Engagement of Learners

There are times at lecture when you will stumble upon a student whose face seems to be holding a blank stare. Yet there are times when you see a face among the audience religiously nodding at every word you say. It would be interesting to give a quiz at the end of the lecture that was just provided, and check how those faces correlate with the quiz score. Capturing the undivided attention of a student is an important task for teaching. A student who is physically, mentally and emotionally present in the class is an engaged learner. Since learning is really a two-way street, engagement is key to high learning outcomes.

Joan Cybela, Professor and Distance Education/Teaching-Learning Specialist at the University of Wisconsin provides the following suggestions to engage learners:

  • Ignite curiosity and learning
  • Create environment
  • Develop relationship
  • Discover what’s known
  • Invite dialogue
  • Note relevance
  • Broaden perspective
  • Vary presentation modes
  • Engage emotions
  • Transfer learning

The above are good suggestions. And following these, one may begin to see a larger number of heads nodding, but at the end of the day, one can still give a pop quiz just to check if students are indeed paying attention. For an extensive research, it is definitely a challenge to measure the engagement of students. Yet, Gallup recently came out with the report, "The School Cliff: Student Engagement Drops With Each School Year". The title summarizes a major finding from schools in the United States. That conclusion is dramatically shown in the following figure:
Figure downloaded from

How did Gallup arrive at such a conclusion? Gallup did not give a pop quiz in every classroom. Instead, Gallup used a survey to extract this information. The above numbers are not as tight as presidential elections in the US - the differences here or the drop in percent engagement over the years are probably well beyond the margin of error of the survey. What is interesting is the list of questions Gallup uses to arrive at a measure of engagement. Students are asked to rank with a scale of 1 through 5 (1-strongly disagree to 5 - strongly agree) the following statements based on their experience. On this scale 1 is "actively disengaged", 2 through 4 is considered "not engaged", and 5 is "engaged". (Gallup Student Questionnaire

  • I have a best friend at school. 
  • I feel safe in this school. 
  • My teachers make me feel my schoolwork is important. 
  • At this school, I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day. 
  • In the last seven days, I have received recognition or praise for doing good schoolwork. 
  • My school is committed to building the strengths of each student. 
  • In the last month, I volunteered my time to help others. 

An average score for engagement is then calculated out of the responses from the above seven statements. The above Gallup survey on engagement, analyzed against other metrics, shows that this particular construct correlates strongly with student success. The indicators above are helpful in aiming for greater engagement of students in schools. 

There are suggestions in this post on how to engage students. Then, here are some indicators that can measure engagement. The indicators used by Gallup are particularly insightful for these provide a deeper look at what engagement in school really entails.