Sunday, August 9, 2020

Keeping Kids Engaged in Remote Learning

With the pandemic not letting down in many places, schools are beginning to focus less on re-entry and more on starting the year with remote learning. Even in countries where COVID-19 is under control, there is still a certain level of nervousness and anxiety that a second wave could perpetuate a shift to either a hybrid model or remote instruction. No matter the situation, lessons learned have to be acted upon in order to provide a valuable learning experience to all kids, regardless of demographics. One of the most prominent obstacles encountered was getting and keeping kids engaged.  A recent Chalkbeat article highlighted the results of some surveys that alluded to this issue:

And engagement with schoolwork was relatively low across the board, reflecting the challenges of keeping students engaged in a chaotic time and of teaching from a distance. Teachers in two separate surveys estimated that only about 60% of their students were regularly participating or engaging in distance learning. (Individual district reports of daily "attendance" varied widely, as districts defined the term so differently.) Two-thirds to three-quarters of teachers said their students were less engaged during remote instruction than before the pandemic, and that engagement declined even further over the course of the semester.

Engagement begins with a focus on sound instructional design that leads to pedagogical techniques that foster active learning.  There are many successful remote teaching strategies that can be employed, which I have included in this post. A balance of digital and non-digital activities is preferred, but you might have to lean one way or another depending on the availability of technology and WIFI in your respective community.  No matter the situation, the key to empowering learners is to create valuable and meaningful experiences that they want to engage in every day. Below are six concrete areas to consider when developing any type of remote learning activity for maximum student engagement.


Without relevance, learning many concepts doesn't make sense to students, which is supported by research. The why matters more than ever in the context of remote learning. What one must do is step into the shoes of a student. If he or she does not truly understand why they are learning what is being taught, the chances of engagement and improving outcomes diminish significantly. Each lesson should squarely address the why. When it is all said and done, if a lesson or project is relevant, students will be able to tell you:

  • What they learned
  • Why they learned it
  • How they will use what was learned.


Social isolation is a real issue impacting many kids, thanks to quarantining and extended school closures. There is a dire need for students to interact with their peers, especially during synchronous lessons facilitated through live video tools.  Discourse can easily be achieved through the purposeful use of technology.  In this previous post, I outline important pedagogical aspects as well as tools that can be seamlessly integrated into remote lessons to foster conversation. If kids are just consuming content and completing activities in isolation, then chances are many won't be engaged.


Another way to counteract social isolation and potential SEL issues is through collaborative experiences. These leverage the power of discourse while empowering kids to work together to solve a problem or complete a performance task.  Using the elements of well-structured cooperative learning (accountability, timeframe, equitable roles, equal opportunity to participate), activities can be designed as part of a remote blended learning experience.  In the end, it is about creating the conditions for positive interdependence, group processing, and interpersonal skills. For specific online activities, click HERE, and for tools, visit this link.


Rigid schedules and expectations didn't work particularly well prior to COVID-19. They sure don't facilitate an engaging learning experience for kids. Having kids meet at the same time for a synchronous Zoom session as they would for a traditional face-to-face class just doesn't make sense and is counterproductive, in my opinion. Any successful remote learning implementation ensures that flexibility is a core component in both attending lessons and completing work. Asynchronous workflows that are set up with some content can lead to higher engagement if there is some flexibility aligned to getting assignments done over a specified timeframe.


Many of the areas I have already discussed are integrated into a personalized experience. It represents a shift in focus from the "what" (content, curriculum, tests, programs, technology) to the "who" to create a more personal learning experience for all kids. At the forefront is developing and sustaining a culture that imparts purpose, meaning, relevance, ownership, and various paths that cater to all students' strengths and weaknesses.

High agency strategies such as voice, choice, path, pace, and place, typically in the form of pedagogically-sound blended learning, lead to high engagement levels. I encourage you to check out this post that provides a deep dive into effective personalized learning.


Most kids want to know how they are doing and what can be done to improve.  If there are no mechanisms for timely, meaningful, and specific feedback, then the motivation to complete any type of remote learning activity wanes. Feedback justifies a grade, establishes criteria for improvement, provides motivation for the next assessment, reinforces good work, and serves as a catalyst for reflection. The assessment determines whether learning occurred, what learning occurred, and if the learning relates to stated targets, standards, and objectives. In reality, formative assessment is an advanced form of feedback. Consider developing digital feedback logs as an engagement strategy.

If students aren't engaged, then the chances are that they won't complete remote activities. The result will be widening learning and achievement gaps that will impact disadvantaged kids the hardest. A compelling reason to learn, coupled with meaningful experiences, is the best recipe for sustained engagement to avoid this potential pitfall while developing the motivation to learn. 

Be sure to check out my entire #remotelearning series


  1. For what it's worth, this is my take on keeping students engaged while learning remotely, or in class:

  2. Hi Eric,

    Do you mind if I use some of your graphics and identify the source(your blog) in a document I am sharing with other educators?