Effective marketing is crucial to get students to your course. But it’s equally important to keep them there. You want students to finish your course and be engaged throughout. Why? Because, even though you have already received their money, you want them to come back for more. This can only be done if you engage students in an online course strategically.
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Creating student engagement is a common concern for both in-person and online courses. A teacher who stands at the front of the class and drones on and on will put their students to sleep, whether in a physical or virtual classroom. But a teacher who understands different learning styles and varies educational content to engage their students will keep the class with them.
Here are some of the best ways to ensure that your students get the most out of your course and maximize your opportunities for repeat business. As added perks, you’ll find the process of course creation much more enjoyable and will have marketing material that makes it easier for you to sell your courses.
How to engage
1. Improve your presentation style
Before focusing on ways to create or add engaging content to an online course, you need to spend some time on the most crucial part of your course: you. Just as you need energy and life in your advertising, you need to be interesting and likable during your course.
Many people, including educators, never pay attention to how they sound to others. Take a moment to listen to your course. Do you sound relatable and at ease? Does your tone remain the same for minutes at a time without ever varying? Modulating your tone throughout a course is essential to keep your students interested.
Practice makes perfect
Scripts can be critical so your students know you prepared for the course rather than just did a stream of consciousness dump into a video. But when you are working from a prepared script, it’s easy to fall into a monotone delivery. If you don’t vary your tone and inflection, you may quickly lose your students.
There is also a sweet spot for the speed of your presentation. Some people naturally speak slowly and need to ramp up their delivery. More frequently, especially when using prepared scripts, people speak in a rapid-fire manner, accelerating as they go. Speak too slowly, and the students’ attention wanders; too quickly, and they will have a hard time comprehending the class.
You once again need to listen to yourself and then practice your delivery. Recording yourself delivering a presentation at home and then watching or listening to the recording is one way to see where you can improve.
2. Use storytelling and real-world examples
Storytelling is always more effective than simply lecturing for several reasons. First, stories are inherently less dry and more engaging than recitation. Students also have a chance to relate to characters and experiences.
Stories also leverage the classic theory versus practice battle. How many high school students come out of a math class saying they don’t understand why they have to learn algebra because they will never use it? One reason they feel this way is that they only learned theory. But if the class had more practical examples in the form of stories, the students probably would have had a very different reaction.
If you don’t have your own stories, think about others who might. Do you know someone who has a particularly relevant experience? Bring them in as a guest speaker or do a video interview with them.
3. Use graphics and video
Think back to the last presentation you saw. Did the presenter use a PowerPoint full of dense text slides that you could barely read, much less understand? Did they then read them to you when you are perfectly capable of reading yourself? Unfortunately, this is far from an unusual experience.
Injecting powerful graphics or videos into your course will help keep students’ interest by breaking up your lectures and varying your educational style. You also help engage your visual learners. Look for tools that help you build a variety of media into your course.
4. Alternate lectures and activities
Give your students something to do to make sure they are still with you. Quizzes and practical assignments allow the students to redirect their brains from information absorption to practical application of what they have learned. Gamification of activities also creates a more engaging learning environment, particularly for younger students who have spent much of their lives deeply involved in video games.
5. Use skills assessments
Skills assessments are useful at any point in your course—even before it starts. For example, you can have a pre-course quiz for students to self-assess their existing knowledge base. Used effectively, pre-course skills assessments can act as marketing for your course.
Assessments will more typically after the course begins. As we noted before, they help break up the course into more manageable pieces and give the students a breather. They also force students to refocus their energy.
But skills assessments do more than ensure engagement. More and more people are seeking to make a full-time income online in the gig economy, with over 50% of the workforce expected to become full time freelancers by 2027. This is why they look for more practical training.
Testing skills during a course gives students experience in doing precisely the kinds of tasks they hope to do professionally in the future. Skills assessments also help students identify areas where they need to improve their skills if they wish to be competitive in the market.
6. Take your course yourself
One of the biggest mistakes you can make is not watching your course before offering it to students. Presumably, you put a lot of time and effort into developing it. You should spend a little extra time making sure it turned out the way you envisioned. How can you expect a student to make it through the course if you can’t?
Watching your course allows you to identify areas for improvement. You don’t need to be overly critical of yourself; instead, you should objectively consider how you can make your course better.
7. Create opportunities for live interactions
The primary difference between in-person and online learning is the lack of personal interaction in online courses. But there are many ways you can provide students opportunities to engage personally. Activity groups and discussion boards let students interact with each other.
You can also offer personal coaching sessions at any point during or after the course, which not only gives the students a personal touch but lets you monetize your course even further.
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8. Don’t forget to give feedback…and ask for it
Your students deserve to know how well they understand the material. Even when your course is not live, you can still give effective feedback. For instance, you can have pre-made responses and corrections for student activities. Taking feedback up a step, you could use AI-driven chatbots to help provide student feedback. And, naturally, you can give personalized feedback to your students in many ways—video chats, e-mails, text messages, etc.
It is equally important that you get feedback from your students, as it is the real test of your own performance. So ask them. But do so in a way that elicits useful responses: ask substantive, open-ended questions about what worked and what didn’t. You can then apply that feedback to refine the course, and you will have some ideas about how to make future courses better from the start.