MarilynHerieThis is a guest post by Dr. Marilyn Herie, Academic Chair, Department of Community Services at Centennial College. It was originally posted on May 1, 2014 on educateria.

Educators and presenters are concerned about learner engagement. After attending a conference on creating engaging learning environments, I reflected on my own “rules of engagement” for classrooms large and small, real and virtual.

Here are my top four:

1. Make it fun

People are motivated to pursue activities that offer positive reinforcement. The opposite is true for aversive experiences. This is why chocolate and reality TV often trump time at the gym. But by adding laughter, socializing, exploration and discovery to more challenging learning experiences, we can make them more engaging.

2. Make it personal

While trying to help others is a lofty ideal, in practice the most salient learning happens when we directly relate to a concept or skill on a personal level. Personal connections evoke “aha” moments way more powerfully than relating new skills and ideas to abstract, hypothetical, or future scenarios.

3. Make it real

Presenting to groups should more closely resemble a conversation than a performance. When we can be our authentic, playful, idiosyncratic selves in front of hundreds of people, that fosters connectedness (another word for engagement). If an audience sees a presenter as being real and genuine, it gives them permission to be real too.

4. Make it safe

We only learn when we struggle. If “learning” something is easy, it is because we already know it! The journey toward mastery involves making ourselves vulnerable; and our deepest instincts tell us that we can be vulnerable within safe confines. As a facilitator, I can help make learning safe by showing my own willingness to take risks or make mistakes, by creating opportunities for connectedness with other learners, and by fostering a climate of unconditional respect and acceptance.