How Can I Make My Online Lessons More Engaging? 8 Great Ideas I Use

With much more online training it is critical you make your training more engaging for your students. In this article we will discuss 8 tried and true ways to increase engagement and therefore overall student retention and completion rates.

The most effective ways to make online lessons a lot more interesting are:

  • Web Conference Study Sessions
  • Social Learning
  • Assign Interactive Tasks
  • Divide The Course Into Shorter Lessons
  • Include Real-World Equipment
  • Add Competitions With Rewards
  • Flip Your Classroom
  • Include Gamification

Let’s dig into these and I will give you examples of each one you can use in your own online classes.

Web Conference Study Sessions

Post Covid most training organisations are now delivering their lectures on web conferences like Zoom or Webex but they have not replaced what used to be student tutorials. Why not set up web conference access for your students to use as study groups with a tutor just like real life classes.

That way they feel more involed and engaged and have another session to ask questions of a different instructor to clarify understanding. As we all have had instructors that we just don’t understand or are unable to speak at our level so this also solves that problem. The feeling of isolation is one of the most common reasons why students drop out of online courses.

If you are not yet decided whether to use live meetings to teach online, I recommend you to read the following article:

ARTICLE: What Are The Real Time Online Learning Pros And Cons

If you want to conduct live classes with your students, there are three important aspects you want to take into consideration:

  • Equipment needed
  • Software tools
  • Meeting Guidelines

Equipment Needed

To take part in an online audio-video call you need to have several pieces of equipment. The mandatory hardware is:

  • Laptop or Computer
  • Webcam
  • Microphone

You want to ensure a high-quality lesson for your students. Therefore, you must use decent equipment. I strongly advise against using the built-in webcam and microphone. Spend some extra cash to get a dedicated webcam and microphone. The quality will be improved significantly.  You can see the current Webcam I recommend and use on the Recommended Tools page.  The current recommendation has a builtin microphone with noise-canceling.

Software Tools

You can host a live meeting with your students using different software. The most popular applications that are designed for online web conferences  are:

Meeting Guidelines

The key to a well run live training session is some quick rules that will ensure everyone enjoys the session and what you are trying to teach gets conveyed to students.  I have run hundreds of online Web Conferences and full Virtual Classrooms and here are some of my tricks.

Basic Guidelines for Online Meetings

  • Let the students know when and how to ask questions
  • Encourage them to chat with each other in the chat feature
  • Let them know they can use the group audio on breaks
  • Let them know to respect others thoughts in class
  • Let them know timings
  • What to do when they have technical issues
  • Engaging is how everyone learns more

For more of these tips check out this article:

ARTICLE: 15 Practical Tips for Teaching your First Online Class

Social Learning

Social learning is a method that allows students to learn from their peers. This has been proven to increase engagement and decrease the sense of isolation that comes with learning online. Whether you are using the tools in your Web Conferences or setting up places where students can connect with each other this is critical to their learning journey and whether they complete the course.

During online classes, this can be achieved using a wide variety of software tools, such as:

  • Forums
  • Live Chats
    • Text
    • Audio
    • Video

You can learn more about social learning and its advantages by reading the following article:

ARTICLE: Engaging Students Online with Social Learning


Forums can be successfully used when your students are living in different countries and are in different time zones. You need to have a Service Level Agreement (SLA) for the length of time forum questions will be responded too. This guarantees the students of timely responses to complete their studies.

IMPORTANT: We all get lazy and don’t just use the forum as a frequently asked questions area actually engage instead of leaving the students on there searching for answers. Sometimes they don’t know what they are looking for and that just frustrates them more. Don’t be one of those teachers.

If you encourage your students to engage in global or industry forums maybe give them guidelines on how they should be used.  If you build one into your Learning Management System (LMS) then at least you have full control and the topics are strictly related to what you are doing.

The most well-known forums you can ask your students to join are:

Live Chats

Apart from being a great method to bring all your students together, live chats are a great social opportunity as well. There are various options when it comes to hosting a live chat room that we will look at below.


Text chats are better than forums and allow students to discuss current topics in the course.  There are tools like the phone app tools located below where students can start their own study groups and ask each other questions.  As well as the ones students set up for themselves you can also have ones you make as the teacher where they can ask you questions any time when they are studying and you can answer straight away.

The most popular live group text chat software is:


Group audio chats require a little more organizing to schedule them so everyone is there but they are great for teamwork when students are regionally separated. They allow things to be organized a lot quicker than they would with a text chat and it is more personal and you can hear tone and inflection so you know how they are feeling.

The most commonly used applications for live audio chats are:


Webconference video meetings where you are not sharing a desktop is the best tool for doing this and post covid we have all experienced these now and know what they can do.

Assign Interactive Tasks

One effective way to make sure your students do not lose their interest in your course is to get rid of the boring assignments. Whether you choose online or offline assignments you can mix things up for your students so every assignment is not just another 3000-word essay.

To increase engagement and student buy-in you can provide them with assignments they are excited to do.  If you are not that creative I have prepared a list with the best 27 interactive assignment ideas for online students that you can read.

Divide The Course Into Shorter Lessons

We all know teachers love the sound of their own voice right?  Well, at least that is why I am a teacher.  When in all seriousness we need to keep our training short and to the point.  We have gone from lessons that are hours long, to one hour, then to 30 mins, and now to 15 mins or microlearning.  

The concept is to pack in everything they need into small sessions they can do on the train or on a break at work.  It also allows time to think about each concept or topic and then move on to the next one when we are ready.  I have not seen many courses that have not been broken down in this way.  This also allows students to cherry-pick what they want to learn when they need it.  So just in time learning.

MIT Research revealed that the most effective length for educational videos is under six minutes. You know what that means. Cut your one-hour-long training video into shorter lessons.

To learn more about the best course length and how you should optimize your classes, check out the following article:

ARTICLE: How Long Should an Online Lecture Be?

Include Real-World Equipment

With technology getting smaller why not build into your course some real-world equipment that is small enough for you to ship to them or they can buy online or locally to them.  If you are teaching programming use an Arduino circuit board.  If it is cooking get them to record themselves backing a cake.  You get the idea!

What if the equipment is too big to send to the students or is too expensive for them to buy?  Simple, just buy it yourself and set it up for remote access with a schedule students can book into use accoss the web.  Place a few cameras they can use to see what is happening and add a little automation equipment if required for them to interact with it.

The more students get a chance to touch and feel things the more certain types of learners will engage and the better information is retained when using multiple of our five senses.

Use Competitions With Rewards

Who doesn’t like the thrill of matching wits with other students in competition with the chance of a real reward at the end of it?  Cash is always a great reward but quickly forgotten.  You should provide the students with experiences instead that they will remember a lot longer.

You can have simple competitions like the first 3 students to complete up to a certain part of the training or the first to solve a problem.  For these simple competitions, you can give online gift cards.  Then group competitions for major projects.  Maybe for the best project and another for the most creative.

For the bigger competitions maybe a jet boat ride for the team or concert tickets or any other bigger price items that provide real experience.  New laptops or tablets are a very cheap option these days as well as smartwatches.

Flip Your Classroom

The concept of ‘flipped classroom’ has become quite popular.  Students learn the material online self-paced and lecture times and tutorial times are combined into a single session to discuss what they have learned.  This is generally led by the professor instead of by a tutor to give much better engagement.  You can do that online with web conferences as well.

Include Gamification

From simple games built inside your eLearning software, simple quizzes up to real games built as independent software. Gamification can be as simple as also providing points for completion of tasks that are not formative or sumative assessments. Instead of gifts for attending training maybe get bigger gifts to give out through the training instead.

While not a content type but more a concept, the idea of gamification or adding game-like elements to your training is always an option. There have been some very successful educational gaming apps like DuoLingo for language learning as a free version and lots of paid versions as well.

What people generally include are leader boards with badges and points but you can go way further if you want too.

Glen Brown

I am a Technical Trainer and Manager with over 20 years experience in IT, Education and Business. I have multiple qualifications on each topic including post graduate qualifications. I have a passion for sharing knowledge and using technology to do this. If you would like to know more about me please see the about page of the website.

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