How to engage students online

June 2, 2021 By Moodle

Keeping learners engaged isn’t always easy; there are many contributing factors, ranging from the fact that they do not feel challenged to the fear of failure. It often comes down to personal factors, including the teacher/student relationship or a particular teaching style. 

Now that so many schools are implementing remote teaching and learning in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, keeping students engaged with online learning is more important than ever.

While convenient for some, engaging learners online can be more challenging than in a face-to-face setting. Teachers can no longer approach students and personally guide them on areas that they may be struggling with, nor can they easily give fast-finishers extra activities.

This means learners might give up on their work more easily because they feel too much pressure or, conversely, they are bored.

Creating and cultivating an engaging learning environment helps with student retention and contributes to a safe, positive, and creative school climate and culture. Today we look at several ways to initiate engagement in your online course, and how to keep the momentum going for your students.

Initiating engagement

Creating an engaging learning environment can be difficult to do, but it need not be. In a traditional classroom setting, teachers often start with icebreakers. This could come in different forms such as having students play a simple game or do a short quiz.

Let’s look at a couple of ways to break the ice in your online classroom: 

  • Use a Forum activity and start an ‘introduce yourself’ thread for your learners to get to know each other. Before you begin, set a good set of rules of engagement or etiquette in place so that everyone knows how to properly respond.
    Want to make it more fun? Ask your learners to write statements about themselves that can be true or false, and have their peers guess! 
  • Set up a Glossary and ask your learners to add an entry about themselves. This will also help students familiarise themselves with Moodle, as the Glossary allows them to add their own photos, videos or audio files.

Looking for more ideas to break the ice with online learners? See our favourite Moodle icebreaker activitiesSetting individual and shared goals

Advising your learners what they can expect from your class and what the structure of the course is from Day 1 will empower them to focus on learning. 

At the same time, it’s also important that they identify and commit to their own personal targets.

If at the start of the course you have your learners state in black and white their intentions, what their plan is, what grade they want, when they intend to complete everything, it engages them early on and can help keep them moving forwards,” Mary Cooch, Education Manager at Moodle.

Keep learners motivated with feedback

Now that we’ve explored how to get our learners engaged, how can we maintain that momentum?

Whichever activities you get learners to do, without feedback they won’t be inclined to continue. Quoting Australian education guru John Hattie: “Feedback is one of the most powerful influences on learning and achievement… but its impact can be either positive or negative”.

If you want your feedback to have a positive impact, two things to consider when you’re providing feedback to students are your tone and your timing.

  1. Feedback tone: When it comes to the tone, it’s important to have in mind that young people and adults are influenced to change who they are based on what people tell them in a negative connotation. 

You tell someone that they’re stupid or they’re no good at it and then they become what you say. Your words and how you phrase them in your feedback are very important. You need to be giving your feedback on a regular basis to your learners and try to connect with them,” Mary Cooch, Education Manager at Moodle.

  1. Timing is key
    The sandwich method of feedback – packaging learners’ points for improvement between points you felt they were good at  –  is a good way to cover all parts of your students’ work and make sure the feedback ends on an encouraging note.

Timing is also an essential element when providing feedback. Ideally, you should be able to give feedback in time for your learners to apply your comments and tips to their next assignment. The many options available for Quiz question feedback are ideally suited to this.

This enables them to learn from what they did and reflect on what they can do differently next time. In a way, it’s more about giving ‘feed forward’, rather than feedback.

Encouraging students to learn from each other

And, of course, you can also do peer reviews, where learners review the work of their classmates and learn from each other. 

Some examples of peer reviewing you can do in Moodle are the workshop activity or implementing a “rating” system in your forums (similar to the forums) where learners can rate a forum post useful or not. 

Involving learners in peer assessment will not only allow them to learn from others, but gets them interacting with each other and developing a sense of responsibility. 

You can foster this even more by, for example, assigning a student as a forum moderator, allowing them to remove inappropriate posts, split posts that go off-topic, and keep conversations going.

Engaging with gamification

Gamification, or “the use of game elements and game design techniques in a non-game context” is yet another way to keep learners motivated. 

Do this by implementing points, badges and other competitive elements in your courses, similar to those your learners experience in online gaming.

Gamifying course activities can also give students a sense of progress. Along with  standard features such as Activity completion and Restrict access, Moodle has a number of gamification plugins, for example one called Level Up!, which allows students to see their progress in points. 

These points accumulate as they go through the course and you can even put up a leaderboard to let students see their rank in relation to their peers!

While Gamification might be fun, it also should be balanced with the rest of your teaching strategy. 

If you put too much gamification in your courses, students might forget that they are there to actually learn. They will be more interested in rushing through activities to get the badges for instance. And students who are already intrinsically motivated will feel patronised by gamification. Mary Cooch, Education Manager at Moodle.

Final take-away

At the end of the day, engaging with your students should start with building relationships and creating a safe environment for them.

“If you’re going to maintain engagement, you need to build relationships, create a sense of community, and support your students. If you can make your learners feel important because they have a sense of responsibility, interactivity, and creativity, they’re going to actually want to work with the right level of challenge,” the presenters concluded.

New to Moodle? If you want to learn more about using our open source platform for teaching, sign up for our free Moodle Teaching Basics MOOC or our Moodle Teaching Next Level MOOC if you have some experience with Moodle

This blog is based on a MoodleMootGlobal Online 2020 presentation by Education Manager Mary Cooch and Helen Foster, Community Manager at Moodle.