Whilst COVID-19 is primarily a health crisis, it has caused significant splash damage in many areas of our lives. The online learning revolution is now being fast-tracked. Those on the frontline of this revolution may be feeling somewhat overwhelmed. Teachers are now being asked to move their learning experiences online. This inevitably involves creating online courses that are fun and engaging. But where do they start?
Making the shift from classroom to online teaching may feel like attempting to cross the Grand Canyon on a tightrope and a unicycle, but you are not lacking in the tools you need to be successful. By adopting a digital mindset, you are also making your teaching more flexible, more accessible and in some ways, more interactive.
Your Mission, Should You Choose To Accept It
When shifting to online teaching, your first goal should be to gain your students’ attention within this new environment. Once you’ve done this, you should then seek to earn their ongoing engagement. After all, if your students aren’t actively engaged with the courses and materials you’ve prepared, then they won’t take anything away from them.
As you know from teaching within a classroom setting, the more engaged your students are, the more they’ll learn. You should make this your guiding principle when creating online courses. Engagement should be your North Star. When in creation mode, you should ask yourself the following questions:
- Would this course capture my attention?
- What can I do to make this course more fun for my audience?
- What can I do to make this learning experience more engaging?
We’re here to support you in your new mission. To do this, we’ve compiled eight top tips to help you create fun online courses that engage and delight your students. Let’s get started!
1. Find a Tool That Works For You
Before you embark on your new online teaching journey, you should make sure you have all the tools you need. Think about how you’ll create and share learning materials with your students. Do you have access to an eLearning authoring tool? If not, you should consider whether this would help you to achieve your goals.
These tools are designed to make creating fun online courses as easy as possible. They empower you to make interactive online learning units, without requiring any technical knowledge. There are a variety of options available to you, with pricing plans to suit all budgets. What’s more, some tools — such as Genie — come with in-built instructional design features, gamification elements and a free trial option.
2. Make It Micro
Once you’ve got the right tool in place, you’ll need to decide on your approach. To determine this, you should consider the average attention span of your audience. Child development experts say that attention spans vary depending on the age of the subject:
- 6 years old: 12 to 18 minutes
- 8 years old: 16 to 24 minutes
- 10 years old: 20 to 30 minutes
- 12 years old: 24 to 36 minutes
This should help guide the length of your content. Even so, treat these numbers with a degree of caution. Consider the distractions that students may face when learning from home. Consider too, that it’s often more difficult to maintain a student’s attention virtually than it is in the classroom. With this in mind, review your content and consider adopting a microlearning approach.
This is the process of making your content as small and easy to consume as possible. In other words, you should look to chunk your content up into small, focused bursts that can be completed quickly. Three five minute micro-units are more effective than one fifteen minute course. This approach is favoured by students and has been shown to improve knowledge retention.
3. Find a Structure That Works
At times, following instructional design best practice can feel overwhelming. There’s a reason why there’s a whole career path built around these skills.
Whilst we do recommend coming to terms with instructional design models like Bloom’s Taxonomy, ADDIE and Gagne’s Nine Levels of Learning, you can start in a simpler place. We suggest finding a structure for your content that works for you and your audience. Keep it as simple as possible and use it as a template for all your courses.
Here’s an example structure that we often utilise:
- Title Page: Include the title of the course alongside some high-impact imagery.
- Learning Objectives: Clearly state the goals and outputs of the course.
- Introduce the Key Concepts: Provide a broad overview of the focus of the course.
- Discovery Method: Ask students to detail their relationship to the subject matter.
- Detail Key Concepts: Deliver information in line with your stated learning objectives.
- Quiz: Utilise quiz questions to check and reinforce your students’ knowledge.
- Discovery Method II: Ask your students to detail whether their relationship to the subject matter has changed as a result of what they’ve learned.
- Summary Slide: Summarise the information presented within the course.
4. Use Game Mechanics
Gamification is the application of game mechanics to non-gaming scenarios to drive increased engagement. Common game mechanics include Experience Points, Badges, Levels and Leaderboards. What better way to make your online courses fun?
Your students will likely be well accustomed to games in various formats. This should help to ensure that any game mechanics incorporated within your online learning experiences hold significant psychological sway. When utilised correctly, gamification can incentivise your students into action, focus their attention and drive engagement.
Your authoring tool may support adding game mechanics into your online courses. If it doesn’t, then think about ways you can manually incorporate these elements within your online teaching approach. Perhaps you could create your own leaderboard to showcase your top achievers, or reward students who engage with your courses with a special virtual badge?
5. Drive Emotional Resonance Using Narrative:
Storytelling has been used to pass down knowledge throughout history. You may previously have incorporated it into your classroom-based teaching. You certainly shouldn’t stop using it when you make the shift to online teaching.
Indeed, according to research conducted by psychologist Jerome Bruner, you’re twenty times more likely to remember information if it’s delivered in narrative format. There are few things more engaging than a good narrative. More than this, however, stories teach us to empathize with others and help us strive to be better.
Don’t panic. You don’t need to be Steven Spielberg or J. K. Rowling to pull this off. You don’t even need to be Dan Brown. All you need is a simple narrative structure (built in line with your learning objective), interesting characters and a beginning (the set up), middle (the obstacle) and end (the overcoming). With an approach like this, weaving narrative into your online teaching doesn’t have to be daunting.
6. Use Multimedia Assets & Fun Graphic Elements
Try to vary your content wherever you can. Don’t become too reliant on any one type of asset. Remember that massive blocks of text scare children (and people of all ages!) away. Pictures on the other hand, can focus our attention. Stick to a theme, or consistent style wherever possible and try to avoid using stock imagery at all costs. To really take things to the next level, you should look to incorporate video within your content.
You may be able to find video content that you can use in your courses through an online search. Alternatively, you could look to create and integrate your own video footage. Just remember this: don’t hold yourself to standards that will hold you and your students back. After all, your students won’t be expecting a high-budget, super-polished movie masterpiece. If it’s relevant and helps them to better understand a concept, then it’s worthwhile.
7. Test Knowledge With Quizzes
Teaching isn’t just about imparting information. It’s also about testing and reinforcing knowledge. That’s why quizzes are so popular. They help students to identify gaps in their knowledge, act as progress markers and focus attention spans. They even play a role in the knowledge reinforcement process through spaced repetition. What’s more, quizzes also act as an engagement tool — if they’ve been structured in the right way.
This will only happen if you vary your question types. If you stick to ‘true or false’ or multiple-choice style questions, then things will get stale quickly. On the other hand, using drag-and-drop, scenario-based questions, or data input options demands active engagement from your audience.
Certain authoring tools can even help you to add timers and power-ups to your quizzes. Just don’t forget to provide feedback to your students, so they know where they went right or wrong.
8. Track Progress and Seek Feedback
Last, but certainly not least. Don’t forget to seek feedback from your students. This is an essential part of ensuring you have properly identified and met their needs. It will also help you to improve and develop your own teaching skills. As you’re operating within a new online environment, this feedback should be more valuable than ever before.
Indeed, there’s a good chance that some of your students will have ideas or suggestions that have never crossed your mind before. These suggestions may help you to improve, or fine tune your approach. Alternatively, their comments may validate that the approach you have taken is the correct one.
There are a variety of ways to gather this feedback. You could seek it out at the end of the class, request that your students send their comments to a special email address or even send out a survey. You may also want to make the process anonymous. This has been shown to promote greater disclosure of valuable information.
Transforming your classroom teaching approach into engaging online learning is no easy task. Certain elements of the classroom can never be fully realised within an online context. However, for all these limitations, there are several benefits to embracing online classrooms and courses. The flexibility, accessibility and interactivity they provide is unrivalled. If you can adopt a digital mindset and embrace instructional design best practice, then online courses can be a fun and powerful weapon within your teaching arsenal.
The secret to success is to place a sharp focus on student engagement. If you can’t win their heart, you won’t fill their mind. Luckily, you have all the tools you need to engineer motivation and incentivise your knowledge hungry students into action. Keep your content short and well structured. Use game mechanics, multimedia and narrative to focus attention. Test knowledge by using quizzes and seek feedback through whatever medium suits you best.
If you can do all this, you’ll end up creating effortlessly engaging and fun online learning courses for your students to devour. Mission complete.
Genie is Growth Engineering’s very own game-based authoring tool. Take your online courses to the next level by incorporating XP, Badges, Leaderboards, Timers and more. With Genie’s intuitive content creation features, you can quickly and easily create engaging online courses that drive real knowledge retention.
In addition, don’t forget to check out our ‘64 Amazing Free Online Tools for Teachers‘ and ‘13 Tips for Teachers: How to Make Online Classes Fun‘.