If you teach online courses, you’re aware that your teaching strategies for engaging college students in a virtual setting have to accommodate the lack of face-to-face contact. One of the greatest challenges for an online student is staying motivated throughout a course.

How do you engage students in an online environment? Consider these teaching strategies as you reach out to your online students.

Social support

An online learning environment has many benefits, such as self-paced learning, and the ability to view coursework around the student’s own schedule. But the environment can be a lonely one, as well. In order to create a social support system for your online students, you must take an active role in creating a virtual network. According to Ryan Watkins and Michael Corry in E-Learning Companion: Student’s Guide to Online Success, 4th edition, “the social network of an online student is one that must be developed intentionally through involvement with other students and the instructor” (Watkins, 155).

Watkins and Corry recommend that students create both long- and short-term goals for their college education and the course in particular. You can help college students create goals for your course by setting up measurable ways to assess how close students have come to reaching a particular goal and designing short-term goals throughout the course. You can also require peer feedback to be part of the coursework, which helps online students build their social support network and hold each other accountable throughout the course.

Another way to create a social support network is to engage online students in discussions through social media or on discussion boards. Your active participation in such groups will be noted by your online students.

Create engaging course content

Online learning does not need to be limited to text-only course webpages and assignments. Use imagery, video, and audio elements to help students feel as though they have greater contact with you. In your teaching strategies, include:

  • A video introducing yourself and the content of the course.
  • Videos of topics in your course, especially those that are particularly exciting or noteworthy.
  • Real-time video interaction through social networking tools like Google Hangouts or Skype.
  • Real-time, web-based data. In “Student Motivation and Engagement in Online Courses” by Selby Cull, Don Reed, and Karin Kirk for the Carleton College Teaching Geoscience Online webpage, the authors noted tools such as “USGS streamflow network, NOAA offshore buoy measurements and drifter buoys, recent earthquakes or climate data.”
  • Links to current events articles that relate to the coursework, which keep the topic relevant to the real world as well as the course.

Instructor behaviors to motivate online students

The way you engage your online students also has an impact on their motivation.  For example, it’s even more important to provide online college students with a detailed syllabus and consistent deadlines at the beginning of the course, to help them set their goals and checkpoints throughout the term. You should also:

  • Respond to e-mails, questions, and discussions quickly, ideally within 24 hours.
  • Provide feedback on assignments quickly, and with constructive, personalized comments.
  • Post a weekly message to the course webpage, ideally by video to give the students a sense of real-time conversation.

What teaching strategies do you use to engage your online students?

Reference: Watkins, Ryan and Michael Corry. 2014. E-Learning Companion: Student’s Guide to Online Success, 4th ed. Boston, MA: Wadsworth.