Design Tips to Engage Today’s Learners

Tools in teaching have come a long way, from the Abacus to smart phone calculators. Although they teach the same concept, the tool used has changed dramatically during the Information Age of the past few decades.

Phone Images Stock Photos

As tools or devices have changed so have the way a student processes information and learns. In the past, to find new information one would look up topics in resources such at the Encyclopedia, dictionary or other books, either at home or by driving to the library. Learners growing up in the past couple decades have had internet on home computers to now speaking into a handheld device for how-to tutorials and restaurant choices near by. Today’s students are used to quick answers and information at the tips of their fingers. I would suspect this has an impact on how the brain learns, attention longevity and processing speed. At the very least, this generation of students has learning expectations based on growing up in the Information Age. They also need to learn how to use their tech. tools and devices for academic learning and scholarly research. This may be a new concept to many students who use their devices for entertainment, social engagement and navigation.

To engage today’s students in learning it is important to keep these things in mind. You can do this by designing their learning experience to be somewhat familiar and in-line with their learning expectations and current learning devices used. When a learning environment is an online course, effort is needed in designing an eLearning experience that is engaging and interactive.

Three tips for eLearning course design:

  • Use videos.  Videos are a familiar part of their day, and engagement may increase by incorporating them in instruction. Whether your video is of you explaining the weekly tasks, a screen capture with voice over, a video from YouTube, or other source, keep it short and simple. Think concise –  such as 5 slides, 10 minutes, one topic per video, or a couple smaller instructional topics. If you have a longer slide deck or instructional lesson, break it up into multiple sub topics each its own 10 minute video. Processing is easier in the smaller chunks when learning online and with new concepts.
  • Use color. Color can be used in online learning to designate different types of content, such as weekly lessons and activity titles. Keep color minimal, limit to select places or item level, to keep visual noise low while highlighting sections or levels of instruction
  • Use engaging activities. Adult learners like real-world, relevant activities, such as project-based learning (PBL) case studies, real world scenarios where students try to solve a problem, or online simulations can  be used for individual or group use. To reflect, course discussions can be used for students to share about their experiences.

Written by: Kelley E.B. Senkowski, M.Ed. 

Online Design Consultant, Ferris State University


Keengwe, J., & Kidd, T. T. (2010). Towards best practices in online learning and teaching in higher education. MERLOT Journal of Online Learning and Teaching, 6(2), 533-541.

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