Have Online Classes Impacted Student Engagement in Higher Ed?

While online classes have been around for a substantial amount of time, their use wasn’t as nearly as widespread as it has been since COVID-19. Many higher education institutions had little choice but to transition to virtual learning models as shelter-in-place orders spread across the country. Students were required to adjust, causing many who preferred the in-person experience to have to adapt if they were going to further their education.

Student engagement quickly became a concern in higher ed. While many students prefer technology-based learning approaches, online classes can fall short in certain areas. However, by approaching virtual classrooms properly, many of the shortcomings can be overcome.

If you are wondering how online classes impacted student engagement, here’s what you need to know.

Active vs. Passive Learning

When it comes to engagement, how active the online learning experience is has a major impact. Often, virtual lectures struggle to capture the attention of students. Simply watching a professor talk can quickly get boring, even if the instructor is using screen sharing to substitute for slideshows, chalkboards, and similar visual tools.

The main issue comes from participation. When students are in a physical classroom, even lecture-based learning provides space for conversation. Students may have the ability to ask questions, or the professor can present them with questions to answer.

For online classes to offer opportunities for involvement, active learning approaches have to be integrated into the experience. Collaborative assignments, interactive video, brainstorming sessions, simulations, and similar methods can encourage (if not outright require) direct involvement, boosting overall engagement.

Course Design

For a class to be viable online, it often takes more than simply shifting the in-person approach to a virtual platform. If the coursework isn’t explicitly designed for a digital experience, disengagement is typical.

For example, as mentioned above, lecture recording or presentations typically won’t cut it if you want students to stay focused. Instead, interactive opportunities have to be part of the experience.

By embracing digital course design techniques, engagement is enhanced. As a result, higher education institutions are having to re-envision their coursework, at times, fully redesigning them to ensure they are ideal for a digital experience.


With an online class, communication is shockingly vital. Professors need to clearly outline expectations, ensuring students know precisely what they need to accomplish. Additionally, feedback is a crucial part of the equation, particularly since traditional in-person conversations aren’t viable or can only be used in a highly limited capacity.

Professors need to make sure that they communicate clearly and frequently with students, both in groups and one-on-one. This ensures students have enough support and guidance, both of which can boost engagement overall.

Are You Ready to Boost Online Learning Engagement?

If you need support from L&D experts to boost online learning engagement, Clarity Consultants is here. With more than a quarter of a century of experience in the field, we have the expertise you need to create your ideal virtual classroom experience. Plus, the Clarity team can be your candidate search allies, making it easier than ever to find the talent you need.

If you need leading L&D professionals who can make your online learning goals a reality, Clarity Consultants can help. Contact us today.

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