5 Tips For Engaging Your Learners When You Go Virtual

Updated: Mar 25



Higher Education is undergoing a mass migration from classroom-based to virtual learning this week. To most of our partners, it feels like drinking from the fire hose! Both faculty and students need support to ensure that they get through this, that we, as a learning community, maintain quality in teaching, and ensure that all students complete their courses successfully.


At O’Donnell Learn, we polled our team of LX design experts, who have years of experience supporting faculty as they move from on ground to online. Like most of our faculty partners, our designers are very focused on engaging learners to create a successful experience--within reason, as this is such a quick migration. Here are their


5 biggest suggestions:


  • Over-Communicate. Start by posting a detailed letter that outlines your expectations for the virtual environment--for example, how your assessments will change, how you expect students to participate asynchronously and synchronously, how to find support if they can’t log in or don’t have the bandwidth to participate fully. Throughout this virtual experience, frequently post announcements, encouragement, and clarifications (based on students’ questions).


  • Chunk Your Lessons. First off, you can chunk your own work -- go one week or one module at a time. Don’t try to create the rest of the term in one sitting -- which can be overwhelming. There is a natural rhythm in a classroom environment, and as an instructor, you can gauge the room and adjust accordingly. That doesn’t work online. So use the rule of thumb that students will concentrate on one thing for about 10 minutes. If you are going to record your lectures, break them into 10-minute intervals. And in between a 10-minute chunk of reading or listening/watching, insert an activity that makes the students reflect or do. That could be a discussion question, a breakout in a Zoom meeting, or a little quiz.


  • Create An Instructional Narrative. In your class lectures, you create connective tissue that puts context around the learning. So, when you assign a reading or a video, you let students know what to expect, what to look for, and you encourage reflective thinking. We call this the instructional narrative. As you move online, take a step back, and think about the kind of guidance you give students, put yourself in the shoes of your students, and make sure you post this instructional narrative within your course modules.


  • Strive For Active Learning -- Within Reason. This goes hand in hand with chunking your lesson. Make sure to intersperse lectures or readings with “chunks” that require students to do something, whether it’s reflecting on the information, writing something, interacting with their peers, or even taking a quiz. Many of you have already assigned group projects or student presentations, so a big part of your role will be to over-communicate on how students should complete these assignments in the online environment. Every one of these activities can be completed using your LMS and web conferencing tools -- without in-depth knowledge of these tools.


  • Be Kind To Yourself And A Comfort To Your Students. These are trying times and this is a big transition. Don’t expect that you will accomplish as much in the next few weeks as you had planned. What’s important is that learning continues and that you keep the momentum moving forward. Also, keep in mind that your students are really stressed out, social distancing for students is new, and they don’t have your years of experience to help them sort everything out. You can provide great comfort, just letting students know that you have their backs.


This is a trying time for faculty, who are the gemstones of Higher Ed. And, our team at O’Donnell Learn--hundreds of designers--is completely committed to supporting our community.


In the next few days, we will be rolling out our LX Design Center on the O’Donnell Learn website, a set of interactive tools for instructors and campus instructional designers. We will be supporting you with specific help on how to chunk your class, create some active learning, etc. And, look for more information on how we will be deploying our team to support faculty members in this transition.



Carrie O’Donnell is the CEO of O’Donnell Learn, a leading learning experience (LX) design firm dedicated to helping learners achieve their goals and flourish in life. ODL is passionate about partnering with institutions and their faculty to deliver learner-centered design and innovation.