How to Keep Students Engaged During a Lecture

students engaged in a lecture

Published: August 30th, 2023

Starting university is a big step for many students. Most will be living away from their parents for the first time and have a new city to get to grips with, as well as the pressure of meeting new people. It can be quite an overwhelming transition for many students and, as a consequence, it may affect their levels of engagement and focus.  

For you, as a teacher or lecturer, it can be difficult too, especially trying to re-engage students once they become disengaged from course content. 

So, to help you ensure students are actively engaging with course material, we put together this guide. Here, you’ll find tips to improve student engagement in higher education, explore how interactive displays can be helpful and, ultimately, enable your students to achieve more. 

But first, let’s explore why it’s so important to preserve good levels of student engagement during your lectures.

Why is it important to keep students engaged during lectures?

Higher education comes at a significant point in a student’s life, as their academic performance at this stage can affect their career. As a lecturer, it’s your job to ensure students are well-prepared for their lives and careers after they graduate. 

As well as preparing students for life outside of the classroom or lecture hall, here are six more reasons it’s important to keep students engaged during lectures: 

1. Retaining information is easier

An actively engaged student, who’s interested in the subject they’re being taught, is more likely to absorb and remember information than one who isn’t.   

2. Developing critical thinking skills

Getting students involved in a topic or discussion actively encourages them to analyze and evaluate what they have learned – benefitting their critical thinking skills. 

3. Promoting collaboration and discussion 

By creating a culture where students feel empowered to debate and collaborate, you are not only developing their critical thinking skills, but helping students to express themselves and learn from their peers. Collaboration tasks also encourage teamwork and get students out of their comfort zones. 

4. Increasing interest in the topic

Lectures that involve students are more likely to pique their interest, as they’re actively participating in their own learning. If a particular area or topic sparks students’ interest, they are more likely to get involved with the lecture or class you’re teaching. 

5. Appealing to different learning styles

Everyone has a different learning style, whether they’re visual, auditory, read/write or kinaesthetic learners. By using implementing different engagement strategies, you can appeal to each type of learner on the VARK model*. For example, you could encourage discussions to appeal to auditory learners, and by incorporating more visual aids you will benefit visual learners.  

*The VARK learning model theorises that people fit into one of four learning styles – visual, auditory, reading and writing, and kinaesthetic.

6. Creating a positive learning environment 

If you encourage students to take an active role in their learning, the learning process becomes much easier for both students and lecturers. A lecture that motivates and interests students, and makes them feel valued is more likely to give them a sense of belonging than a one that doesn’t. 

The challenges of keeping students engaged during lectures

As previously mentioned, making the transition to university life can be difficult for some people, which can make it especially challenging to know how to engage students in higher education

Tried and test lecture styles may be good for engaging some reading and writing or auditory learners, but kinaesthetic learners may find it more difficult to engage. These sessions are usually information heavy and don’t offer much in the way of participation, which can impact how effectively students learn. 

Distractions like smartphones and laptops can be barriers to engagement too; although, this technology is useful for taking notes and can be used to enrich a class session, social media and messaging apps can easily divert students’ attraction. 

Other barriers to engaging students can include: 

  • Passive learning – one-way communication and a lack of active learning can negatively affect the learning experience of students, particularly those with a kinesthetic or visual learning style. 
  • A perceived lack of relevance – student learning will improve if topics and subjects can be related to them and their own situations. If students fail to see the significance of a topic, they may write it off as irrelevant or uninteresting. 
  • Knowledge gaps – if students lack prior knowledge of a subject or topic area it can make it more difficult for them to engage with it. Students struggle to engage with things if the content is too advanced for them. Before presenting a new theory, make sure it is digestible and easy to understand. 
  • Scheduling problems – some lectures may be scheduled at times that are inconvenient or clash with other commitments. This is unavoidable, but it can affect levels of engagement as students may be tired or distracted by other responsibilities.  

And even if your students are engaging with course content, it’s tricky to know how. Your class is often much more removed from you than in traditional education settings, making measuring student engagement at university difficult.

How to keep students engaged during a lecture 

Now we’ve explored the importance of retaining levels of student attention and engagement, and some of the barriers that stand in the way of this, it’s time to understand how to keep students engaged during your lectures. Here are our tips to help students engage with your lecture content. 

1. Make your lectures interactive 

Getting students involved in your lectures, whether that’s through discussion or solving problems. Encourage and invite students to participate with you and their peers to keep them engaged. 

2. Appeal to different learning styles

We know that everyone learns differently, so tailor your lectures to those learning styles. Produce visual content like print-outs and presentations for visual learners; encourage auditory learners to speak and discuss topics; give reading and writing learners printouts and encourage them to take notes, and invite kinaesthetic learners to get hands-on with interactive displays. Explore our guide to the VARK learning model to understand each learning style in more detail, or our guide to using interactive whiteboards in higher education

3. Break lectures up into segments

Long lectures can be exhausting, so plan regular breaks and short activities to keep students on their toes and mitigate the risk of their levels of concentration dropping. 

4. Use real examples to make topics relevant

Utilising case studies and relating theories and subjects to real-life examples will help students engage with lecture material. Making lectures more student centered can benefit their understanding of new theories. To do this, you could check the news before lectures and ask students what they have been reading about, relating the lecture to these points. 

5. Tell stories and anecdotes

Storytelling will help to capture students’ attention, creating a memorable learning experience. Anecdotes about your own life can help students relate to you, making lectures more of a conversation and feel human, as opposed to the coldness of a one-way conversation. A bit of humour can go a long way too, so don’t be afraid to tell a joke here and there.  

6. Plan active learning activities

Active learning strategies are really useful to engage students. This could be as straightforward as encouraging people to ask questions or asking for a one-sentence summary of the topics covered at the end of the lecture. Discover more active learning techniques in our blog. 

7. Encourage critical thinking and reflection 

Allocating time for people to reflect on what you have taught them will help them organize information and consolidate the ideas and knowledge you have shared. 

8. Establish a supportive culture

Finally, one of the best ways to keep students engaged is by supporting them to do so. Creating an inclusive culture that encourages questioning and debate will make your lectures interesting and exciting places to be. 

Using technology to make lectures more engaging

Technology, like smartphones, tablets and laptops can sometimes be a barrier to learning, but you shouldn’t look at these devices as an enemy. Instead, embrace these devices and use them to your advantage. 

Quiz apps like Kahoot! can make interactive quizzes more fun as students can play from their phones. Additionally, interactive whiteboards, like the ActivPanel 9 can be used to create engaging presentations that are much more engaging than traditional slideshows. 

You can even integrate online games to provide kinaesthetic learners with a hands-on experience that’s significantly more enjoyable than writing down notes.
For more tips and advice on enriching your lectures and classes with interactive technology, take a look at the Promethean blog. Here, you’ll find guides to increase the engagement of students of all ages, from primary school through to higher education.