16 Facilitating Student Engagement

“The learning community in an online course allows for mutual exploration of ideas, a safe place to reflect on and develop those ideas, and a collaborative, supportive approach to academic work.” [1] 

Because it takes place in a virtual environment, the effective design of online engagement should address factors that are taken for granted in onground classrooms, mostly surrounding the facilitation of student engagement toward a satisfying and connected experience where the student feels like a part of an online community of learners.

An effective online community of learners will include authentic problem-solving activities that are explored by learners through collaborative projects, critical discussion, and reflective activities [2]. As well, student interaction may be facilitated in a number of different ways, including [3]:

  • Student to instructor: A critical aspect of an optimal online course design and delivery cycle should feature the instructor’s (or a teaching assistant’s) frequent presence in the course in visible ways such as modeling online participation, moderating discussions, monitoring participation and engagement online. You may include synchronous or asynchronous opportunities, as well as online student hours (aka office hours).
  • Student to students: Include multiple opportunities for peers to interact with each other. Meaningful student-student engagement opportunities may include collaborative assignments, discussions, peer sharing and feedback activities.
  • Student to course learning materials: Alignment with course objectives, affordability of materials, and relevance of the learning to students’ lives are intrinsically motivational aspects of course design. Ensure that instructional materials contribute to the achievement of the stated course and module/unit learning objectives or competencies and make use of affordable content options when possible (see Affordable Content in this document).
  • Student to course technologies: Employ a variety of relevant technologies to facilitate learning.

To account for multiple learning preferences and to facilitate the development of digital literacies in online learning and in online collaboration, provide opportunities for engagement and interaction that are varied.

For a list of engaging online activities, see the Online Activity Index from the Illinois Online Network. 

Additional Resources


  1. Palloff, R. M., & Pratt, K. (2007). Building online learning communities: effective strategies for the virtual classroom. San Francisco: John Wiley & Sons.
  2. Garrison, D. R., Anderson, T., & Archer, W. (2000). Critical inquiry in a text-based environment: Computer conferencing in higher education model. The Internet and Higher Education, 2(2-3), 87-105.
  3. Moore, Michael. (1989). Three Types of Interaction. American Journal of Distance Education. 3. 1-7. 10.1080/08923648909526659.

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Guidelines for Online Teaching and Design by TeachingSupport@UMN.edu and Faculty Development for Online Teaching task group is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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