Top 5 Tips for Engaging Online and Blended Learners


Andrea Ritchie
Monday, December 28, 2015 - 1:15pm

One of the advantages of working with so many clients around the nation is the ability to see the diverse ways in which different schools create blended and online learning programs. The true beauty of a virtual education is that one size doesn't have to fit all. At the same time, however, there are many tried and true principles that work universally in setting up students for success in their online courses.

I will list and explain five of these tips to engaging online and blended learners, although this is certainly not a comprehensive list.

1. Provide clear expectations from the beginning.

I think we, as online teachers, have all known students who have chosen to take an online course because it seemed so easy.

Part of our job as teachers is to make sure that our students fully understand that flexibility does not equal effortless.

Just because you can attend your AP© Statistics course in your pajamas doesn't mean that you won't have to use serious critical-thinking skills!

Try to be as specific as possible with course and student expectations:

  • How many days per week should students work in their course?
  • How many hours per day?
  • What will happen if they don't or are unable to log in?
  • What resources are available to them if they have questions or need extra help?
  • What is their deadline to complete the course?
  • What will happen if they don’t complete the course by this date?

Answering these types of questions ahead of time can eliminate frustration for both teachers and students later down the road.

2. Set a realistic timeline.

While the length of time needed to complete a course will vary greatly depending upon the situation, it is important that students have a feasible schedule. If students feel like the time parameters are insufficient for their course, then they may feel defeated before they even begin.

On the other hand, if a student is given a year to complete a semester-long course, they may not be motivated to begin at all. Whatever the timeline, be sure that it is clearly communicated to the student and they fully understand expectations. It is imperative to set a realistic time frame to engage online and blended learnersm, since you may not be able to see them face-to-face everyday to encourage them along.

3. Make the online classroom a place students want to visit.

When I was teaching in a brick-and-mortar setting, there were certainly some classrooms that were more inviting than others. Stark walls and cold metal chairs just never seemed to spark creative thinking, nor will they ever. The same is true in the online world. If I visit a classroom that's not well-maintained, with outdated announcements, ungraded assignments, and no additional resources, then even I don't want to stick around—so why would the students? This touch of personality is especially important to engaging online and blended learners.

After all, if the teacher doesn't seem to want to be there, why should I stay and complete assignments? But, when I open a classroom and see evidence of the teacher's personality, I want to linger in order to explore and engage. Make sure you take some additional time as an online teacher to put your "stamp" on your classroom—just as you would in a brick-and-mortar building.

Just because you can attend your AP© Statistics course in your pajamas doesn't mean that you won't have to use serious critical-thinking skills!

Put your personal stamp on your online classroom by adding:

  • Color – background themes, posted announcements, and banners
  • Video – making their own videos for instruction and examples
  • Voice – recorded announcements and grading feedback
  • Pictures – part of the class banner; announcements; teacher contact info, including profile picture

Anything that you are able to do to remind your students that there is a real person on the other side of the screen will increase student engagement and increase the fun and engagement for you as well.

4. Establish real-life connections.

When I first made the switch from face-to-face teaching to an online education setting, I was worried that it would be difficult to form relationships with my students. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find it was just the opposite.

I discovered that some students—quite possibly the same, often unnoticed, students sitting silently in my brick-and-mortar classroom—were more than eager to speak up in an online setting. These students were quick to send an e-mail when they had any questions, and they were often happily shocked when I called to check on them.

As teachers, it's important to really see our students. We can’t just see them as names in a grade book next to percentages, but we need to see them, instead, as individuals.

Whether it's reaching out by e-mail to ask how their week is going, or making a simple phone call when they seem to be stumped in the course, establishing a real-life connection lets our students know we care. We need to make sure our students understand that we are here to help them succeed. This real-life connection and interaction can go extraordinary lengths to engaging online and blended learners.

5. Offer continuous support.

Although many students immediately reach out when they have questions or need help, others may need to be reminded that help is available.

It is best to:

  • Regularly check-in with your students—either face-to-face or virtually.
  • Set up office hours for your students, or make a schedule for conferences.
  • Consider using screencasts for assignment feedback or help with difficult content.
  • Screencasts are recordings of your computer screen you can create while grading assignments so that students can see, hear, and read your comments.
  • Fill your course with helpful resources and links related to the course content.

What tips have you found to be effective in engaging online and blended learners?

About the Author

Andrea Ritchie has twelve years of experience as an educator teaching French and English in both traditional brick-and-mortar and online schools from Alaska to Florida. She is currently an instructional manager with the FuelEd Instructional Services Team overseeing teachers in ten different states. Andrea currently lives with her husband and four children just outside Nashville, Tennessee.

Click here to read more engagement tips for blended learners!


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