Best Tools & Practices for Building Community and Keeping Your Distance Education Students Engaged

Building community is a tremendous challenge in distance education. Not only is it difficult to communicate with our distance learning students, but an even bigger obstacle is keeping them engaged and connected with each other. Thus, it is important for distance education teachers to utilize best practices that go beyond just delivering distance learning curriculum to their students. For example, I found utilizing communication tools such as REMIND to communicate and motivate students learning at a distance to be the most effective strategy for increasing motivation and student engagement.

  • What best practices does your program use to keep distance learning students engaged and connected?
  • What are the most effective technology tools to keep distance learning students motivated and thriving?


Thanks for kicking off this discussion, Ashly. I teach an entirely asynchronous online course for ASE learners, and keeping them engaged and motivated without any live sessions to attend can be tough! I video myself doing short lectures and direct instruction pretty regularly, so students associate my face and voice with the faceless, voiceless feedback they get in our learning management system. Including that personal touch is important.

I schedule an individual Zoom call with each student at the beginning of the term so we can 'see' each other and have a get-to-know-you conversation. Then, during the term, I often invite students back for another Zoom call with me so we can evaluate goals and progress, talk about any frustrations they are having, and celebrate victories.

Texts and emails are a great way to stay in regular communication with students, but I find these occasional Zoom calls particularly meaningful. They are more personal (voice and face can say a lot!), and students who perhaps don't express themselves as easily or clearly in writing as they'd like can speak freely. 

I look forward to hearing from others!

Thank you for sharing your best practices, Anita! It can be incredibly tough to keep them motivated in an asynchronous environment. I love the things you are doing - I especially love the videos! I have also considered having all the students introduce themselves or share thoughts and ideas using Flipgrid videos. I think that the more personalized we can make their online community the better. I love the idea of them being able to see and relate to the other students and KNOW they are truly not alone! 

I find when creating MS Forms or Google Forms having a question at the end that always says, "Is there anything else you would like me to know?" keeps the lines of communication open. I can reach out to them then privately if they mention a concern on the form. If always using a form at the end of a class as an exit ticket, it gives them a space to know they can open up and share struggles with you privately. 

Thanks for this thread, Ashly, and for your contributions Anita and Chrissie. I deeply value the question you suggest asking learners, Chrissie. "Is there anything else you would like me to know?" As you note, this question gives learners the opportunity to share anything that could be important to them but not obvious to the teacher. This is so valuable.

Cheers, Susan Finn Miller

Moderator, English Language Acquisition CoP

I remember when I taught math, we would often have a problem of the day, and when I taught reading, we often did a daily edit. Does anyone do a technology problem of the day? I am thinking that you would propose a problem or scenario and everyone talks through how they would solve it. For example, if you were on a Zoom meeting and everyone's video is frozen, but you can still hear people, what would you do? Or, maybe share a sample email and say "spam or not?" and students discuss what parts of the email make it seem legitimate or fake.

I think this could be engaging and helpful for the group to get used to helping each other solve problems versus always going to a teacher to help solve tech problems. If people are doing it I would love to see some sample problems they are using.