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Make it engaging and fun!

How do you truly engage learners in an online lesson? Read this article and find out how to make it a fun experience for you and your learners.

No matter how excited you are about your new programme, ultimately it’s your audience who decides if your Virtual Learning Experience is a success or a flop. Fancier is not always better, so remember to start simple and add over time.


Last week we looked at pedagogies that engage learners in online programmes. We identified the following key strategies:

  • Test technology
  • Plan your lesson
  • Build in excitement and fun
  • Set clear boundaries
  • Provide a positive environment and connect with learners
  • Make every minute count
  • Incorporate opportunities for interaction and reflection
  • Consider providing pre- and post-visit activities.

So how can we ensure that our learners are engaged?

How do you build excitement and fun?

Think of your regular programmes: How do you engage your learners, get them excited about the content and have fun? Some of your face-to-face strategies can transfer to the Virtual Learning Experiences. How will you make the learning relevant to them, how can they contribute their knowledge, ask questions or get practically involved? As we discussed last week, applying UDL principles for all programmes is vital, and especially so for online learning. Ask yourself:

  1. What opportunities can I create for learners to engage with the learning, and to stay engaged? What does this look like before, during and after the programme?

    Think about how to invite the learners to the session: Will the teacher be the conduit? Will you send some special invitations to help students get excited about the learning?

    How can you facilitate discussion during your session? When the class dial in all together from the classroom, the classroom teacher can play a vital role in this. What digital tools can you incorporate that facilitate exchange of ideas and discussion?

  2. How do I adapt my online programme delivery to different ages?

    What works for one year level might not work for others, and what works with one class might be a flop with the next: Collaborate with the visiting teachers to establish shared expectations. This includes how long the session will be, conventions like camera on / off, how learners will participate, any special interests or special learning needs you need to plan for.

  3. How will I present my content in different ways?

    There are ways to mix it up when you present live from the floor: Have the camera on you to introduce yourself, switch the view to see the exhibition. Pan across a scene or a room (keep in mind those copyright restrictions) or zoom into a detail. Show an image, an illustration or text. Film someone else completing a practical activity as an example for leraners to try.

    Presenting with a slide deck has its own challenges: Where do you, the presenter, fit in? How can you be part of the action rather than just a talking head?

    Presenting an image of the Waitangi Treaty House in Google Meet How can you make talking about a historic build more engaging?

    Using a virtual background in Google Meet Here your ‘talking head’ is closer to the actual building by using a virtual background. Do you notice what happened to the background image here in Google Meet? Your audience will see the image the correct way around:

    View for audience in Google Meet

    Put yourself into the scene If you are ready to take it to the next level, put yourself into the scene with a greenscreen behind you: Present in front of an image or a video and it is hard to tell if you are there in person or not! Please note, you will need a second person with you behind the camera.

  4. How do you get your viewers involved? Discuss with the teacher how to structure the lesson. Where do activities, discussion and questions fit into the programme, and how will these be facilitated?
    • Practical Activities don’t need to be long to re-energise your viewers. Get them out of their seat for a physical activity, or use an online tool to get them actively involved in the learning. Many online platforms have some built-in tools, e.g., polls and whiteboarding in Google Meet. For an overview of some useful tools, check out the recording of our webinar Digital Tools for Collaboration.
    • Discussion is important, but needs some careful planning when teaching online. If all learners are together in the classroom, the teacher can manage how the discussion takes place (e.g., Think-Pair-Share) and how they are feeding back to you. Many online platforms offer breakout rooms where participants can discuss in smaller groups. However, unless the learners are used to this concept, this can be difficult to manage from a distance. For older learners, consider using a Backchannel; this can be as simple as the Chat function in your online platform, or an external tool such as AnswerGarden. A timer or aural prompt can be very helpful. If your online platform has no built-in timer, you can find plenty of tools online, e.g., Classroom Timers.
    • Asking and answering questions can be very important for children, and it’s often an aspect that gets cut when you run out of time. Think about different ways for children to ask their questions: The classroom teacher might help facilitate this, or older children put their question into the chat. Remember to give learners a way to ask further questions after the Virtual Learning Experience, such as a teacher email you respond to.
  5. How do learners show their learning? Often we leave it to the teachers how students show their learning; why not plan this in from the beginning? In what different ways could learners show their learning and share it with you?

    Keeping in mind the UDL principles, give learners choices: Younger children could draw a picture, build a structure from found or classroom materials, record themselves describing the learning, or write a short paragraph. Older learners might create a presentation or a poster, film a movie clip, re-create an image or an object using craft materials or physical tools. Some online tools like Kahoot allow you to gather immediate feedback during or at the end of the session in a fun and engaging way.

For more tips and tricks, check out the recordings of the following webinars:

This article is from the free online

Learning During and After COVID-19: Developing Online Education Programmes

Created by
FutureLearn - Learning For Life

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