It can be hard to get a class’s attention and even harder to hold it. As an instructor, I’ve always found it extremely frustrating to plan a class but come away unsure of if the lesson resonated with my students or if they felt bored or frustrated.

Unfortunately, many students aren’t very forthcoming when it comes to feedback. So how can we capture our students’ interest and be sure we’re accomplishing our objectives? I’ve found some simple guidelines that work surprisingly well whether a class is face-to-face or virtual.

First, capture the learners’ interest early with an involving activity. A focused activity truly sets the stage for an engaging session. Though I may not always include such an activity at the beginning of each class or lesson, I find the flow of the event seems more seamless and connected when I do.

Maintaining interest, once captured, can be a challenge. Here you should let students’ natural inclinations guide you: students like to play … so let them. Tap into their playful and competitive natures. The creative and innovative ways learners approach a challenge will surprise you, especially when you initially fear some sort of resistance (e.g., they might see the activity as too juvenile).

Since students can easily become bored, try forming groups to accomplish various portions of an overall task. This helps cut down on possible student frustration from performing repetitive activities to reach the same comprehensive goal. A group’s combined responses pull all of the pieces of the puzzle together and, in turn, students learn from their peers.

However, if you don’t emphasize the tie between activities and learning objectives, they might lose the point of the lesson. An interesting assessment strategy that I stumbled upon, mostly based on my own initial failure, was to write out learning objectives in terms of the activities in which students engaged during the session period. It occurred to me that simply listing out the activities wasn’t truly getting at learning objectives. At the end of class, I provided students with the original objectives, adding “in order to…” at the end of each bulleted point. Students filled in the blanks to let me know what they learned by engaging in the activity. (I was on the right track all along!)

At the end of class, set aside a few minutes for a reflection activity; with the lesson fresh in the students’ minds, it’s time to find out what works and what doesn’t. The insight that students provide can lessen any disappointment the teacher may have felt with the lesson, or provide helpful suggestions for improvement.

And keep in mind that anonymity will result in more honest feedback. Utilize technology that allows students to comment or ask questions anonymously. There is no better way to get inside the heads of our learners than to let them reflect and anonymously write out their thoughts.

For more tips on effective, creative instructional design and technique, check out The eLearning Guilds latest eBook, 58 Tips for Breakthrough eLearning Instructional Design. This free eBook showcases the advice of the presenters of The eLearning Guilds May 17 & 18 Online Forum, eLearning Instructional Design: Advanced and Breakthrough Techniques.