How to increase student engagement

How can you increase student engagement on your campus? Here are 5 simple tips

Clock 4 min read Calendar Published: 17 Jan 2023
Author Lawrie Jones
How to increase student engagement

Keeping students engaged in learning is critical for them to achieve their potential. Yet student engagement at US colleges fell in 2021, the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) found. Why?

Learners and educators are adjusting to the post-pandemic world. The positive news is that educators are more aware of the importance of engagement and are putting strategies in place to deliver it.

In this article, we define what student engagement is and how the evidence proves that the more involved in learning you are, the greater your success. We finish by providing 5 strategies to improve student engagement.

What is student engagement (and why does it matter?)

Student engagement is a little more than how attentive someone listens during a lecture. Experts suggest that there are three dimensions to it: behavioral, emotional, and cognitive.

In a post-pandemic world where blended learning is becoming the norm, we can also add technology to this list.

When considering how to keep students engaged, you must approach it from several directions. Student engagement is about how involved, motivated, and inspired they are on their educational journey. It’s about ensuring that the education experience delivers on expectations.

After the initial excitement of starting a new course disappears, educators face the challenge of keeping students engaged over a three-year period. Evidence shows that engaged students achieve more than those who are disengaged.

Student engagement is about having peer community and social support. Educators are critical in inspiring students, providing an engaging experience, and creating progressive course design. For some students, it's about removing technological blockers and barriers. For others, it involves providing adaptations that offer the support they need to learn.

Why student engagement is a partnership

The NSSE survey shows us that nearly half of all students feel stressed, and 40% worry that this will impact their studies. Student engagement involves recognizing the risks to mental health and mitigating them.

Student engagement isn't a single activity but an ongoing partnership between the learner and the course leader. While students who are engaged are going to achieve more – it's all about unlocking an individual's potential and helping them to achieve their best.

In the 2021 NSSE study, 73% of students believed that the faculty and staff at their institution did an excellent job helping students adapt to the changes brought on by the covid-19 pandemic.

What happens if you don’t engage students?

Students who aren’t engaged can lose confidence and self-efficacy, be absent from class, and ultimately fall into a regressive pattern that can cause dropout.

Students can become disengaged for all sorts of reasons, many of which are out of institutions’ control. But by following some simple steps, you can create the conditions for learners to thrive.

How to engage students – 5 key strategies

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Every education professional invests time, effort, and expertise into making the learning experience as rich and rewarding as it can be, from faculty to support staff. But from time to time learners experience obstacles and issues that you need to work to resolve.

These strategies will help you identify and fix them. First up is a fundamental principle you need to follow to keep learners engaged on your campus.


  1. Learn from learners

What do learners want to see from their institution? What does a fulfilling and engaging learning experience look like? 

The NSSE survey is a great place to start to understand what learners are looking for. Here are some basic and practical ways to improve student engagement to set expectations:

  • Demonstrate learning through quizzes, assignments, and other activities
  • Review and summarize key concepts
  • Explain in advance the criteria for completing assignments

These simple strategies set out the expectations of learners. They can help to reduce any misunderstandings or mistakes that can affect performance.


  1. Use problem-based learning approaches

“Positive interpersonal relationships enhance individuals’ enthusiasm for learning, which benefits sustainable learning success and self-confidence,” say experts. The solution? Use what academics describe as “problem-based learning” (PBL).

Instead of teachers presenting students with answers, they provide the problems and get them to solve them.

Such collaborations form what academics call "intensive relationship building," which can extend far beyond a single project. Students build relationships with one another that can translate into friendships, providing peer support networks that are critical.

The results of one study found that PBL improved interpersonal relationships and student perceptions of engagement.

Give it a try!


  1. Give students a say

In the latest NSSE survey, just 56% of learners said that courses were being taught in a way that aligns with how they prefer to learn.

We’re not mind-readers, so the best way to find out what students want and need is to ask them – their responses may surprise or inspire you.

You can hold a class focus group, get students to email ideas, or set up a simple survey using Google Forms. Whatever mechanism you use to get ideas, always acknowledge receipt, say thanks, and use the best ones.

This approach is an effective way to engage all learners, including those with neurodiversity. Some students may struggle with conventional methods, or have individual preferences, that you simply wouldn't be aware of unless you ask.


  1. Student engagement activities – get social

The NSSE study shows that some students can feel isolated, leading to feelings of depression and anxiety. The COVID-19 pandemic hit us all – including students and faculty staff. In the post-pandemic world, we need to get social again.

We’re not suggesting organizing an outing, but encourage students to bring their personalities to the classroom. Some ideas of how to increase student engagement on campus include organizing icebreakers, encouraging informal get-togethers, and getting people to share their personal passions.

As well as talking about the fun stuff, you can chat about the support available for those who need it. You can signpost students to available support, such as counselors or external agencies.


  1. Use technology

The days of the pen and paper are over – technology is transforming the learning experience, and it can improve student engagement, studies have found.

Technology can include a massive range of new strategies. For example, students could be asked to write a blog, record a podcast, or create a video.

Classes can incorporate a whole range of such technologies. The point-and-learn approach is replaced with an interactive and engaging experience. These student engaging activities are highly effective.

Students should be encouraged to use technology that improves the learning experience. For example, they can record audio or videos of lectures or use adaptive solutions such as Glean to help them get the best from every class, lesson, or lecture.   


Find out more information

Come and rewatch a webinar that we ran, where we discussed the benefits of equipping students with the right tools to increase engagement.

In the webinar, you'll learn about the impact that would have on retention rates, and how these tactics could lead to an increase in graduation rates.

Check out the recording to find out more.

Watch the recording
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