Online learning has been around in some capacity for more than three decades, ever since the University of Phoenix began to offer fully online Bachelor’s and Master’s courses in 1989. Virtual learning has been growing in size and scope ever since, but it was not until the pandemic-induced lockdowns of 2019 that online learning became a necessity rather than an elective option. 

The percentage of people in the UK who enrolled in online courses grew from 4% to 17% between 2007 and 2019. In the US, 80% of families with school-going children reported they were using some form of online educational resources in 2020. Research now shows that the number of users in online learning platforms is projected to cross 920 million by 2027.  

For educators, these figures represent both a challenge and an opportunity. The challenge is in being able to successfully adapt their classroom teaching skills to a virtual environment without sacrificing effectiveness. The opportunity is to achieve better learning outcomes by leveraging virtual tools and techniques to supplement conventional teaching methods. 

Whether you’re teaching the alphabet to kindergartners or nonlinear algebra to maths majors, this article will take you through five top strategies that make online learning more engaging.  

1. Create an Engaging Virtual Classroom 

The foremost challenge of any virtual learning environment is nurturing student participation and involvement. It isn’t easy to replicate the physical presence, atmosphere, and urgency of an in-person teaching experience in an online situation. Here’s what you need to focus on to create a holistic and engaging virtual classroom:

  • Technology: This includes a reliable internet connection, plus the specific software, hardware, and multimedia components you need to conduct an effective teaching session. Depending on the level of complexity of the course material, and whether you’re delivering live lessons or recorded classes, you may need to invest in multi-camera setups, backup cloud services, and teaching props like flashcards, slides, models, and so on. 
  • Setting: A designated study area that is free of distractions and interruptions is crucial to creating a conducive learning environment. Ideally, it should be a comfortable and well-lit space that invokes a sense of authority without being too formal or overbearing. 
  • Experience: Much like a physical classroom, your virtual classroom should offer an immersive, interactive, and motivational experience for students. Lessons need to be optimised for virtual delivery and course calendars should be structured to meet varying student requirements, with enough scope for clarifications, Q&As, and feedback.

2. Prioritise Active Learning

Active learning is a strategy that encourages students to build on their knowledge through activities like problem-solving, case studies, debates, peer learning, and other similar methods. It incorporates four key functions:

  • Thinking
  • Discussing
  • Investigating
  • Creating

Active learning is the opposite of conventional lecturing and passive learning. Besides its immediate advantages, it is effective in overcoming the solitary experience that underlines most online learning models. It helps deepen the understanding of core concepts, helps students explore the relevance of course material in professional spheres, and improves the applicability of acquired knowledge in real-world scenarios. 

3. Break Down Lessons into Modules 

Reducing complex topics into bite-size, easily-digestible units or modules is highly preferable in online learning environments. Each module can be followed up by exercises, interactive sessions, or quizzes to identify learning gaps and measure progress. This method of education – also known as microlearning – makes it easier for students to grasp concepts and improves knowledge retention. Some of the other benefits of microlearning include: 

  • It reduces the cognitive load on both teachers and learners. 
  • It enables students to tackle course material at their own pace and convenience.
  • It is scalable to suit a variety of learning requirements. 
  • It is cost-effective from the perspective of content creation.
  • Because of their easy assimilation, concepts learned in microlearning can be more readily applied in professional and real-life situations. 

4. Employ a Variety of Learning Methods  

Engagement in online learning can be multiplied by utilising several different methods of learning based on the requirements of the course and the maturity of learners. Here are three methods that can be worked into almost any level of education, from primary through university: 

  • Storytelling: Storytelling as a way of teaching can help achieve multiple objectives in a virtual classroom. It sparks curiosity and interest, makes knowledge relatable and accessible, and provides an underlying structure on which course material can be built upon. But more than anything, stories can make learning memorable and fun. Just about any subject under the sun – from nuclear physics to abnormal psychology – can be woven into a story by a creative educator. 
  • Gamification: This entails the introduction of elements common to games in a learning environment. Gamification can include getting learners to team up for projects, competing for points in learning challenges, and awarding badges or rewards for the successful completion of assignments.  Gamification can be especially effective in subjects that are considered more rigorous and less fun. It can motivate participants to take ownership of their learning by making it more engaging.  
  • Cohort-based learning: This is an approach in which individual learners are clubbed together to proceed through a course as a group. Cohort-based learning encourages collaboration and can be very effective in overcoming the impersonal and remote aspects of online learning. It also instils vital characteristics like teamwork, leadership, inclusivity, and responsibility.

5. Supplement Online Learning with Enrichment Courses   

As we’ve seen so far, online education can easily avoid the straight jacket of constrained classroom methodologies. One way to add to the flexibility and engagement of virtual learning is through enrichment courses. These are study modules that supplement the core curriculum by going above and beyond what is possible in conventional learning environments. For instance, a course on marketing and advertising can be supplemented with an enrichment module on lateral thinking. An English Literature course, likewise, can be made more engaging with a primer on creative writing. Enrichment courses can go a long way toward making online learning academically fulfilling and intellectually challenging. 

We hope you’ll be able to use these strategies to build an online learning environment that is more engaging and meaningful for your students. Please feel free to reach out if you need additional information or assistance in creating effective content for online delivery.