Eight challenges keeping students engaged during remote learning (and how to help)

Eight challenges keeping students engaged during remote learning (and how to help)

K-12 schools and districts are turning to remote learning again as they head into the new semester. Winter storms and the Omicron variant of COVID-19 are pausing in-person classes. With these extended school closings, educational leaders are making the choice to transition back to virtual learning. Whether students are at home or in the classroom, it’s critical for teachers to create relevant and meaningful learning experiences. It can be challenging, though, keeping students engaged during remote learning. Let’s take a look at these challenges and ways to overcome them.

Why it’s important to keep learners engaged

Research shows that when learners are engaged, they achieve at an academically higher level. The National Center on Safe Supportive Learning Environments defines student engagement as:

  • behavioral engagement
  • emotional engagement
  • cognitive engagement

Behavioral engagement happens when learners are respectful, complete work and participate. When they are emotionally engaged, they are interested in learning and their class. Cognitive engagement is when students set academic goals and take control of their own learning. When teachers help students in each of the three areas of engagement, students are more likely to have deeper learning experiences. This scenario isn’t always easy, though, during remote learning when you’re instructing through a screen.

Challenge #1: Students struggle to learn new concepts on their own at home

Many parents shared that last year, during the COVID-19 pandemic, their children had difficulty learning independently at home. Since teachers couldn’t help students in person, family members often put on their teacher hats. Now, with a return to students learning at home, educators need to ensure that students don’t fall behind. 

How to help: To combat remote learning loss, teachers need a way to guide students online through new concepts. One way to support learners is by setting up virtual office hours. Give them a chance to meet with you one-on-one to go over new material in more depth. Teachers can also use a tool like Hāpara Highlights that has features like Current Screens for guided practice.

Challenge #2: Teachers don’t have remote-specific instructional strategies

When teachers only have strategies for in-person learning and don’t have remote learning strategies in their toolbox, student engagement can suffer. Teachers need virtual strategies and activities that work to actively engage students during synchronous or asynchronous learning. Activities also need to be relevant to students’ lives and how they want to learn.

How to help: Multimedia, simulations, virtual museum field trips and online games can help keep students engaged during remote learning. These virtual activities can be used across subjects and grade levels. The goal is to use remote learning to its full potential, but don’t get overwhelmed trying to rework all of your strategies. Try an activity, see how it works and make adjustments if needed.

Challenge #3: Learners are easily distracted online 

We all know that students get distracted during virtual learning. Maybe they’re on Discord chatting about gaming when they should be working on a digital assessment. Or they’re looking at social media when they should be reading an online text. It’s much more challenging to redirect learners during remote learning than in person when you can stop by their desk.

How to help: Give students opportunities to build their digital citizenship skills to help them stay engaged during remote learning. ISTE recommends embedding digital citizenship versus teaching it on its own. That way, students can learn the skills authentically and make smart choices independently. A tool that helps you do that during remote learning can be a teaching lifesaver. Hāpara Highlights allows teachers to redirect learners and have conversations in-the-moment about digital citizenship.

Challenge #4: Teachers face low participation online from some learners

Some students naturally like to participate and raise their hand more than others. This response is true for any kind of instructional setting. During virtual learning, though, it’s even more difficult to ensure that all students are participating. Some learners may be uncomfortable speaking up in the online setting. Plus, it can be a challenge to get students used to protocol for a virtual space after being in a classroom.

How to help: Consistently communicate a structure for participating remotely and being respectful of other students. They can raise their hand on camera during a synchronous class session. Learners can also use a built-in “hand raise” feature in Google Meet or another online meeting platform. 

For learners who are reluctant to speak up, ask the class to type a response in the chat feature. You can also set up a discussion board or a Google Doc discussion to help keep students engaged during remote learning. Just be sure to set ground rules for what you expect from their discussions, such as how to be respectful and form their responses.

Challenge #5: Learners have difficulty focusing on a device for extended periods of time

When students stare at a screen all day, they’ll eventually lose focus. Even adults need a break working on a screen for hours at a time. This factor is especially challenging for students if they’re asked to participate in rigorous learning experiences online. 

How to help: With remote learning, consider shorter activities to help students stay focused. If you share a video or ask learners to analyze a text, give them one section at a time. Give students breaks when needed or consider a fun community-building activity to help them refocus.


Challenge #6: Learners feel isolated from peers during remote learning

When students are at home during remote learning, they may feel isolated from their classmates. They don’t get a chance to interact face-to-face with their peers or work on hands-on group projects in the classroom. With a return to remote learning, that lack of socialization may impact their engagement in school. 

How to help: Give learners the chance to collaborate in a remote setting. Create discussion prompts or allow for virtual breakout rooms for group activities. You can also help ensure students feel like part of your community by asking for feedback. 

Teachers should also consider social and emotional learning (SEL) activities and strategies. When educators focus on SEL, students learn to manage their emotions and maintain supportive relationships. Adelee Penner recently wrote about ways you can incorporate SEL support into online lessons.

Challenge #7: Learners have trouble staying organized during remote learning

Let’s face it — remote learning can mean a lot of apps for students (and teachers). When learners have to constantly move from app to app, it can get confusing. When that happens, they may struggle to keep up and lose focus. 

Also, as many teachers experienced during the last school year, some students struggle to turn in their assignments for remote learning. When students don’t have a way to stay organized, they fall behind.

How to help: Learners need structure and help keeping everything organized online. One way to support them is by teaching executive functioning skills. A tool like Hāpara Student Dashboard helps learners develop those skills. It keeps all of their announcements, assignments and feedback in one spot, making remote learning more manageable.

Challenge #8: Personalization and meaningful learning experiences are not easy to create online

When classes meet in person, teachers can help small groups or learners one-on-one to give personalized instruction. That becomes more challenging in a virtual setting. Learners need relevant learning opportunities to deepen their understanding and make meaningful connections to the content. It’s also difficult to give personalized feedback on-the-spot when students are learning from home. 

How to help: Hāpara Workspace allows teachers to easily find and create fun and engaging personalized lessons and projects. They can share a Workspace with individual learners or small groups to give them the specific learning experience they need. Hāpara Teacher Dashboard streamlines the process of giving personalized feedback. With timely feedback, students become more invested in their learning.

Explore how an educator uses Hāpara Highlights as a coaching tool for social and emotional learning in her classroom.

Developing a classroom culture of resilience with Hāpara Highlights

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