Five tips to enhance learner engagement in online courses

Developing an online course requires an enormous amount of resources – both in terms of time and money. As such, it can be frustrating to review the course analytics, and see that half the learners haven’t even attempted to work through the material.

When it comes to online courses, low engagement is a concern for all educators. While it may be possible to create the ideal course, it will count for very little if the participants fail to get through all the content.

But what exactly does ‘low engagement’ mean?

Typically, it is defined by the following characteristics:

  • Low cognitive investment in the material
  • Lack of active participation in activities and quizzes
  • Lack of emotional commitment to the course or to learning

To create an effective online course and promote learning, it is therefore vital to increase engagement.

Here are five simple tips for achieving this:

1. Keep it short

A recent study conducted by Microsoft Corporation found that the average person now has an attention span of only eight seconds. That’s less than a goldfish!

This statistic shows the importance of keeping online material simple and concise. Complex and long-winded content will cause the learner’s attention to drift.

Hence, one should:

  • Weed: Remove any unnecessary information that will detract from the essentials.
  • Chunk: Divide the material into smaller, easily digestible segments.
  • Highlight: Recap and summarise key learning points.
  • Signal: Use signalling to guide the learner to the most important information.


2. Provide Internet- and mobile-friendly content

In an online learning context, there are two major barriers that can hinder engagement.

The first is Internet connectivity. If a web page or video takes too long to load, the learner is likely to close it, and miss out on the content.

Secondly, if an online course isn’t mobile-friendly, this will limit access for learners who only have a tablet or cell phone.

Always ensure that your content is HTML5-compatible and doesn’t require high Internet bandwidth.


3. Create a forum

In most online learning programmes, the perceived distance from lecturers and peers – both physical and psychological – presents a challenge to learners.

This can cause lowered levels of motivation, which can result in decreased engagement.

A simple solution is to create a forum, which will encourage communication and collaboration between participants. These forums can even be linked to social media platforms such as Facebook.


4. Use interactive content

In order to engage learners and encourage active learning, it is helpful to use interactive content. This can be done by:

  • Including quizzes
  • Providing guiding questions
  • Allowing learners to pause, rewind and skip through videos and animations
  • Assigning practical tasks that require active participation


5. Include gamification

Gamification is a hot topic in today’s online learning environment – and certainly something that every instructional designer should consider using.

In a nutshell, it incorporates elements of a game into the learning programme – for example, by adding badges or achievements. In this way, participants are rewarded for their performance, which encourages continued engagement. Leader boards can also be included to encourage participation – and even a competitive spirit – among learners.


In a nutshell:

By using these techniques, you can give your course an edge, and provide learners with an added advantage. This will lead to increased engagement, motivation and enjoyment – thereby ensuring that the course is effective.

In summary, keep the following points in mind:

  • The content must be simple, concise and relevant.
  • Learners must be able to access the material on any device.
  • Learners need a space to communicate with other participants.
  • Interactive content encourages active learning.
  • Gamification improves motivation and engagement.

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