How to Engage Students in Remote Learning: What the Research Says

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Updated | 3 min read

If your school is offering (or mandating) remote learning and you’re teaching online, engaging your students is top of mind. There’s definitely some good news to be had here. The pandemic may have turned the education upside down, but it did provide a chance for researchers to really dig into what makes for a successful remote learning classroom.

We dug into the research to find out how to engage students in remote learning, and how to make online teaching easier for you too.

How to Engage Students in Remote Learning

Check on Student Access

It’s probably not surprising that students with high-speed internet access and ample access to devices have shown higher engagement in remote learning during the pandemic. While some districts have someone on staff surveying families to find out what they need to help get their kids online, many don’t. Sending a quick survey to parents or even to your students (depending on the grade level you teach) can be a simple way to assess who needs to be hooked up with your district IT department to get an at-home Chromebook or the like. This doesn’t have to be costly either; anyone with a Google account can create a free survey.

Embrace Autonomy

Teaching online can be challenging for myriad reasons, and the fact that your students don’t have all your classroom materials at their fingertips can be a big part of the struggle. Instead of fighting it, lean into it where possible — letting your students choose books to read or assignments to do based on items that are on hand at home. Studies have long shown that allowing children some degree of choice in education is a powerful motivator and could help keep your remote learners more engaged.

Keep Your School Social Worker in the Loop

Since early on in the pandemic, parents have said their children’s mental health has been hit hard by the upheaval, and the American Academy of Pediatrics has gone so far as to call it a national emergency. Teachers can only do so much to stem that tide, but it bears mentioning that research shows us that students who are struggling less with emotional concerns about what’s going on outside the classroom tend to be more engaged learners.

Just because you can’t physically send a student to the school’s social worker or psychologist doesn’t mean you can’t still be making those referrals. Let your students know they can always email or direct message you about concerns, and add a daily check-in to your remote morning routine.

Get more ideas for helping students handle their mental health while learning remotely

Classroom catastrophe scale

Lean on the Parents

You have got a lot on your plate, and in the olden days (ahem, pre-2020), parent volunteers could play a significant role in helping out. Now consider that the research has shown that students whose parents were connecting with other students’ parents during remote learning tended to be more engaged, and you have a recipe for how to engage students in remote learning: Turn to the parents for help. Send a survey or an email asking if there’s a parent interested in setting up a system to keep parents connected, and let them do the rest.

Use the Zoom Poll Function

Teaching online via Zoom? The ability to put out multiple-choice polls is a great way to assess whether or not your students are comprehending the lesson, and studies have shown that frequently using low-stakes (aka not for a big chunk of the grade) quizzes are a good way to improve student cognition and keep them engaged.

Animate Your Slideshows

This ask is a bit bigger, we know, but it can pay off big time.

When you’re using Google slides or PowerPoints in the classroom, your body language may be enough to keep your students engaged. But when you’re sharing a slideshow virtually, your face may be completely hidden or limited to a small box on their screen, and the slideshow dominates. Studies have shown animating slides can keep kids more engaged, and this can go a long way in remote learning especially.

Get teacher-designed teaching presentations to make your online teaching easier! 

For more help with remote learning, find out how to set up virtual expectations for students.

Banner image via Shutterstock/lithiumphoto


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