The Topic on Everyone’s Mind: Engaging Online Learners & Virtual Attendees

As the pandemic wears on, the association world’s focus has switched from the mechanics of online education—how to host a virtual conference, workshop, or course—to the design of online education—how to deliver content that engages virtual attendees and learners. In our website traffic reports, we see the proof of this growing interest: our five most popular blog posts are about engaging online learners.

Why associations are newly focused on engaging online learners

By now, everyone is realizing that virtual conferences and online learning programs are here to stay. Sure, as soon as it’s safe and feasible to do so, you’ll return to in-person educational events because you have an audience waiting for that type of experience. But another audience—comprised of many more people than anyone expected—much rather attend conferences, courses, and other online education programs from the comfort of their own home or office.

Last year, online attendees and learners were so happy to attend virtual educational programs, earn credits, and interact with peers that they didn’t complain too much when the content or conversations didn’t live up to expectations. But, more than a year later, those expectations have risen.

People don’t want to spend their time and money attending lackluster programs that don’t provide the opportunity to interact in a meaningful way with fellow attendees. People are becoming more discerning about virtual events of all kinds—and if your competitors deliver a more compelling and effective learning experience, that’s where your audience will go.

Off-screen time is another competitor. Virtual fatigue is now a factor in the registration decision. Seven hours in front of a screen? No thanks, says the prospective attendee. They rather get their education and networking in shorter bursts of time.

You can no longer count on the loyalty of most of your audience—they have too many options now. You must promise a compelling learning experience that helps them digest new information while interacting with their peers. If you deliver on that promise, you’ll enjoy their repeat business.

engaging online learners

A crowd-curated selection of posts about engaging online learners

You voted with your eyeballs: these are our top five posts about engaging online learners. They’ll provide you with new perspectives, ideas, strategies, and tactics to engage online learners and attendees.

#1: 8 New Ideas for Engaging Online Students

In this post, you’ll find ideas for keeping learners motivated and interested. Engaged learners don’t just go through the motions to earn credits; they actually digest what they’re learning so they can apply it and ensure the time and money they’ve invested in the program make a difference in their career or business. This post’s topics include:

•    Training your online instructors.
•    Creating conditions that nurture intrinsic motivation.
•    Delivering compelling content that piques the learner’s interest.
•    Providing success coaches.
•    Using your LMS and fellow learners to encourage accountability.

#2: 9 Ways to Increase Online Student Engagement

A challenge for asynchronous online learning programs—also known as on-demand or self-paced content—is that learners don’t normally work alongside a group of peers, like they do in live instruction. It’s easier for a learner to procrastinate, lose initial motivation, and fall behind—unless you take a proactive approach to learner engagement.

You must differentiate your association’s programs from your competitors’ so learners are eager to return to your LMS to do the next module. The more you engage the learner, the more likely they are to master the skills and knowledge you’re teaching. Satisfied customers like these are great for word-of-mouth marketing and return business.

In this post, we explain how to:

•    Prepare people for the online learning experience.
•    Chunk and space out new information to improve understanding.
•    Keep learners motivated throughout the program.
•    Help learners immediately apply what they’ve learned.

The post also suggests strategies for synchronous (live instruction) programs too.

#3: How to Get Useful Student Feedback on Online Courses

Learner feedback helps you assess and improve the effectiveness of your e-learning programs—and helps keep them engaging. Topics in this post include:

•    Why you should consider a pre-course survey or questionnaire.
•    How to build feedback loops into e-learning programs.
•    How to improve the effectiveness of program evaluations—we draw heavily on the recommendations of Dr. Will Thalheimer.
•    How to encourage learners to complete program evaluations.
•    How to follow up with learners to find out if they’ve applied what they’ve learned.

engaging online learners

#4: 12 Ways to Increase Student Participation in Online Discussions

During the pandemic, we all learned how important conversations are during the learning experience. Chat boxes and breakout rooms were in high demand during virtual conferences. People may come to your association for education, but they also value the discussions and relationship-building that take place during the program.

If your online courses offer these three elements—content, connections, and conversations—you’ll stay far ahead of your competition. Discussion forums should be an essential part of online course design. In this post, we discuss why online discussions are essential to the learning experience and how to increase participation in online discussions by:

•    Building it into course design.
•    Explaining its importance in the learning process.
•    Providing guidelines and assigning moderators.
•    Focusing on quality conversations, not quantity.
•    Inviting guests.
•    Having a special place for discussions to go off-topic.

#5: Advice for Engaging Virtual Conference Attendees

When we wrote this post in April 2020, we relied on our experience with online courses because many of those engagement practices translate well to the virtual conference setting. Upon publication, some of these ideas may have seemed ‘out there’ for conference planners, but they quickly caught on.

As associations made the switch to virtual conferences, they looked at some of their in-person conference practices with fresh eyes. They discovered that many of these practices weren’t nearly as effective as they thought. For example, a 45-minute lecture with limited time for peer interaction and application of new knowledge is not an effective learning experience—something the professional development experts in our space have been proclaiming for years, if not decades.

The switch to virtual education provided an opportunity to make improvements since you could take advantage of digital functionality, like breakout rooms. This post provided advice on improving:

•    Virtual program design.
•    Presenter training.
•    Attendee social connections.
•    ‘Extracurricular’ activities.

One of the many silver linings of the pandemic is the growing number of association professionals who are more willing to experiment with new ideas, like the ones found in these five posts. You have discovered new ways to bring high-quality education, conversations, and connections to your members, attendees, and customers wherever they are in the world.

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