Frustrated by a Lack of Participation Online? Try These 4 Ps

4 P's for student engagement
Online Learning
Reading Time: 3 minutes

Dr. Ashley Hall is an experienced business educator with a passion for leadership development


You love your academic discipline and you want your students to see its value as well. You pour your energy into building quality online courses filled with a variety of educational activities in order to engage your students. So it’s hard not to feel frustrated when your passion and enthusiasm are met with blank faces or silent students. What is an instructor to do?

Consider these four Ps to encourage participation in online courses:


Students—especially adult learners—want to know the practicality of what is being discussed in an online course. They want to be able to apply what they’ve learned to their “real” life outside of the classroom. Be sure to build in examples of how the content is relevant to students’ current or future careers. Help students see those connections to their online education. When it comes to course projects, allow students a degree of flexibility in their selected topic. When students have a sense of ownership in the topic and the project, they are more likely to be engaged in the task and eager to talk about it. By emphasizing how practical the content is, instructors can help keep student engagement and participation high even in an online setting.

Personal Reflection

Allow time for personal reflection in courses, especially when making practical connections between life or careers and the course content. Some students need time to process independently before they are ready to share with classmates. Your online course’s discussion boards can allow for opportunities to think before having to share and encourage participation. Assignments that call for personal reflection give room for students to pause and think about what they are learning. This moves them from passively taking in course content to critically analyzing it. This deeper level of thinking about the material increases student engagement.


Consider the pacing of your online course. Without sacrificing rigor, are all the tasks you have students doing necessary for their learning? Sometimes students check out when they get overwhelmed, so consider whether every element included in your course is achieving the targeted learning objectives and outcomes for the class. Likewise, a long list of tasks to complete each week may shift students’ mindsets from actually engaging with their online education to instead taking a “check the box” approach just to complete their to-do list. If you are aiming to engage students online, consider the quality of assignments given as opposed to just the quantity.


Instructor presence can help encourage student participation. By showing the person behind the computer, online students can get to know you better like they would if you were all in a classroom together. In addition, instructors who are active on the discussion board can encourage students to be actively posting as well. Punctuality in responding to inquiries can also help foster student engagement. Be sure to clearly articulate your response times and when you will be available to help students. By promptly answering emails, returning phone calls, grading assignments, and providing feedback, instructors can keep the lines of communication with students open and help encourage student participation and engagement in their online course.

By incorporating these four Ps, instructors can create an online learning environment that is conducive to learning and encourages active, rather than passive, learning. This will allow all students, even those who tend to be more reserved, to have opportunities to engage with the course content, the instructor, and classmates.


Looking for more strategies on how to keep student engagement high in your online course? Explore the recording from our Empowered Educator webinar.