Tools to Boost Student Engagement

Use Harmonize to encourage more frequent and thoughtful engagement in online courses

Getting students to engage online might feel impossible…

Harmonize makes it a cinch.

Increase student engagement

Harmonize shows students and instructors everything that’s happening, at a glance. As a result, it’s easy for students to discover content and for instructors to monitor student engagement. Reactions and tagging make collaborating in online discussions feel easy and natural for students.

Keep students on the ball by providing more structure

Milestones, or multiple due dates, help students remember deadlines and engage now instead of at the last minute. Use them to set clear expectations, remind students of approaching due dates, and pull them back into the conversation.

Chat and polls

Increase interactions between students and instructors

Encourage more vibrant and frequent interactions by giving every student a pathway to participation. Use annotations to provide richer feedback and facilitate peer-to-peer learning. Instructors can also spark new conversations using chat, polls, and Q&A boards.

These features are designed to maximize student engagement. And they do.

Grid view

Gauge student engagement at a glance. The Harmonize layout makes it easy to see which conversations have the most engagement and what students are saying.

flag icon Milestones

Lend structure to your course experience. Milestones help students see what’s expected of them, and when, so they make substantive, on-time contributions.

rich multimedia icon Rich multimedia

Why should students only be able to post text? Harmonize supports video, images, audio, and embedded URLs, so students can finally express themselves.

Q&A Boards icon Q&A

Let students answer each others’ questions. Leave Q&A boards up all term to avoid repeated questions and help students share information in one place.

polls icon Annotations

Adding annotations to content promotes peer-to-peer learning, richer instructor feedback, and deeper engagement with course material.

reactions & tagging icon Tagging

Pull students into the conversation by tagging them directly. Students and instructors have the ability to tag anybody in the class.


Keep students on task and help them meet deadlines with notifications. Add a custom notification for the whole class or individual students.

chat bubble icon Chat

Using Harmonize Chat, instructors and students can communicate in real time. It’s easy for students to see which classmates are online and begin a new chat.


Use polls to gauge understanding, assess students, or review content. You can even use a poll to take attendance. Run a poll on its own or add it to any discussion.


Students can use emojis to respond to their classmates. Reactions lower the barrier to responding to peers and help more students contribute.

How To Engage Students In Online Learning

A big part of teaching is engaging students. You know this; your best teachers likely did it for you, and you remember them for it. The question is, how can you do it when you never meet students face-to-face? Awareness is a good first step. Understanding your online students means seeking to know them better — to connect, to demonstrate interest in who they are and how they learn best, and to identify what you can do to create a supportive online learning environment for them.

However, whether it be barriers to participation, like juggling multiple responsibilities and the lack of face-time with instructors, or the sense of isolation online learners may experience, students who participate in online education tend to struggle more than those in face-to-face courses. As a result, online courses typically have a 10-20 percent lower retention rate than traditional courses and a lack of student engagement in online learning, as students feel unprepared or aren’t sure how to be active in online classes. As institutions continue to expand their online or hybrid course offerings, it has them looking more closely at how to engage students in online learning.

The good news is that institutions now have an opportunity to create more attractive and engaging online learning environments and can do so with these suggestions to improve online learning for students. With this set of proven best practices and strategies for online learning, institutions can employ active learning online tools and an effective mix of synchronous and asynchronous online learning activities that have improved student engagement in online learning, and contributed to better retention.

Student Engagement In Online Learning: What Works And Why

According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), more than seven million students — that’s 36% of all college-level students in the nation — are enrolled in at least one distance education or online course at degree-granting postsecondary institutions. As numbers in online courses continue to grow, it’s important to design online learning experiences that more deeply engage students in their learning — which is why institutions are exploring how to increase student engagement in online learning, what works and why?

In fact, research indicates that participation in online discussion forums is related to better course outcomes in both traditional courses and Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). The problem is that most online discussions rely on the LMS as a standard way for students to interact in discussions. These forums are typically text-based and can be challenging to extract deep engagement from students. They are also difficult for instructors to track and assess student participation, which has led to better recommendations for online learning.

In a recent pilot study conducted by WGU Labs, the College Innovation Network (CIN) found strong promise for increased course engagement and improved learning outcomes at Piedmont Community College, when different online discussion tools were used both in the classroom and asynchronously. These tools allowed instructors to pull on a broader set of discussion techniques to increase student participation.

Activities To Engage Students In Online Learning

Listed below are a few active learning strategies examples and activities to engage students in online learning. Of the many student engagement activities, using emotion-based, multimedia & student-facilitated discussions is how to engage students in online learning.

In fact, one of the engagement activities for students online that instructors can leverage is emotion-based prompts. To illustrate course concepts or materials, instructors can use prompts that reference current events and social justice issues to solicit response from students.

This gives all students the chance to articulate their opinions, understand competing perspectives, and compose thoughtful responses — including those who tend to be naturally shy or need to feel the discussions are a safe space. To signal course discussions as safe spaces, enable anonymous posts when identity is not important. Students are more likely to participate, and it’s a way to help students discuss difficult topics as well as figure out how to resolve conflict.

Similarly, you’ll spur student participation in online discussions when you encourage different mediums of response.  Instead of long, text-heavy threads, consider how much more interesting and engaging discussions will become when you introduce multimedia options. With video, image, annotation, audio & captioning, and text, you allow for a wider range of responses and empower students to express themselves in the ways they’re most comfortable.

In addition to being more inclusive of how students learn, student-facilitated discussions are another way to encourage interactivity in online courses. This technique prepares students to be knowledge-producers and actively engages them in the learning process through exploratory discussion.

Studies even show that peer-led discussions enhance community and encourage other students’ participation, while also being beneficial for learning outcomes — generating innovative ideas, motivating students to participate in the discussion, and providing a risk-free and relaxed atmosphere for discussion. It empowers students to take ownership of online discussion assignments while developing facilitation and discussion skills, and serves to redefine the instructor’s role from daily discussion manager to facilitation coach.

Finally, explore other fun activities for online classes and pathways for communication, such as polls and course Q&A, to ask students where more discussion focus is needed and what else you can do to create a positive learning environment. Polls are also an opportunity for how to engage students at the beginning of a lesson. Creating online discussions that are relevant to today’s students, more inclusive of diverse learning modalities, and that can drive connection through peer learning are effective ways to build better student engagement in online learning.

Creative Ways To Engage Students

In addition, there are other creative ways to engage students. For example, one of the many strategies to engage students in the classroom is to leverage the power and popularity of social media.

How to engage students in activities? The key is to keep it social. In fact, students increasingly want their instructors to incorporate and use social media as a part of their learning.

So any technology an institution employs to facilitate online courses should foster social connection and be easy to use. Tools with a user experience that mimic familiar, real-life experiences have the highest usability — think features like tagging, notifications, and social media-like interfaces. If a student or instructor logs in and can connect the screen they’re viewing to something they are familiar with in their personal lives, they are likely to explore it more deeply.

Tools that provide a social media-like experience, with content creation, sharing, and reaction capabilities — make it both recognizable and easy to use, which lead to increased student participation and engagement. Eastern Florida State College Online is one institution that takes advantage of this approach to motivate students.

“Like social media, we use instructor-student tagging in our discussions. The mention lets a student know I’m there and that I will respond with feedback. It’s a way to get students’ attention and demonstrate that their contributions are valued. Our students feel like someone’s really there for them,” notes Andrew Lieb, Collegewide Chair at EFSC.

Brown University also experienced increased student participation by incorporating social elements. James Foley, Director for Digital Learning & Design, says, “We elevated our course discussion experiences for students. With features that keep students engaged, we used a tool that made it flexible for all users and had the kind of built-in social engagement that increases student participation.”

Based on the way students interact today, a social-based approach can help students in an online course feel better connected to each other even if they’ve never met. It creates a sense of community that doesn’t rely on a physical space, and it fosters a level of comfort that allows students to engage with one another and instructors right out of the gate.

Strategies For Online Learning For Students

Finally, when considering strategies for how to make online learning more engaging and effective for students, explore peer reviews, small groups, and implementing milestones.

For example, Southern Arkansas University Tech, which has experienced an 80 percent improvement in online student participation, employed several strategies for online learning for students, including the learner-centered strategy of peer reviews, and couples it with opportunities for students to provide feedback and also work 1-on-1 and in small breakout groups with each other through virtual chat portals.

When it comes to strategies for online learning for students research paper, a particularly effective approach includes peer critique. In a SAU Tech online speech course, students are required to write a narrative speech and submit it for peer critique. Through prompts set by milestones or multiple due dates, students provide at least three posted comments on a certain number of students’ speeches. As an ongoing activity, students strengthen their evaluative skills, practice articulating constructive feedback, and become receptive to feedback.

Setting clear expectations for students, milestones can help guide students through collaborative learning activities — keeping them on track and engaged with one another, while simultaneously working to create a stronger sense of community as they work together.

“The feedback students were providing was at least 10 times better, and the number of comments per speech more than doubled when set milestones for them. We also found that anonymous posts elicited more constructive feedback, which is helping our students better iterate their work before final submissions and grades,” said SAU Tech instructional designer Traci Rushing.

Students at SAU Tech also participate in small-group collaboration projects. That collaboration is powered through chat portals. The key here is familiarity.

“It looks and feels like text messaging — a familiar medium of communication for students. However, rather than taking the students out of the course to a mobile texting app, we use tools that are connected to the course in order to keep students engaged in the relevant material.”

With the right tools, instructors can easily incorporate a wide range of collaborative activities, including facilitating discussions by section or groups, breaking students out into groups by topic, and supporting student-led discussions. These online learning strategies for college students encourage more student-to-student communication and continue to honor the asynchronous communication needs of most online learners.

How To Encourage Students To Participate In Online Class

The key for how to make online learning more engaging and effective for students is technology. Students today expect more from the tech used by their institutions. Today’s college-age students have grown up with technology and social media and are accustomed to learning, collaborating, and communicating online with ease. As such, it is critical that schools learn to adapt to the evolving needs and preferences of those they serve. With the right tools, student engagement in online learning can be improved—it is often a matter of figuring out how to leverage those tools for maximum impact.

If you’re looking for how to encourage students to participate in online classes, Harmonize offers a range of student engagement tools to improve retention, including rich multimedia discussion and Q&A boards, polling, chat, and more — all of which allow students to participate in the ways that work best for them. Using online tools for student engagement increases the quality and quantity of student-to-student, student-to-content, and student-to-instructor interactions.

✔ Rich Multimedia & Annotation

✔ Built-in Chat, Polling & Q&A

✔ Tagging, Notification & Reactions

✔ Streamlined Grading to Save Instructors Time & Focus on Feedback

A good student engagement platform also provides tools for instructors to monitor student engagement and interactions to see who needs extra help. For example, with the platform’s activity reports, instructors can view student participation and see who is the most or least engaged in course material. This is a great way to gauge the effectiveness of your engagement techniques and activities. Engagement tools like these can be used to create a more positive learning environment for students and instructors alike.

The bottom line is that having access to the right tools to power effective online learning is paramount. Making sure your technology and student engagement activities are inclusive of different learners’ styles, fosters social connection and community, and is designed to help instructors track student participation could spell the difference between student success or attrition. They’re the key for how to encourage students to participate in class.

Harmonize is a single suite of digital discussion and collaboration tools that integrate seamlessly with your LMS to facilitate a more engaging online learning experience. It’s everything an instructor needs to increase student engagement online and promote inclusive learning, while saving time and eliminating manual tasks.

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