Virtual learning has been an option for some students in recent years. However, the pandemic forced many public schools and higher education institutions to expand their online learning options.
These online classes have been so successful that many families are considering a permanent shift to remote learning. Online learning can be very convenient and effective. Yet it is always helpful to know how to engage learners virtually.
The following tips provide recommendations on how to engage learners virtually and maximize the remote learning experience.
1. Address challenges and set expectations. Virtual learning is very different from face-to-face classrooms. There is no point in denying this or minimizing the challenges with virtual classrooms. However, you can address these challenges upfront, along with any advice you have for students and parents to overcome the obstacles.
Additionally, you can set expectations. The virtual learning experience is much more structured when clear learning goals and objectives are present. All students must understand virtual classroom manners, how to use the platform, submit assignments, and participate in classroom activities.
2. Incorporate engagement strategies. Listening without active participation can be a challenge for anyone. Students may find that their mind wanders, or they have difficulty focusing when presented with content. Therefore, it’s a good idea to incorporate active participation when possible.
A few great examples include using icebreakers to start the day, polling functions that promote student engagement, social media posts, or virtual breakout rooms for small groups of students to socialize and work together.
3. Leave room for breaks. Learning in any setting can require hours of concentration, which can be exhausting, especially when sitting the entire time. In-person learning often provides breaks between classes. Virtual students can also benefit from frequent breaks for physical activity and to give their eyes a rest from the screen.
4. Provide office hours online or in person. Students generally tend to be more engaged when they access the instructors. Instructors who hold office hours – either in-person or online – may have the ability to connect more with students. And the in-person option allows the student to meet their instructors in real life, which can further develop the educational relationship.
5. Use a surprise element. One way to keep students engaged is to throw in a surprise element, such as a joke, a puzzle, or trivia related to the topic discussed. Even if it is unrelated to the educational content, students will enjoy a break from the monotony and may ‘perk up’ after the surprise activity.
6. Communicate frequently. The school year always feels long at the start but seems to fly by nonetheless. It can be easy for instructors to ‘lose track’ of disengaged students. However, they may be more engaged if there is frequent communication to check in.
Strong communication is essential to making the virtual learning experience successful. By reaching out to students, you may be able to identify barriers to their engagement and boost their level of interest. This frequent communication also ensures that all students get the information they need related to syllabus changes or assignments.
7. Incorporate flexible assignments. One of the enormous benefits of virtual classrooms is the ability to provide more flexibility. Students are more engaged when they have options. For instance, some students would do better with content by creating a short video rather than writing an essay.
There is often more than one way for students to demonstrate mastery of the content. When students have options, they may be more engaged simply because there is room for creativity. Additionally, this creativity will allow them to use their strengths.
8. Use the feedback loop. Many instructors may struggle with how to engage learners virtually, but it can often help if you simply ask them what might make them more engaged. Likewise, students can often tell you what is working and what is not.
For example, you could discover challenges with the technology you weren’t aware of or other changes that could make the class more successful. Once you have their feedback, you can begin to identify engagement strategies that may be more effective. In turn, you can also provide feedback to the students. They may be receptive to learning new ways to engage when they receive direct feedback.
As online learning is likely to become more popular with families and educators, we must know how to engage learners virtually in a successful way. These tips can help educators find new ways to promote student engagement and ensure the online learning experience is positive!