• Education

3 Unconventional Techniques to Boost Student Engagement

In higher education, students’ expectations are changing. They are looking for timely, adaptive, personalized content. They want to learn on-the-go and when it fits into their schedule, with access to the right material at the right time. 

Technology is enabling a shift away from the traditional 60-minute lecture toward more engaging methods that improve learning outcomes. To capitalize on the power of evolving technology, instructors are incorporating new methods to increase attention and engagement.

Here are three techniques – ranging from the cusp of mainstream to highly unconventional – that are capturing attention in the EdTech space.

Microlectures with Interactivity

Segmenting – breaking down information into smaller, more digestible segments – aligns with our human cognitive capabilities, making it an effective way to learn information. Educational videos are an ideal format for segmentation. Short, highly relevant videos encourage viewing, keep students’ attention, and promote engagement.

Microlectures – short, concise videos that are less than 10 minutes long – have become a popular solution, especially with the shift to hybrid and remote learning models. A microlecture covers a single concept or skill, so students remain engaged and are more likely to retain the information. Video is already a natural learning medium for today’s students as they turn to YouTube and other platforms to learn new skills.

Instructors can tailor microlectures to a class’s needs by creating new, on-demand videos to address difficult concepts or student questions. Video allows students to control pacing and repetition, so they can view and review a topic as needed.

Michael Wesch, Professor of Cultural Anthropology at Kansas State University, started creating microlectures long before their usage expanded in pandemic times – and he has even had his students create their own microlecture videos. “The first and most important thing is that it allows you to build connections with your students. Studies have shown that the more you can build a sense of presence in your course, the better the learning,” he says. This connection contributes to overall retention and students’ perceived satisfaction. 

Barb Puder, associate professor and chair of the Basic Sciences department at Samuel Merritt University, has received an overwhelmingly positive response to the short videos she creates to explain difficult neuroscience topics. Rather than share longer lecture recordings, she focuses each video on the most important points students need to know for exams and future patient care. “I’ve planned out my high-yield information to keep it moving,” says Puder. “This generation of students wants to get their information in a quick and succinct package.”

In a traditional lecture, instructors teach through telling. Microlectures that include interactivity, such as the Panopto chat feature and student response systems like Poll Everywhere or Wooclap, allow students to connect with the material in a more active way. Meaningful tasks like embedded quizzes, discussion boards, and notes and annotations encourage students to actively engage with the microlecture.  Research confirms that interactivity increases learning retention, while also helping instructors gauge how effective the microlecture is.

Make it happen: The easiest way to step into the microlecture space is by editing longer lecture recordings into shorter, concept-based videos. This segmented format allows students to easily find topics they need to review and access them in digestible pieces.

Another tactic is to create short explainer videos that address challenging topics. This type of responsive teaching makes the video content highly relevant and directly improves learning outcomes.


Students of all ages enjoy learning when it’s fun. To that end, institutions like Ohio University are educating their faculty on how to gamify their teaching, and instructors are exploring gamification techniques to deepen engagement and encourage active learning. The global gamification market is projected to grow from $9.1 billion in 2020 to $30.7 billion by 2025.

Research has found that students spend more time engaging with material or their learning management system when it’s gamified. Some 67% of students say gamified learning is more motivating and engaging than traditional courses, and challenge-based gamification has been found to increase student performance by nearly 90% compared to a lecture-only format. Instructors can incorporate gamification by adding individual or class-wide incentives – such as awards, points, or badges – for completing activities.

As an example, a University of Texas at San Antonio instructor piloted the first gamified physics course in an effort to improve engagement across a diverse learner cohort. He divided the course into modules. Each module, which included two to four lectures and interactive videos, served as a “level” to a game. Students needed to reach a satisfactory score before proceeding to the next level, earning badges and bonus points along the way that contributed to their ranking on a class leaderboard. “Though I introduced gamification as an online tool in response to the loss of student engagement prompted by the transition online, I intend to maintain the component even in hybrid or traditional in-person courses,” the professor says.

One area of gamification that has drawn attention is educational video games. As many as 70% of teachers saw an increase in student engagement when using educational video games. Many students enjoy playing video games outside of the classroom, so it’s a natural way to foster engagement, increase motivation and participation, and create healthy competition or collaboration. 

An English professor and Tier 2 Concordia University Research Chair in Media and Contemporary Literature recently used Minecraft to teach a class on the history and culture of modernity. Partnering with other interdisciplinary researchers at the university, the professor co-designed the entire course within the game server. Instructions, in-class communication, and course work were almost exclusively carried out within the Minecraft world and over the messaging app Discord. Educational video games may not be ideal for all subjects or schools, but when used effectively, they can foster learning through storytelling and allow students to apply knowledge and receive real-time feedback.

Put it in action: While schools look to invest in technology that supports gamification of specific concepts, instructors can take a first step by introducing an award or badge-earning system to incentivize learning and visually measure progress. Tools like Kahoot, TEDEd, and Gimkit allow instructors to easily create class-wide competitions, interactive activities, and gameshow-style question sets.

To make gamification possible, instructors – or educational game designers – have to consider technology and accessibility inside or outside of the classroom. It’s also important to ensure any type of gamification allows for fact retention and spaces the delivery of information appropriately. 

Simulated Experiences and Mixed Reality

Simulators and mixed reality (the blending of real and virtual worlds to create new experiences) immerse students in what feels like a hands-on learning experience. Simulated learning is a key part of technical and healthcare programs, giving students a chance to practice their skills in a realistic but safe environment. It can also be applied to other subject matters to increase student engagement.

In a recent Panopto webinar, Adam Nemeroff, Assistant Director of the Learning Lab at Dartmouth College, discussed the school’s use of mixed reality and 360-degree video experiences. 

As one example, Nemeroff talked about a language instructor using Panopto’s 360-degree video capabilities to bring students into living rooms in Spanish-speaking countries around the world to learn about leisure and recreation. Panopto’s video platform enables users to upload footage from 360-degree cameras and view it with our interactive video player and popular virtual-reality headsets. “It’s cool when you can transport students in that way to an immersive learning environment,” he says.  “The fact that Panopto has [360-degree video] as a built-in feature makes the access provisioning way easier.” 

In addition to 360-degree videos, Dartmouth uses simulator technology to provide interactive mixed reality experiences, including a linear accelerator simulator unique to its campus. “We recently shifted to a virtual model,” says Nemeroff, “so now we’re able to have some of our students join over distance and interact with this piece and hopefully get a better retention of the overall environment.” The school also offers an Anatomage table so students can virtually manipulate a cadaver and learn about biology and anatomy firsthand.

Apply it – now and later: Simulators and mixed reality will require schools to invest in new technology and make it accessible to instructors and students. Because of its cutting-edge nature, this type of technique may not yet be within reach for every college or university. To start, instructors can look to connect students through video to bring them new perspectives or introduce them to new places.

Capturing Attention and Increasing Engagement

Instructors are working within an evolving educational environment. Faced with shortened attention spans, always-on technology, and constantly streaming information, they need to turn to unconventional techniques to capture attention and encourage engagement. Microlectures, gamification, and simulated experiences are just a few of the ways instructors are already putting this into practice.

It’s no longer enough to lecture in front of the class for a 60-minute class period. Technology now enables instructors to give students ownership of their learning experience in a more direct way, allowing them to proceed at their own pace, immerse themselves in the material, and become fully engaged.


Try Panopto to see how easy it is to create video lectures

Start a Free Demo