Canada Association of Tourism Employees

Interact On-line College students Utilizing Constructive Language

5 easy ways to attract students online

Maintaining student engagement online is an ongoing challenge. Much has been written on the subject, with a number of innovative proposals such as gamification, real-time interactive activities or flipped learning [1], for example. But there is also a simpler, more “organic” approach that you can use to increase student engagement. And you can incorporate it into any aspect of your online courses. You just use positive language – strategically and consistently.

Here are 5 ways to do this:

1. Provide authentic feedback on assignments

We all know the feedback sandwich [2]: Start with a positive statement, identify some issues in the tasks that need to be addressed, and then end with another positive note. This is a great place to start. But the positive aspects of the feedback have to be sincere. And you demonstrate sincerity with the careful use of language. Your comments must be relevant to the work and show that you have read the assignments carefully.

Some examples of positive student feedback that makes sense are:

  • If the students’ work has improved since their last assignment, tell them so.
  • When the writing style is clear and focused, highlight how well this works.
  • If a solid research methodology has been used, explain how much this reinforces your reasoning.
  • Make your positive comments real and they will be believable and really encouraging.

2. Use positive language in email

With online learning, much of your communication with students will be via email. But all too often your emails are ignored or left unanswered. One way to get around this is to establish a pattern of positive communication. If students are used to your emails having a positive impact on their studies, they are more likely to open them up. So make sure that your messages are consistently helpful and worth opening. And make it clear that your emails are helpful by making sure the subject lines are appropriately positive.

Some examples of positive subject lines your students might want to click:

  • Heads up!
  • Do you need help with your task?
  • You have to know that
  • do not forget

Make it clear that your emails are actually helping your online students and that they are more likely to open and read the messages.

3. Build some humanity into your communication style

Whenever you are communicating with a student who you know is struggling with personal, health, or other issues, take a moment to say that you hope they are better. You don’t have to repeat stressful details or get too personal, but a little human warmth can do wonders to connect with your students and show them that you care about them.

4. Your teacher biography is another way to communicate positively

Your teacher bio is often overlooked to communicate with your students. You may have forgotten it’s out there, but it’s on your company website somewhere. It represents your profile and your personal brand. But does it present you as an approachable, warm-hearted person? It might be time to update the profile with more positive language. It doesn’t take long to write a line or two about how you are helping students and why it makes their learning journey easier. But it’s another way to use positive language to connect with your students who are interested in learning more about you.

(And yes, they’ve probably been looking for your bio, so make sure it’s another tool of connection and engagement.)

5. Use emoticons and emojis (carefully)

For a long time, I’ve resisted the urge to use emojis in emails to online students. After all, these aren’t weekend text messages to a friend. You work in a professional learning environment and lead the course. But over time I have noticed that communication in online learning is dominated by two factors:

1. Lack of visual cues

It is more difficult for students to “read” your clay / tone online, especially when they are used to face-to-face learning. And that means they may find an email response to be abrupt or impatient, even if you didn’t intend to. Even with crystal clear written communication, students are more easily discouraged in the online medium.

2. Isolation of the students

Online students are often rushed to try to balance their studies with work or family responsibilities. They are tired, overwhelmed, and often feel isolated. Online student terms are already set to disconnect and disconnect. An email from you that you misunderstand as critical could be the last drop. Strategic use of emojis can help solve both of these problems. It’s the visual version of using positive language.

But I’m not talking about using a scatter gun made up of silly and irrelevant imagery that damages your credibility. I suggest using a smiling face when appropriate. It conveys friendliness, warmth, connectedness and says that there is a person behind your emails and a positive intention to really help them succeed.

Student engagement online will no doubt continue to be a challenge. However, using positive language is an easy and powerful way to meet this challenge. These small but significant changes will help your students become more engaged immediately.


[1] With a flipped classroom approach and just-in-time teaching to keep students excited

[2] To improve student performance, serve feedback sandwiches

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