8 Tips for Boosting Student Engagement in Online Courses

Including Social Wall Examples of Student Engagement

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If you want to get the best results from your students, they need to be engaged. That means you need to get them invested in their education. To improve student engagement in your online courses, you need to select the suitable formats for your learning material and provide a structure that gives a sense of progress.

This guide will talk about eight tips that will help boost student engagement in your online course. Follow these tips carefully. You’ll surely benefit from the positive outcomes.

1. Pose questions to spark debates

It would be best if you challenged your students to keep them interested. You can do this by posing questions to spark debates. The right question will keep the conversation flowing and encourage engagement. 

You can’t do all of this without proper planning. First, establish the objective of the debate and then plan how to guide your students there. For example, if you’re teaching online marketing, one question that can spark discussion is: What’s the best online marketing strategy? Then, you can use that as your jumpoff point to talk about how every method has its benefits.

Prepare ground rules to make the debate run smoothly. Encourage constructive criticism instead of insults. If the debate is live, establish time-frames for each speaker. 

Other helpful tips include asking students to jot down key points of each debate segment. Of course, it would help if you also left time to evaluate the debate with your students to get the most out of the exercise.

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2. Regularly review learning outcomes

When you post your online course, include the learning outcomes. Learning outcomes refer to what your students should expect from your course. They help ensure, too, that you as the instructor are teaching the right things — according to the established learning outcomes, that is — to your students.

But how do you structure learning outcomes? 

Begin with an action verb that describes the level of understanding the student will gain from the course activity. For example, understand, learn or know. Next, follow up the action verb with a statement explaining the knowledge and abilities demonstrated in the course activity. 

For example, for a Google Ads course, some learning outcomes could be “learn how to write effective Google Ads,” or “learn how to create a Google Ads campaign,” or “identify the best type of Google Ads that work for an eCommerce store.”

After the statement, add a paragraph explaining how fulfilling the objective will benefit the student. For example, what skills will they have learned by achieving the goal? How can they apply this skill more broadly?

As you go along, make sure you always go back to your specified learning outcomes, which should be SMART. See if what you’re teaching your students empowers them to achieve those learning outcomes in the first place. If it doesn’t, make the necessary adjustments.

3. Multi-format communication  

You can use various communication formats to engage your students when teaching online courses, like video, audio, instant messaging, and chat rooms. You need to take advantage of these communication methods to vary your course format and keep students engaged.  

Screenshot of a chat conversation betweent teacher and student.  (student engagement example)

But make sure you consider which communication method is best suited for each course activity. 

For example, if you asked your students to write a blog post applying what they’ve learned from a previous lecture, a video might not be a good idea to provide feedback. You want your students to be able to refer back to your comments quickly. So, instant messaging might be a better option. 

If you have too many students, a chatroom to provide general feedback might be the best way to go.

You want to add value to your online course. Don’t aim for novelty for novelty’s sake! 

4. Make learning materials easy to understand and structured

Make sure your learning materials are easy to understand. If your learning materials are complicated and unstructured, your students will be confused and unengaged. You can help by providing clear instructions.

Use checklists for lessons, so students know how far they’ve come and what’s coming next. Structuring your course will help students understand what to do and get a sense of progress. 

Look at your course drop-off and completion rate to know if your course is easy to understand and appropriately structured. Statistics suggest the average online course has a completion rate between 15% and 40%. So, if your course is at the lower end of this average, it’s a sign your course isn’t easy to understand or appropriately structured. 

There’s another way you can know if your course and learning materials meet the standards. Just ask your students themselves. Give them a feedback form they can fill out after you’ve given a specific number of lectures.

Make it easy for your students to give you feedback, though. Don’t make them write an entire essay. Because chances are, they won’t do that. 

Screenshot of a training course feedback sheet. (student engagement example)

Take into account that feedback when creating new learning materials for your next course.

5. Honor achievements

Online courses often feel less formal than traditional courses. There is less community to make achievements feel worthy. You can remedy this by finding other ways to validate excellence.

Offer small prizes for big achievements. For example, if a student has attended all your first five video lectures, congratulate them on their milestone in your fifth video. Of course, you might not be able to mention each of those students because there might be too many of them. So, a general congratulatory statement will do.

Do the same after they’ve completed another five of your video lectures, and so on.

If students feel their achievements are being honored, they are more likely to engage with your online course. 

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6. Deliver learning in small, separate chunks 

Lengthy tasks can be overwhelming and cause student engagement to drop. Studies into memory performance show that our working memories get overloaded by excessive detail. So, it’s best to deliver learning in small, easily digestible, separate chunks.

Image illustrating learning material separated into small chunks. On the left, different geometrical forms spread around. On the right, same geometrical forms organized by form. (online student engagement)

Doing this allows students to recall and review information. 

Using different formats for these small chunks helps as well. For example, you can include written components, audio tests, and more visual learning activities to keep your students interested. 

So, let’s say you’re teaching Google Ads. You can have a video lecture on how to create a Google Ads campaign, presentation slides of that lecture, and a written quiz to see what your students have learned.  

7. Allow time for fun

Learning can be stressful for students. A lot rides on good educational results in our society. That pressure can affect a student’s capacity to engage. So, it would help if you allowed time for some fun. 

You can make your course more fun by including games or more creative activities. For instance, if you’re on the subject of writing effective Google ads, you can host a contest to see who among your students will write the best Google ad. Then give them an incentive if they win. For instance, tell them the best Google ad will be posted on your official social media account.

Encourage students to take time off for recreational activities aligned with your course as well. If students feel burned out, they are less likely to engage with your course.

8. Establish a learning community with a social wall

Online learning can be pretty isolating. Unlike traditional courses, students don’t have daily interaction with peers or an in-person relationship with instructors. 

Studies show that students are 16 times more likely to pass an online course with a learning community. Furthermore, when a learning community is coupled with mentorship, the success rate is even better. 

So, how do you establish a learning community for your online course? Well, you can use social media. Create a group and encourage socialization among students with the help of a social wall.

Bring your learning community together with a social wall!

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Examples of social walls for student engagement

Establishing a learning community makes students feel like they belong. Students need a social context to provide relevance to their learning. Also, collaboration forms a vital aspect of a learning community. When students have a social context, collaborate, and feel like they belong, it encourages engagement.

CWRU’s multi-storey university social wall

With an ever-changing student body, with new students coming in every year and others graduating and leaving, educational institutions must create a sense of belonging. A social wall is a fantastic support tool because it allows a tight-knit community to stay in touch over social media. Case Western Reserve University set up a two-storey multimedia wall at the heart of the CWRU campus that serves as a communication hub and features the university’s social media walls.

Photo of a two-storey multimedia social wall at Case Western Reserve University.
The large media wall is the first thing visitors to the Tinkham Veale University Center see when they enter.

A social wall for student orientation

Champlain College embeds a social wall on their website to help the incoming class of 2025 get to know each other. Champlain encouraged students and parents to use the #Champ2025 hashtag to get featured on the wall. 

Screenshot of a social wall embedded in Champlain College's website showcasing photos of new students introducing themselves. (student engagement example)
Champlain College social wall showing photos of new students.

These examples come to show that social walls are a great way to create a sense of community. Take them as inspiration and create a social wall for your students. You’ll see how much they appreciate the effort. 

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Wrapping up 

Boosting student engagement in online courses involves a varied, interactive, and structured approach to learning. Variation and interaction keep things interesting for the students; structure gives them a sense of progress. 

You also need to foster a sense of community to get the most out of your students. 

You learned eight tips on how to boost student engagement in online courses. Follow these tips, and you’ll see those student engagement rates start rising. Your students will love you.