InstructionalDesignExpert.com provides helpful pointers for ensuring high student engagement in your online course:
Here’s a slightly edited (I couldn’t help myself) excerpt from this article:
Because e-learning is a self-study medium, interacting with the learner becomes more important than most types of training forums. Content engagement refers to how the learner interacts with the content of the course. Because studies have shown that the learning experience is greatly enhanced when exercises or activities are incorporated into the learning process, content engagement is critical.
Engaging the learner in your online training can compensate for the lack of an instructor who can add that humanistic touch though personality and rhetorical interactions. Like most things there must be a balance in applying engaging content. Too much engagement and you risk overshadowing the learning objectives. Too little engagement and you risk losing the learner’s interest in the topic. Consider the following when attempting to engage the learner in an elearning environment.
1. Use hyperlinks for additional concepts, explanations, or definitions. The advantage of online learning is that it provides the learner with additional resources and information with just a click of the mouse. Linking to additional references can greatly improve the learning experience and offer added value to the content of the topic.
2. Incorporate interactive graphics such as animations or simulations. If pictures are worth a thousand words, then interactive graphics should be worth 2,000 words. Creating interactive images help the learner to experience a hands-on learning process that accelerates the learning. For example, information graphics provide a visual comprehension of the concept presented. If the learner had to click on portions of the information graphic, the learning experience would much more impactful to the learner. Simulations and other animations also provide that same objective.
3. Provide additional options/choices for the learner. In today’s world, people love the ability to choose various options. This is important when it comes to learning because everyone learns differently, including various preferences. For example, most people learn visually. However, there are some people that learn better via audio. By incorporating both the visual and the audio aspects into your training, you allow the learner to choose an option that best meets his or her learning needs.
4. Incorporate quizzes, tests, skill assessments. Another way to engage the learner is to test them on the things they learned in the course. This allows both the learner to verify that they understood the content while at the same time the instructional designer can verify that the materials achieved the training objectives.
5. Create fun activities such as games or other educational methods of interactive learning. When learning is fun, people can maintain their interest longer in the topic. As you incorporate activities into your training, remember to make it fun. Use games or other methods that help increase the learning experience.
6. Keep activities focused on the course objective. Always ensure that no matter what you do to engage the learner, the concepts must compliment the training objectives or topics. The temptation for many is to become so engrossed in interactive concepts that the reason for the training is forgotten.
7. Avoid letting the technology overshadow the course objectives. Similar to the previous bullet, never allow technology to become the main focus of the training. Technology is a tool and should be used as such in order to help people learn the training objectives.