Canada Research Chair in Innovative Learning and Technology & Associate Professor at Royal Roads University

How do we design for learning engagement

Posted on March 28th, by George Veletsianos in E-learning, engagement, Ideas, learner experience. 1 Comment

How do we design for engagement? This is a question that has hovered over my shoulders for a while. Although not explicitly verbalized it is part of my work with avatars, pedagogical agents, and virtual characters. For example, see this paper in the British journal of Educational Technology. In addition, in my dissertation, I also argue that pedagogical agents/virtual characters may incite such deep and engaging experiences so as to distract learners from the task they are engaged with (I am of course talking about the conversational type agents and NOT the passive pedagogical agents that prominently appear in instructional design research – yes, I am being sarcastic). Outside of my tiny little contributions, others have thought about this issue. Pat Parrish, drawing on the work of Dewey and others, has written extensively on learner engagement. Charlie Miller, coming for an interaction design perspective, has also talked about engagement. And, the other day, a blog by Joseph from BYU, noting sister issues of engagement, emotion, and narrative. Granted, the ID field has for long (and long overdue) been focusing on information delivery and wow-look-at-what-this-can-do, but I think there are enough people thinking and writing about learner engagement, that the topic may gain prominence – as it should.


Back to the original question: How do we design for engagement? Honestly, if I knew how to verbalize this, I would probably write it up. But, I have a few ideas. First, I think that this question spurs multiple other questions. For example, how do K-12 teachers engage children? What are the characteristics of engaging lessons? What are the characteristics of engaging learners? Note that I am writing about characteristics in qualitative (and possibly interpretive, and further, possibly phenomenological) terms. What are the characteristics of boring lessons? What are the characteristics of engaging electronic learning environments/experiences? What is the process of engagement? How do we measure engagement? Again, I think that “measuring” engagement should be done in qualitative terms – this is a poor way of measuring something as malleable and inherent to our existential being, but it’s at least a start. Could we provide some sort of guidelines for the design of engaging electronic learning experiences? What does social psychology say about this? More on the last question in an upcoming post…


A set of preliminary ideas that I have is that “fun” has a lot to do with it. The HCI field discussed funology for a while, but I haven’t seen anything recently. Additionally, I think that a sense of achievement, contribution, belongingness, ability to change things, and purpose, matter. That’s an initial list, and it is very rough. There are numerous other ideas that need to be covered, including aesthetics, transformational learning, and, alas, the learner. But, I’ll leave that for a different time because I need to do some dissertation work.

One thought on “How do we design for learning engagement

  1. George,

    Perhaps you can save me from myself. I am planning to do a study something like I described in this blog post and, to my surprise, may have some sponsorship at my university to do so. Right now, I am looking at a pretty quantitative approach, partly for simplicity, partly because it is an easy place to start. While I don’t know that my university would sponsor something much more complicated (read: expensive), I would be interested in what you might suggest I do that would be more qualitative and ultimately more useful and enlightening. Should I interview the learners about their engagement? Should I develop an “engagement inventory” of some kind for them to fill out at the end of a class session (I know, still too behaviorist)? Any thoughts would be appreciated.

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