How to engage learners in virtual classrooms

Engagement is not just a celebration before wedlock or a term used in marketing. It applies to education too. As the pandemic hit last year, teachers scrambled to go online and many are still struggling. Of all the challenges they faced, perhaps the biggest was perhaps cognitive engagement – active participation in the classroom. So here are some ways improve engagement in learning online.

Be Prepared

You are accustomed to standing before your students and writing on a black (green) board but when you teach online, you’ll be using software to do most of these things. Moreover, unlike your regular classroom, your students will be seeing your face up close along with whatever is behind you – which can be intimidating as well as distracting.

On the other hand, technology offers you great advantages in that you can prepare your entire lesson – including whatever you intend to write on the board – in advance. You should use this fact to advantage.

Before you begin a session you should make sure your audio and video are working. Check the area around your computer – or other device – to make sure your students do not have any visuals to distract them. You’ll be using a lot more teaching aids than you do in class so make sure you have everything you need at hand. Check the quality of video you plan to use beforehand and again just before you begin the session. Prepare any slides or documents in advance so that you do not have to type during the session. Same goes for any texts – it’s a good idea to have your textbooks in pdf or image format so that you can quickly show them to your students via a screen share.

Lastly, don’t forget to dress up as you do for school! It can be easy to let go if you are at home in your comfort zone – not just dressing wise but also your facial expressions. These will be much more pronounced online so keep that animated look pasted on.


If this is your first introduction to technology, then practice practice practice. Make sure you are familiar with the software that you will be using – that’s basic. Learn how to share your screen, share video, audio, and slides. Master Google Office – it’s a great tool and easy to learn.

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Apart from technology, remember that your students are also in their comfort zone – often with siblings and parents within the same room – and they are likely to be much more distracted than in class. To counter that, you should change your approach – your pedagogy – and make it more interesting. Some simple changes include voice modulation, quizzes, and simple activities that will help your students learn. Think these up and practice beforehand. If you are using activities to teach make sure to let the parents know what you’ll need so that they can prepare.

Again have everything ready well before time and double check before you begin.

Set Goals

 Not only is it important to keep your students engaged but you have to motivate them enough to be able to complete their assignments and eventually perform well in assessments and tests. One way to do this is to set lesson goals. Create milestones within lessons, share them with your students, and help them move from one milestone to the next. You might set up a reward system if you have the bandwidth to do so; and if not, you could laud them by awarding e-status on a virtual board or worksheet – just like you would on your classroom notice board. Badges, points, or stars – all are possibilities and technology can offer much more. You could even devise short and long term goals and fix rewards accordingly.

Another great motivator that virtual schooling has made possible is the ability to look back upon work done. Since students are working online, it’s easy to share previously completed tasks, assignments, and projects. This will give your students a sense of achievement that will urge them to do more and perform better. You can for instance create an achievement page for each student and let him fill it out himself.

Give Control

As we said you could let your students fill out their achievement page. That gives him a say in the learning process which is a great motivator. Other ways in which you can give control is to let students decide to skip a section if they feel they have mastered it ahead of their peers or let another student continue working on something that he has not quite grasped. Such personalization may not be possible in a regular class but when it comes to online, the isolation works to advantage. Not only can you allow students to take control but you can also include a diverse bunch of students within your class.

Giving control is arguably the biggest motivator.

Of course this will mean a little more planning and preparation for you but once you have things set up you’ll see things flowing along smoothly.

Break it Down

You might be breaking up your lessons in a regular classroom – or not. Teachers often target completion of one chapter per session. In virtual class you might have to do this differently. Break down lessons into easily digestible content that the students can understand quickly. Take smaller and more frequent assessments. Rather than indulge in long and lengthy explanations, you should leverage media to drive home the lesson. You could also create your own videos. There are many online tools available for lesson planning to help you devise your online lessons – or you could create your own lesson plans using tools like MS-Word and Excel.

There’s no telling which tip will work for whom. As a teacher you need to keep an open mind and innovate as you go. Meanwhile don’t forget to stay tuned.

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