course competencies are met. 

Be sure when planning curriculum to step outside of the box. It may be easy to simply require that a paper is written each week, think about how this will keep students engaged if week after week it is the same requirement. There is group work (yes, it is challenging to complete this online but doable), videos they can make, interviews and reflections etc. The sky really is the limit. Make your classroom and curriculum something that students are eager to engage in and leave them looking forward to the next week. 


Lastly, asking for feedback is essential. When ensuring that as instructors we are engaged, available and build a dynamic classroom, we must provide a way to assess ourselves, just like we do the students. Typically, the most-straight forward way to do this is by having a survey at the end of each course. To ensure participation, this can be a requirement for the course, otherwise there might not be many participates. 

Keeping students engaged is a difficult task. By ensuring as faculty we are using various resources, building dynamic curriculum, and assessing progress, it is an attainable goalIt is crucial to remember that education is an everchanging field and many ideas, tips and tricks will change with time and the ever-changing demographic of online learners. 



Gulati, R (2014). The importance of goal setting for curriculum design. Medium 


Peterson, A (2016). Five ways to make your classroom more interactive. Faculty Focus. 


Sellers, E (2019) Poor time management in online education. Seattle PI. 



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