3 tips to make online learning more engaging

Rod Ben Zeev
Article by: Rod Ben Zeev
3 tips to make online learning more engaging

Online has become the new normal for work calls and continued learning and a lot of emphasis today is on how to use technologies like Zoom (e.g. best practices for zoom). Online harnesses a great deal of potential and positivity by uniting us at a time when we need to keep a physical distance to survive. But in the rush to transfer ourselves online, we are imitating bad practices that we see from others. We often don’t give these a second thought and accept these practices as a standard.


If you’ve been on one of these calls and have felt less energized and more overwhelmed and had to excuse yourself before the official ending, here are some tips to make online more fun and engaging:

1. Ask participants to prepare for the call

Problem: My sessions start late and we always run out of time.

Explanation: Online has different timing than in person. In real life, we don’t say “class will start at 09:00” and expect to begin at 09:00. This is essentially what we do when we invite people into a call that should begin at 09:00. Of course, it will start a few minutes later. Try to use this waiting time in a more fun and engaging way.

Solution: Begin the call on time by having people individually reflect or prepare for the call. At 09:00, welcome participants and have a slide ready that shows the agenda of the call and one thing you want people to do while they wait. For example: “Ask any question you have in the chat and we will start in a couple of minutes.” This allows latecomers to join and immediately know what is going on without penalizing those who did show up on time. You might even want to open the call at 08:55 to allow people in early. Play some music that matches the vibe you feel people are entering with.

And yes, your sessions will also end late because online is different. I would say online is about 15% slower than offline, so budget that in. Do you have 10 minutes left and you haven’t gotten to point #3? Drop point #3 and start converging. What are the next steps? What did we learn? What can we apply? When is the next call?

Finally, how long should a call be? This is very dependent on the participants (keeping in mind the average person’s bladder lasts 80 minutes, give or take!). Use this as an indication and if the call runs longer, take a break.

make online learning more engaging
Online harnesses a great deal of potential and positivity by uniting us at a time when we need to keep a physical distance to survive. #online #coronavirus #teams #meetings #creativity Click To Tweet

2. Stick to the 20/80 principle

Problem: I tune out when the person leading the call talks too much.

Explanation: First off, it’s great to have someone leading the call! A call of more than six people generally requires a leader to set and move the agenda. Otherwise, you’ll get into a conversation that doesn’t work. Think about it: When have you ever had a good conversation with more than six people present?

Another reason this happens is the mute factor: When others are on mute and the one speaking has no way to judge if what they are saying is actually getting through, they overcompensate… And talk more. A lot more. And then some more. “Is this thing even on?”

make online learning more engaging

Solution: At THNK, we stick to a 20/80 principle in our sessions, both in-person and online. We talk 20% of the time (at most), and participants speak and work 80% of the time. In experiential learning, the more the “teacher” speaks, the less experience everyone gets and the less learning is actually achieved. In order to maintain this online, you need to prepare. Adjust your session and think of it in terms of slides. What could you show on a slide that everyone can follow and enjoy? Simple, short slides act as a convergence tool for our thoughts. You might not even need to use them but if you do, people who are visually oriented will at least understand you more.

In its premium package, Zoom offers a very easy way of getting everyone into breakout rooms. This is where the magic can happen if the participants have a clear set of instructions on what their conversation should be about.

In short: Start with a plenary beginning > go into breakout as soon as possible > converge in plenary

make online learning more engaging
Stick to a 20/80 principle in your online sessions: Talk for 20% of the time and let participants speak and work for 80% of the time. #onlinelearning #learning #education #teams Click To Tweet

3. Get personal to make up for the physical distance

Problem: This is too much screen time, I miss the physical presence.

Explanation: Us too. We miss it – a lot. Humans need contact and this COVID-19 pandemic is creating a dissonance. We want to help each other by being physically present but the inability to be physically present makes it difficult.

Solution: The main advantage of this new situation is that people are adapting and they are adapting fast. People will begin to understand the importance of muting themselves, having the camera at the right angle, and simply being present even when there’s no meeting or objective.

We strongly recommend a few techniques to create presence in this online setting: Start personal, but be more specific than “How is everyone doing?” Chances are this question has been asked a lot. Ask a more specific question like, “What is one highlight since our last call?” or “Rate how you’re feeling by holding up 1-5 fingers, 1 being bad, 5 being amazing.” Ask people ahead of time to put an item in the background that represents who they are or how they feel.

If you feel like you have a close-knit group who feel psychologically safe, take it to the next level by doing a guided meditation or a playful physical warm-up. If you can get people going physically, they will be more present and connected in the conversation.

There’s so much developing in this new world we are in and so much potential in making these calls really count. We’d love to hear your experience with these techniques. Give them a try and let us know how it goes!

To discover how to make online learning truly fun and engaging, join the THNK Executive Leadership Program.