Engaging Learners with Content
Student-to-Content engagement strategies

Engaging Learners with Content

by Heather Leslie

Unit 1 focuses on the first component of the Trifecta of Engagement, with the identification of ways for faculty to help students engage with their course curriculum content. There are many strategies that can encourage students-to-content engagement including activities where they can make meaning of the content.

Give students the opportunity to make meaning of the content

McDonald et. al (2005) cautions against assuming that simply providing academic content materials for students to passively absorb will cultivate learning. Rather, providing students with opportunities to do something with the course content such as solve problems, ask questions, examine concepts, compare and contrast views, and complete challenges and exercises allows engagement to occur (McDonald, 2005). Activities that go beyond passively taking in information to making meaning of that information follow a constructivist approach to learning also referred to as ‘active learning’. This approach tends to work well for adult learners who bring life experience to draw on to make meaning of new information (Karge, 2011; Hasan, 2015).

In order for faculty to formulate the exercises or activities for students to do, it can be helpful to evaluate the ‘why’ of the content or the ‘so what’ of learning the content. It can even be helpful to come up with learning objectives for what the students should be able to do, know, understand, or demonstrate after consuming the content (Fink, 2007). Likewise, the content designed for Unit 1 is not for faculty to passively absorb and then forget about. The content shows faculty how to do the activities. The activities faculty complete include making instructional videos. Why should faculty know how to present content to students using video? Because presenting content as video can be engaging for learners (Hibbert, 2014) In online courses, instructional videos can serve as a significant component. Hibbert (2014) states that “Video has the ability to convey material through auditory and visual channels, creating a multisensory environment” (para. 2). Videos can convey instructor presence and add a human element (Hibbert, 2014). Videos can be an effective way to demonstrate a procedure, explain a detailed method, or bring a process or idea to life using 3-D images, audio, and graphics. Faculty can use videos as a way to introduce course material as well as highlight or reinforce content.

Choi and Johnson (2005) found that the use of instructional videos can be used to motivate learners by attracting their attention and can help with comprehension and retention of information through the use of visual and audio aids (Choi & Johnson, 2005). It is a recommended best practice to create a course introduction video to make a good first impression on students and orient them to the course (Blackboard, n.d.; Suh, 2018). Faculty can also humanize themselves to students through the use of recorded webcam videos (Friend, 2017) which also falls into the area of instructor-to-student engagement. Activities like storytelling, anecdotes, connecting course concepts to personal experience, and sharing passion for the discipline can provide students with engaging content that they may not otherwise get in an online course, particularly if the course is asynchronous (Buffo, 2015). Faculty can incorporate online videos to support course learning objectives such as video lectures to teach course material. Faculty can also have students create videos or video presentations such as digital storytelling, which can give students the opportunity and creative freedom to synthesize information, showcase their learning, and develop 21st century digital literacy skills (Cramer, 2007).


Blackboard. (n.d.). Best practice: Create a course introduction video. Retrieved from Blackboard Help: Best Practice Intro Videos

Choi, H. & Johnson, S.D. (2005). The effect of context-based video instruction on learning and motivation in online courses. The American Journal of Distance Education, 19(4), 215-227.

Fink, L. (2007). The power of course design to increase student engagement and learning. Peer Review, 9(1). Retrieved from Peer Review.

Hasan, A. (2015). Effectiveness of teaching strategies for engaging adults who experienced childhood difficulties in learning mathematics. Learning Environ Res, 18, 1-13.

Karge, B. (2011). Effective strategies for engaging adult learners. Journal of College Teaching & Learning, 8(12).

McDonald, J. Yanchar, S.C., & Osguthorpe, R.T. (2005). Learning from programmed instruction: Examining implications for modern instructional technology. Educational Technology Research & Development, 53(2), 84-98.

Suh, S. (2018, March 23). First impressions matter: Creating quality intro videos to engage students online. Retrieved from [webinar]: https://us-