How Higher Education Can Make Remote Learning Engaging

I was a “late bloomer” when it came to finishing college. I missed out on going to parties on campus, joining a fraternity, making life-long friends. I know, though, that the college experience is partly social and educational. Today the social part of learning is mostly removed from the experience, remote learning is now college students’ realities, at least for the remainder of 2020 and into 2021. COVID strikes again.

Going to college, however, is an investment in the future. And that investment cannot be compromised because we are in a pandemic. Just as businesses are adapting to a remote-first work arrangement, colleges are also facing their version of transformation. A significant switch is in how classes are digitally delivered.

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As a former instructor of over 10-years at Sacramento State University, College of Continuing Education, I can empathize with how hard it is to switch suddenly to teaching virtually. By bringing together my background as an educator, an organizational change consultant, and now an employee at Bluescape, I have a unique view on the elements to make remote learning more engaging.

Think beyond replicating the classroom.

It’s logical to think plopping the classroom into Zoom would be enough. After all, online classes are hardly new. However, a video lecture quickly becomes exhausting after multiple digital courses. Compound daily video lectures across a week, and the remote learning experience degrades quickly. Instead, instructors need to create virtual workspaces that tap into other modes of learning: group discussions, group projects, and even connecting to learn about each other. Ultimately, what needs to be created is an experience that taps into the human experience—making friends, learning, being part of a community, for starters.


Focus on the experience.

Naturally, technology is central to reimagining the learning experience. However, technology cannot be the solution to transform remote learning. Case in point: a learning management system (LMS) is hardly an enjoyable experience. There are limited ways to interact with others within an LMS. Instead, schools need to understand what experience students and their parents want when attending classes virtually. Bring together the learners’ and their parents’ desires with those of instructors. This input is key to designing a learning experience that meets stakeholders’ wants and needs. Central to the experience is a secure solution that brings people and course material together synchronously and asynchronously.


Expand beyond using presentations.

There’s a reason the term “death by PowerPoint” exists. It’s overused and too often is a replacement for interaction between the instructor and students. I recall in grad school, my accounting professor reading us her slides. I’m sorry, but if a teacher needs to read slides, there is no need for that type of instruction. Students can read the slides offline. With digital courses, instructors must diversify the techniques used to teach. Presentations are fine. However, there are other ways to engage the hearts and brains of students. Use a digital whiteboard to promote brainstorming. Use YouTube to present course content in a way that students can quickly understand. Use chat features—private and public—to encourage online collaboration and feedback. Put in a virtual workspace the course’s syllabus, rubrics, quizzes. Create a one-stop-shop for all course material and assignments. This is what Bluescape does.


As I stated earlier, colleges are undergoing a massive transformation. And it’s not a temporary one. College administrators must think beyond COVID. The change needs to integrate digital pedagogy into course design. Technology that unites students in the learning process is vital to making the school’s value proposition worth the tuition.

Yes, faculty, students, and parents must also adjust their perceptions about online learning. A significant influence on this is an engaging digital learning experience. At some point, schools will safely bring students back to campus. The forward-thinking administrators who invested early in creating a valuable online learning solution will be better positioned to offer a hybrid model that is attractive to faculty, students, and parents.

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About the Author

Shawn Murphy
Director of Organizational Behavior, Bluescape
Shawn is our Director of Organizational Behavior and Workplace Trends. His second book, Work Tribes is out now. Shawn's first book, The Optimistic Workplace is out now. Inc. has listed him twice as one of the top leadership speakers in America.

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