In online and blended learning settings, textbooks, other readings, videos, and presentations are often used to convey key concepts. However, just as in traditional courses, online learners sometimes struggle to engage with learning materials. Download the Pro-Tips for strategies to facilitate active learning and promote student engagement when reading or viewing activities are essential.
Set clear and reasonable expectations
Be clear in your syllabus, and throughout the course, that you expect
students to read or watch the learning materials for each module in a
timely fashion. Be mindful of the length of readings, presentations, and
videos, particularly in the context of other module assignments and
activities. Finally, make sure that learning materials are appropriate in
terms of reading level and concept complexity for the course level.
Introduce learning materials
Research indicates that students often see a weak relationship between
course readings and academic success. They are quick to discount
materials that are not overtly connected to key concepts or course
objectives. Always introduce materials by explaining their relevance.
Provide strategies for success
Some students will not understand how they are supposed to learn from
certain learning materials. Make sure to provide clear instructions and
explain key vocabulary and contexts. Finally, use focus questions to
draw students’ attention to important ideas or help with interpretation.
Avoid cognitive overload
Learning science related to cognitive load theory (CLT) provides concrete
recommendations for the design, chunking, and scaffolding of learning
materials to support effective learning. Make sure to follow multimedia
learning principles when choosing or designing slides, videos, and other
Prioritize accessibility because it benefits all students
Confirm that your resources are accessible for students with disabilities, limited or slow Internet, language differences, or other conditions that might impact accessibility.
Strive for universal design for learning
Universal design for learning (UDL) is an instructional design framework that encourages instructors to provide multiple, varied representations of key concepts or information. Learning materials that conform to UDL principles present key concepts from different
perspectives, across diverse contexts, and in multiple formats; they also adhere to multimedia learning principles and accessibility standards.
Consider open educational resources
Open educational resources (OER) are learning materials that can be offered to students at
little or no cost, which can enable broader student access, reductions in student hardship, and potentially increased student retention and success.
Integrate materials into active learning activities
Research indicates that students are less likely to engage with learning materials if they do not seem necessary or the same material is thoroughly covered in other course activities. To overcome this tendency, show students that materials are important by centering them in collaborative annotation, discussions, reflective writing, or other active learning activities.
Encourage learner ownership
As described in this 2019 Faculty Focus post, including opportunities for student agency in the learning process can boost student engagement with learning materials. Consider having students sign up to create focus questions or mind maps, facilitate discussions, or write or record summaries for other students. Alternatively, provide options for students to
consume information in different ways (e.g., video, audio file, or text format).
- CAST: Universal design for learning guidelines
- Harvard University: Principles of multimedia learning with Richard E. Mayer
- Ryerson University: Getting students to do their assigned readings
- University of Southern California: 12 principles of multimedia learning (.doc download)