Prezi Educators Society Guest Column: Engage Your Remote Learners

Use the Prezi canvas and animation to engage learners. Then…rinse and repeat.

You value the content you have to share and want each online student’s full attention. Remember one thing: Your competition is fierce.

As a student, have you ever been sucked into a presentation? Have you ever been so caught up in images, video and the story an educator was sharing that you lost track of time? And when you think back to that presentation – no matter how long ago it was – can you still remember two or three of the key points?

Delivering a message with the right tool allows you to give the gift of learning to your students…just like the teacher you were just thinking of shared their content with you.

Your Competition

In a residential classroom most students either listen or have the decency to pretend to listen. When a presenter can see you and your level of engagement, the average person is often incentivized to pay attention. (If for no other reason than it’s simply polite.) When they receive a text or tweet, the student in a traditional classroom is motivated at minimum by social norms to ignore the interruption.

The online student doesn’t have the same motivations. In fact, the anonymity that comes with the convenience of online learning brings with it the temptation to multi-task. Remote learners can easily believe that reading a text message, checking Facebook, or surfing the internet during a class is a victimless crime. They aren’t distracting other students. The teacher can’t be offended because she couldn’t possibly know. What’s the harm?  

Your Audience

Did the previous paragraphs leave you feeling defeated? Are you thinking that the absence of shared space leaves you with an insurmountable obstacle? Don’t give up. Let’s look at what gets a student’s attention.

Relevant content. A creative presentation of useless content won’t keep anyone’s attention. So as much as I’d like to say the right platform and top-notch delivery can make any lesson engaging, it can’t. Make sure your message is meaningful and written at the appropriate level.

Clarity. One of the first things I teach every student in my Prezi creation classroom is to design with the big picture in mind (otherwise known as the Prezi canvas) and give your students 3 things to think about:

  • Ask yourself this question: “What do I want my students to learn, feel and question by the end of my presentation?” From that answer, consider metaphors and images that might support your goal (such as a diving board and pool to encourage student to “take the plunge” and try something new or a treasure map to encourage exploration).
  • Stick to three main concepts. If you think you have 12 ideas to share, try to group them into three categories. It will be easier for your students to review three chunks of information and you’ll be able to reinforce the content through online platforms and follow up materials if you have a manageable number to work with.
  • Apply color, images and movement to your lesson plan to reinforce key elements. I have seen templates and transitions with 90 degree spins cause students to literally gasp. It’s fun for the students…and the presenters! Don’t miss the opportunity, but only rotate when there’s a purpose.

Activity on Screen. Use the right amount of movement at the right times to engage and re-engage your students. A great lesson will lead students to think and generate new ideas. This may cause them to wander from your content; animation on screen will bring them back.

  • Move in and out of the three concepts you decided to reinforce. This will continually remind your learner of the big picture.
  • When you introduce a concept and then explore it more deeply, dive into the text and images on the screen to emphasize your deeper look at the content. Not only is this interesting to watch, it reminds the student that they are exploring concepts on multiple levels.

360° Reinforcement

With remote and traditional students alike, you have an opportunity to introduce concepts before the lesson and reinforce learning after through online tools and social media sites. Depending on the resources you have access to, you have the opportunity to create videos, facilitate discussions and request student contributions to enhance the lesson.

Helping remote learners choose you over the distractions that come with their everyday life is within your control. You can lament the fact that attention spans are decreasing at the same time distractions are increasing. You can bemoan the challenges teachers have in online classrooms.

Or…you can choose to maximize your presentation by learning how to use the tools you already have available to capture and keep the attention of your audience.


About the Author: Amy Jauman is a speaker, professor, and social media strategist with a masters degree in experiential education and doctorate in organization development. She bills herself as “an educator for the business environment” and focuses on using social media and online resources to make information meaningful to adult learners. You can follow her on Twitter and Pinterest or like her Facebook page for more information about the ever-evolving opportunities in online learning.