Keeping Online Language Learners Engaged

Photo by Emma Matthews Digital Content Production on Unsplash

Most of us are teaching our students in online mode.  As the weeks pass, learners and instructors will experience emotions associated with their isolation.  This will manifest as fatigue, boredom, depression, and apathy.  In order to combat these, we, as instructional professionals must rise to the challenge to ensure that learning endures.  Our efforts will provide our students with a sense of normalcy and purpose, and routine to make these troubled times less arduous.

Commencing in week three, you may consider the following ideas and implement them into your online practices.  If you have additional thoughts on improving these concepts, please comment below this post.

  1. Consistent Technologies.  After the first frantic weeks, avoid experimenting with core technologies. You will learn and try some new tools, but do your best to keep the learning platform, synchronous class format, as well as quizzing and vocabulary acquisition tools constant.  There will be some adjustments, but making changes leads to disruption in your instructional relationship with students.

  2. Less stress, better performance. Do not put too much pressure on the students with offline work, as this type of learning is a new approach for them.  Students many not be used to working on their own for hours each day in a foreign language. Our learners have their own personal issues and challenges related to the COVID-19 crisis outside of their learning.  Possibly consider starting with a lighter load and gradually increasing expectations as the term progresses.  

  3. Be timely, be available.  If you are leading synchronous online sessions or classes, arrive early, set up the classroom, and be present to help students with technical issues.  In your online meeting set up, allow students into the virtual meeting 15 minutes early so they can test their audio, microphone, keyboard, and internet connection.  Set up communication support through synchronous and asynchronous modes.  Establish a policy that you will respond to their emails within 24 hours, if not sooner. Also, schedule synchronous office hours each weekday.  This may be in the form of instant response email, text messaging, or meeting in a virtual space such as Zoom.  If students can resolve learning barriers through communication, they will have a better chance of succeeding in your course.
  4. Engage frequently and consistently with students. Ensure that students are aware that you are managing their learning.  This may include check-ins such as forum prompts, speaking activities, personal blogs, virtual classes, assignments and online interactive activities.  Activities that require students to demonstrate participation can include Kahoot Challenges, interactive videos, such as those edited with EdPuzzle, or WebQuests.  Initially creating these will consume some time, but they are worthwhile. Commenting on students’ participation in activities such as these will encourage them to continue with your course.  If students recognize that you are monitoring their progress, they will be more motivated to attend online class and are more likely to be engaged online learners.

  5. Manageable chunks of learning.  Instructors new to online teaching often struggle with finding a balance between synchronous student-to-teacher interaction and offline student tasks. Offline tasks, normally called desk work or homework, may smother students if the list is long and comprehensive.  While teachers have outcomes and competencies to meet, they should identify efficiencies that can accomplish learning outcomes without using inauthentic labor.  Online tools provide one-to-one attention, instant feedback, formative assessment, multimedia, collaboration and creativity options.  When meeting with your peers, discuss the concept of streamlining activities to learn if others have innovative solutions. 

  6. Randomize tasks. Do not set the same task for every student.  When posting a forum or blog or delegating online assignment tasks, use randomization tricks to elicit different responses. Instead of nominating students, use determiners such as the first letter of their name or the last digit of their student number to elicit student responses. A variety of randomization widgets are available as well, such as Wheel of Names.

  7. Active learner projects. Cultivate independence, creativity, and collaboration through student projects.  Online learning offers more opportunities for learners to work in teams or independently to produce digital projects.  These can be submitted or presented to their peers online.  Possibilities include virtual tours, interactive video, WebQuests, infographics, animations, mobile websites, cartoon strips, wikis, and audio or video presentations.  Integrated projects alleviate boredom and motivate learners.

  8. IRCC learning materials. LINC instructors are familiar with IRCC materials.  A substantial quantity of these materials have been developed for blended delivery, in which a course is taught partly online and partly face-to-face.  These blended learning resources and activities are available online and can be integrated into any fully online course delivery scheme.  There are many more resources that can be accessed from in digital format.  Instructors can integrate these into their fully online instruction.  The LearnIT2teach project, as well as others, has CLB (Canadian Language Benchmarks) aligned courses that can be enhanced and adapted for online courses by instructors who have completed Stage 2 of the LearnIT2teach training.
  9. Plain language emails.  A few years ago, the Plain Language movement swept across the white-collar world.  You already know how to write instructions for your students.  Plain language is about communicating with your professional peers and management. You no longer have the luxury of staff room chats and desk drop-ins to confirm intent and information from an email or rumor.  Ensure that your emails are written with important details in simple language and that the email’s subject line correctly reflects the content of your message.  Miscommunication can cause disruption to instructors’ and students’ learning, as well as their lives.  Also, avoid sending important information via text messages which are easily missed.
  10. Grow and embrace your PLN.  Keep in touch with your institutional peers as well as the global community. Accepting ideas and tools from the generosity of the global community through social networks is more relevant in this crisis than ever.  Take this opportunity to build up your professional learning network using a social media resource as means of defining your PLN.  


Professional/personal Learning Network,
Curating Content:

Learning activities and project tools,
Build A Mobile Web page,
TedEd Lessons,
Student Crafted Infographics,
Student Made Virtual Tours:
Take Virtual Field Trips:

Hi—I'm John Allan. I am an educator who works in the technology enhanced language learning field. I create online learning opportunities and mentor instructors on the Avenue project. I have experience teaching ESL and EFL in Canada and the Middle East. I hold an MSC in Computer Assisted Language learning, a M.Ed. in Distance Education, TESL B. Ed., a B.Ed. (OCT), and a variety of TESL relevant certifications from TESL Canada, TESL Ontario and the Ontario Ministry of Education. For more articles, learning objects, projects and blog links see


2 thoughts on “Keeping Online Language Learners Engaged”

  1. “LINC instructors are familiar with IRCC materials. A substantial quantity of these materials have been developed for blended delivery, in which a course is taught partly online and partly face-to-face. These blended learning resources and activities are available online and can be integrated into any fully online course delivery scheme. ”

    Please post these elusive resources and activities. I can’t find them.

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