Engagement boxes came of age during the pandemic. They’ve been a bit hit with virtual conference attendees. The items inside encourage attendees to:
• Participate in a conference social event, like a mixology or cooking class.
• Prepare for educational sessions.
• Enjoy a bit of self-care while stuck at home.
In a busy digital world, an analog touch offers attendees an opportunity to slow down, open an unexpected gift, and delight in the touch of real things. Engagement boxes bring a physical piece of your association into the attendee’s or learner’s home.
Benefits of engagement boxes for online learning
Engagement boxes aren’t only for virtual conferences. They can also enhance the online learning experience.
Prepare. Items in an engagement box help learners prepare for their online course or learning experience. Study supplies and supplementary materials prompt learners to review orientation information and course content ahead of time, not at the last minute. Once the course begins, learners have everything they need to get started.
Reflect and remember. These materials engage more senses and help learners interact with the content. Research has proven that learners remember more information when they take notes by hand.
Rest the eyes. Virtual fatigue is a real problem. Printed material gives eyes a break away from the computer screen. Instead of staring at the screen all the time, learners can review notes, work on a self-assessment or workbook exercise, or jot down reflections in a journal.
Nudge. Engagement box items sitting on the desk serve as physical reminders—how about taking five to watch that course video?
Remind. Items from the box serve as mementos of the learning experience provided by your association.
Differentiate. How many associations send out engagement boxes to their online course participants? The box is a cue that this won’t be like the courses they’ve taken in the past. Imagine the delight when learners receive it—they might even share their surprise online.
Ideas for enhancing online courses with analog touches
When putting a box together, don’t let other people’s agendas determine what goes in there. An engagement box is not a place to dispose of the stuff that’s been piling up in storage, like old trade show tchotchkes. It’s not a destination for worthless sponsor swag.
Each item in the box must help the learner achieve their goals. For example, box items can:
• Help learners create the optimal conditions for learning.
• Help them reflect upon and apply new information.
• Provide encouragement and appreciation along the way.
• Celebrate the learner’s accomplishments.
The box should leave the impression that you put thought and resources into its content—we have more to say about those resources later in the post. Ideally, delighted learners act as micro-influencers, sharing the box’s arrival and contents online.
If you’re putting together a box for an instructor-led course, involve instructors in identifying box content. Here are some ideas to get you started.
Home study kit:
• Notebook—blank or with prompts related to the course
• Sticky notes
• Pens and highlighter
• Bluelight glasses
• Screen cleaner
• 45-minute sand timer
• “Do Not Disturb” door tag
• Water bottle
• Coffee mug or French press
• Coffee and tea
Include a welcome letter as well as reminders about pre-course work requirements and important dates.
• Workbook with self-reflection prompts and other exercises
• Notebook or journal
• Book(s) related to course topic
Show appreciation for instructors by sending them a personalized box at the beginning of the course.
When to send engagement boxes
If you only have the resources to send one box, make it a welcome box with study supplies and supplementary materials. In the welcome letter, you could hint at surprise guests or events during the course or include envelopes to open on specific dates.
During the course, send a few check-in postcards that refer to instructor office hours or other support services for learners. Tell them about upcoming, exclusive social events where they can meet other people currently enrolled in online courses.
You could also save snack items for an engagement box you send halfway through the course. If you’re tempted to send an Uber Eats or similar gift card, make sure all learners have access to that service. They won’t if they live too far outside a metropolitan area.
At the end, mail a celebration kit with special snacks and their printed certificate, if applicable. Include a thank you note from your team, and maybe even a promo code for a future educational program.
The logistics of engagement boxes
How do you pay for all this? Talk to your corporate partners (aka sponsors). Explain your goals and see where they align with their marketing goals. Some might like the idea of a branded mug, but will your learners really use it? Many sponsors rather spend their money on something that delivers more value to their target audience. They rather see their brand associated with supporting education, not shilling for sales.
Make sure you have the learner’s current mailing address. In a welcome email, tell them something is coming in the mail—don’t say what—and confirm their address. Many companies can handle fulfillment, on-demand printing, and shipping for you. Check ASAE Collaborate and other industry forums for recommendations.
Engagement boxes enhance the online learning experience by helping learners fulfill their goals. They’re a sign of thoughtful care. You’re treating learners as real people, not just dollar signs, who are worthy of your association’s investment of time and money.