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7 Essential Techniques to Increase Engagement and Enhance Online Learning Outcomes

by Kelly Walsh on May 18, 2014


There are Many Elements That can be Fine-Tuned to Bring out the Best in Online and Hybrid Teaching and Learning.

Don’t you love it when you read or watch something that expresses and supports important ideas that you believe in, when it also teaches you new things and inspires you to take that idea to the next level in your own practices?

I am currently in the midst of taking The College of Westchester’s Online Faculty Training course. It’s a lot of work, but I am learning so much and having a blast (when I’m not groaning under the load of work that it is). This week we watched a bunch of great video snips from PSU World Campus Faculty Development, and consumed a wide variety of other learning materials as part of the week’s assignment.


There were so many excellent practices and takeaways in this content that I quickly found myself wanting to jot them down for reference, and to share here. Some of this was new to me, but much wasn’t – it was just reinforced in a meaningful way that made me want to take action.

If you’re teaching online or hybrid, you’ll find some essential concepts here. You’ve probably already come across many of these ideas in one form or another, but if I can inspire even one educator to use even one of these ideas to improve something in a course they teach, well … isn’t that what it’s really all about?

  1. Make it Social! – Extra effort must be extended to bring social interactivity into online courses, to try to bring some of the engaging social element that exists in traditional classroom environments into the online classroom. Providing and requiring opportunities for students to interact with each other online and even in person if possible, will generally produce a more connected and ultimately more satisfying and successful course experience. Additionally, incorporating team or group activities will enhance socialization and engagement and energize students.
  2. Provide for Active Learning opportunities – Look for opportunities to use hands-on activities that extend beyond simply typing text. Allow students to create assignment materials and feedback using a variety of media – audio, video, images, interactive mechanisms, etc. For example, consider tools like Eyejot or Movenote for students to provide video feedback on readings and assignments. Also consider tools that let students construct their own learning and knowledge in new and different ways beyond the written report. How about a PowerPoint presentation with animations, or a Prezi, or a Bubble Map?
  3. Communicate Clearly & Thoroughly – Extra care must be taken to ensure that assignments and expectations are accurately communicated. This may entail expressing these in multiple formats (written, and audio-visual, for example). It may also be beneficial to require some sort of response from students prior to undertaking lengthy assignments, to ensure that they understand what is expected of them. It can be hard enough getting students to understand what is expected of them in the traditional classroom, where you are face-to-face with this for a number of hours each week. Without that direct contact, there is an extra challenge in communication that can take requires additional effort.
  4. Provide Frequent, Consistent Feedback – The asynchronous nature of online learning requires that extra effort be put in by the instructor to ensure that they are giving frequent feedback in a consistent manner to all students. Lacking the opportunity to leverage a set time for dialogue (as happens with in-seat learning) creates an extra requirement to help the student know that their questions will be answered in a timely manner. This can also be supplemented with having available online office hours as well. One technique that was cited in one video was the idea of making the effort to provide feedback more manageable time-wise by having students give each other feedback, or seeking industry experts to offer feedback on some assignments.
  5. Get Synchronous – Good online courses should include at least one or two synchronous engagements to facilitate a sense of community, build relationships, and provide an opportunity for the rich communication that happens in an open flowing format. The ideal format is a video conference, but an audio conference is acceptable. Both formats will benefit from the availability of a chat tool to allow participants to submit questions or commentary while the group dialogue is taking place.
  6. Ensure Solid “Fundamentals” – Many of the fundamental requirements of good face-to-face teaching are the same in online instruction. With the extra considerations that need to be addressed in this setting, it is vital that those fundamentals be strong. This includes clearly defined learning outcomes, a good grading rubric, easily understood late assignment submission policies, and so on. A consistent effort to know what’s working and what’s not and who is struggling is also essential, perhaps even more so in the online classroom where the clues are generally not as evident as they are when you are working with students in a face-to-face environment.
  7. Seek Continuous Improvement – Regularly seeking to improve a course each time you offer it will help to ensure the best outcomes. Self-assess frequently, work to identify opportunities for improvement, and research and attempt alternative approaches in those areas. Additionally, throughout the delivery of an individual course section, try to pay attention to what seems to be working best and what might not be. Mid-course corrections (pun intended!) can help to improve communication, comprehension, and engagement.

There are plenty of other important considerations to attend to in developing and delivering the best online learning experiences – these are just seven ideas that can be pretty pivotal if you are truly going to bring your courses and student outcomes to a higher level.

We owe it to our students and to ourselves to model lifelong learning (that’s why you’re here now really, isn’t it?). We have so much to teach and learn from each other. So, what online instruction techniques do you consider essential? What have I not included above that you would if you were putting a similar list?

Related Posts (if the above topic is of interest, you might want to check these out):
Can the Inspiration for Learning be Captured and Empowered Through Technology?
What are Teachers Biggest Challenges in 2014?
Technology Integration Secrets of Award Winning Teachers


Kelly Walsh is Chief Information Officer at The College of Westchester, in White Plains, NY, where he also teaches. In 2009, Walsh founded He frequently delivers presentations and training on a variety of related topics at schools and conferences across the U.S. His eBook, the Flipped Classroom Workshop-in-a-Book is available here. Walsh became the Community Administrator for the Flipped Learning Network in June of 2016. In his "spare time" he also writes, records, and performs original music ... stop by and have a listen!

[Disclaimer: The opinions expressed here are my own, or those of other writers, and not those of my employer. - K. Walsh]

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Bill Knapp June 24, 2014 at 1:19 pm

Thanks for sharing this! Great Advice for anyone teaching in the online or blended learning environments!

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