Resource Scan on Adult eLearning Engagement

Need or Problem

A common, and often accurate, perception of online courses is that they are boring for the learners. Recently, I was interviewing for a position, and at the end of the second hour I was asked, “What would you do in technical courses in order to make them more engaging for the learner?” It was actually the hardest question of the day to answer, as it can depend on the course itself. How I answered was by describing my process of aligning objectives, providing opportunities for practice, creating visually rich GUI’s and downloads. As I was answering, I was really thinking to myself, “But how do you ensure that the learners are engaged and aren’t bored out of their minds?” I haven’t stopped thinking about it, as it really is one of the most crucial questions an eLearning Developer can (and should) ask themselves.

There are many elements that I like to include in the courses that I build. For yearly compliance (such as Ethics) trainings, I prefer to allow the learner test out, rather than suffer through an hour long course. This isn’t always an option though, because most HR departments want legal proof that every employee has viewed each page, and passed the test. Supposing that’s the case, how would you make that course more engaging for the learners? My first inclination would be to suggest the use of professional, current photography; to use realistic scenarios that are specific to the company’s workplace; to provide a ‘choose your path’ style navigation so that the learners could see the repercussions of their choices; and to provide downloadable/printable resources of value for future reference.

Having had some experience with building engaging courses, and many that are less than, I was curious what other methods I would discover to engage my learners.

Search Method

Having viewed the provided video tutorials, I searched the Auraria library for my topic. The search parameters I used were: online learner engagement; then I added adults; then I added asynchronous, 1/1/16-12/31/18, scholarly materials, discipline: education,


  • Lai, K. (2017). Pedagogical practices of NetNZ teachers for supporting online distance learners. Distance Education, 38(3), 321. doi:10.1080/01587919.2017.1371830
    • This article turned out not to be in line with what I was searching for. I added the word ‘adult’ to the search query, since this was for K-12 learners.
  • Covelli, B. J. (2017). Online discussion boards: The practice of building community for adult learners. The Journal of Continuing Higher Education, 65(2), 139. doi:10.1080/07377363.2017.1274616
    • The author suggests that discussion boards are a key component of online learning. If the instructor fails to consistently support constructivist theory, discussion boards won’t be useful, nor will they be supportive of learning.
  • Smith, S. P. (2017). Adult learners: Effective training methods. Professional Safety, 62(12), 22-25.
    • Emphasis on allowing adult learners to identify their own training needs, completing needs assessments with employees to ensure alignment, choosing proper delivery methods for the training, and assessment. The author states that the learners own experiences are the most important training took, and they must be involved in their own training.
  • Deschaine, M. E., & Whale, D. E. (2017). Increasing student engagement in online educational leadership courses. Journal of Educators Online, 14(1)
    • The test subjects were online graduate program students. The authors encourage teachers to learn the capabilities of their LMS, and to use all available features of it. They also encourage a great deal of interaction with the students where possible. They argue that students with a great deal of interaction are more engaged, and therefore better students.
  • Glenn, C. W. (2018;2016;). Adding the human touch to asynchronous online learning. Journal of College Student Retention: Research, Theory & Practice, 19(4), 381-393. doi:10.1177/1521025116634104
    • This article spoke to long online courses, such as our graduate program. It contained great advice for the teachers here at CU Denver. The author emphasized the importance of a well-designed course, and clear support materials for learner success.
  • Dousay, T. A. (2016). Effects of redundancy and modality on the situational interest of adult learners in multimedia learning. Educational Technology Research and Development, 64(6), 1251-1271. doi:10.1007/s11423-016-9456-3
    • The audience tested for this research is exactly the one I’m most familiar with: an hour long asynchronous course which is interrupted often, and a wide range of ages (25-65). They found that reading content to learners (narration) makes learners disinterested. Allowing learners to read content themselves stimulated interest, and it’s important to, “use short redundant phrasing when combining narration and text.”
  • Baldwin, S., & Ching, Y. (2017;2016;). Interactive storytelling: Opportunities for online course design. New York: Springer US. doi:10.1007/s11528-016-0136-2
    • The authors suggest providing options for users to explore different paths, and to keep things non-linear. They suggest that using stories combined with interactivity will increase curiosity and enjoyment for the learner. Specifically, to include not just text, but images, audio and video.


I feel as though I just discovered a whole new internet. This is my first course on research, and I didn’t realize how important peer reviewed materials were. I learned several things during my search. The first would be that you need to be pretty specific in what you are looking for, since there is such a massive amount of material to source from. I feel like the range of the 6 papers I downloaded was too wide, and I will need to narrow them a lot more for the final project. I read each of the papers completely, and found it interesting the wide range of tone. I had expected them to be quite stuffy. Perhaps because this is my field of interest, I didn’t struggle with digesting the majority of materials. There was one example that was written very conversationally (as compared to the rest), and another that was extremely technical. The second major thing I noticed was that all of the materials mentioned Constructivism Theory. I will be looking more into that theory with a renewed interest, as it appears to be the most popular approach when it comes to engaging online learners. While I didn’t learn any new methods for making my online courses more engaging (they touched on methods I am familiar with), I did learn a lot about the research process.

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