Published On: July 5, 2023By
How can you increase online learning engagement? Start with these tips from a digital learning expert..

EDITOR’S NOTE:  Because extended enterprise learning involves multiple disciplines and perspectives, we sometimes invite experts from learning technology companies to share their insights. Today, Viren Kapadia, CEO of Gyrus shares advice on how to increase online course engagement.


Over the years, advances in digital learning platforms have made it much easier to create, coordinate, promote and deliver online courses. This is a key reason why online learning has become so popular for employee development, continuing education, customer training and other purposes. Yet organizations of all types continue to face a common challenge — how to increase online course engagement.

After all, engagement is the holy grail of any educational experience. If registrants don’t become actively involved with your courses, they won’t learn effectively. This means your reputation and business results will eventually suffer.

On the other hand, the best courses draw registrants in, keep them involved and help them achieve better outcomes. This, in turn, brings them back for more. And as participants spread the word about their high-quality learning experiences, others are attracted to these programs. In short, when learners engage, everyone wins.

Of course, this virtuous cycle sounds great in theory. But in the real world, disengagement is all around. Research says the average completion rate for online courses ranges from 15-40%. So the core question remains:  What does it take to engage people more deeply in the learning process?


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Why Do People Struggle With Online Courses?

If you’ve ever taken a continuing education class, you’ve probably noticed that many students drop out. People often become overwhelmed. Other priorities demand their attention. They struggle to keep up with assignments. They may not receive the kind of attention and support they need to succeed. Soon, they lose motivation and move on.

Online learning adds even more difficulty to this challenge. People who pursue online courses must be self-motivated and disciplined enough to work alone. And without face-to-face interaction or accountability, some individuals lose focus and give up without being noticed.

In today’s competitive lifelong learning market, an online course that delivers only static, factual information is no better than any other. Successful course creators understand this. And that’s why they put human needs, interests and behaviors at the center of every learning journey.

Do you want to create online courses that are meaningful, memorable and motivational? Try these suggestions:

5 Methods That Move the Needle:

  1. Establish expectations and model engaged behavior
  2. Present clear content in a coherent learning environment
  3. Show an active interest in participants
  4. Offer relevant learning paths
  5. Integrate gamification into the learning process

How to Increase Online Course Engagement

1. Establish expectations and model engaged behavior

Get in touch with registrants even before the course begins. Welcoming people is an easy way to encourage everyone and show them you care about their success. Consider sending an email 1-2 weeks in advance to introduce yourself. This is also a good time to set the stage by confirming logistics such as:

  • When the course will be available and how to access it
  • Recommended textbooks or other materials
  • Details about any synchronous class meetings you’ve scheduled

You may also want to reach out again once or twice with updates and reminders prior to the start date. This helps build rapport and gives everyone a chance to ask questions or share comments.

2. Present clear content in a coherent learning environment

The easier it is to find and participate in online courses, the more effective the learning experience will be. This isn’t just about thoughtfully designing and developing instructional content and activities. It’s also about bringing all the elements together within an integrated digital environment that supports participants throughout their learning process. Course materials, assessments, conversations, related resources and records — everything people need should be right where they expect to find it.

But this doesn’t stop with a learning management system. Instructors, too, have a vital role to perform in avoiding student confusion. Are your course materials labeled and arranged consistently? Do lessons and modules include checklists so individuals can track their progress? When people see how far they’ve come in their journey, it heightens their sense of accomplishment and encourages them to keep moving forward.

3. Show an active interest in participants

For better or worse, life is a succession of first dates. Individuals with diverse backgrounds and experiences regularly come together to find common ground. We all have our own notions about what is inspiring, entertaining, hilarious, and offensive — and what isn’t.

When you think about it, connecting with another person is a difficult task. Yet, we do it every day with varying degrees of success.

This is worthwhile to consider when developing online courses. For example, you could conduct surveys or interviews with several prototypical participants to determine their shared attitudes and characteristics. These learner profiles can help you figure out which learning strategies will work best.

And here’s another consideration. While it’s important to know your audience, you can take course engagement to a whole new level simply by using participants’ names. Many of us take this for granted, but merely calling someone by their name has enormous power and impact.

According to Dale Carnegie, author of How to Win Friends and Influence People, hearing our name is “the sweetest sound in any language for that individual.” Because it is central to our identity, it validates our existence and makes us much more likely to feel favorably toward the person who validated us.

You can easily apply this concept to online learning. One of the most effective ways to personalize a course is to add a text-based variable that accepts the learner’s name. When someone starts the course, you can prompt them to enter or confirm their name. Then you can automatically integrate this into messages throughout the learning journey. For example, you can congratulate people personally when they successfully complete an activity. Or you can personalize an e-learning character’s script to promote engagement and immersion throughout each module.


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4. Offer relevant learning paths

One of the most effective ways to increase engagement is through learning paths and resources that align with a participant’s professional function or role. For example, in a corporate setting, your welcome screen could point human resources employees to an HR section, while customer service specialists could be invited to a Customer Experience section.

Similarly, you could provide customized paths based on an individual’s job title. For instance, you could offer different learning experiences for managers, supervisors and team leaders.

With a customized approach, every employee receives the specific online training they need to attain their particular professional goals. So rather than providing “one-size-fits-all” online instruction, you can make learning more relevant and meaningful. This naturally boosts engagement.

5. Integrate gamification into the learning process

In recent years, gamification has become a popular buzzword. But it is much more than that. It is a widely used design strategy that brings game-oriented objectives and features to real-life challenges. And it is one of the most effective ways you can boost engagement in online learning.

Businesses often rely on game-based logic, techniques, mechanics and aesthetics to enhance the impact of online and offline experiences. Why? Gamification draws on innately human traits — curiosity, mastery, competitiveness, socialization, accomplishment, prestige, self-expression and more.

Within the context of an online course, artful gamification pulls people step-by-step through the learning process with incentives and rewards. And because it adds an element of fun, learning audiences find it appealing.

Other Ideas to Consider

What are the 4 types of learner engagement?

  • Procedural engagement
  • Conceptual engagement
  • Consequential engagement
  • Critical engagement

What are 7 key course engagement tactics?

  • Set clear ground rules
  • Spark early connections with icebreaker activities
  • Build social and emotional learning into the curriculum
  • Let participants take the lead
  • Foster teamwork with group projects
  • Ask participants to keep a journal
  • Add periodic breaks into modules, so people can reset


There are many ways to elevate online course engagement — these five strategies are only the beginning. Finding the best mix for your course will likely require trial and error. But if you keep at it, the results will be worth your effort. Just focus on being relatable and relevant, and keep putting human needs and interests first.


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About the Author: Viren Kapadia

Viren Kapadia is President and CEO of Gyrus Systems. He is a passionate IT professional and entrepreneur with more than two decades of successful experience in leading large-scale digital transformation for multinational enterprises. At Gyrus, he leverages this expertise to transform learning design, delivery and business results. You can connect with him on LinkedIn at Viren Kapadia.

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