3 Ways to Draw Out “Disengaged” Learners

Take a look! Somewhere in the room, likely at the back or at one of the extremities, or perhaps strategically set behind visual obstacles like a pillar, a plant, or another body, is a brilliant human being.

Not all intelligent, critical-thought driven, creative, responsible, or innovative people raise their hands when asked a question. They don’t always participate in groups or partnerships.

Often they sit, watching and listening, or maybe just thinking.

They are easily dismissed as “disengaged”.

And ok, some are.

But most aren’t. And they CAN be drawn out. Even those that are.

Learn Faces and Use Names

This is the 1 + 1 = 2 of teaching/training success. Learning faces, attaching them to their correct names, and using them frequently is the most rudimentary, and effective, form of initial relationship building. Familiarity leads to trust, trust leads to learning, learning leads to personal value, success, happiness, [insert positive outcome]. Universally true, this is!

Yoda 1

HOT TIP – In live, web-based events, learning and using names is the virtual equivalent of direct eye contact.

Tap into Individual Strengths, Skills, and Creativity

The expectations of traditional instructors and curriculum are that learners are given parameters within which they need to work to achieve a particular outcome.

write a 600 to 800-word, five-paragraph expository essay comparing the ways in which President Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech address the theme of American democracy.

I love everything about this prompt except:

write a 600 to 800-word, five-paragraph expository essay

Is an essay the ONLY way a learner can demonstrate critical thought or conceptual comprehension?

How about this?

Compare the ways in which President Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech address the theme of American democracy. Share your conclusions in a medium and style of your choice. Examples: Create a video, a comic strip, a picture presentation, a poem, a speech, a song, etc.

What tools could the learner use? Whatever they want. Have them surprise you!


With this flexibility learners who might otherwise stumble awkwardly through an essay can express their learning, and themselves, using their own strengths, skills, talents, and interests. Provide alternative ways for learners to show understanding.

And trust me, reviewing this assignment will be immensely more interesting than reading endless piles of 600-800 word essays!

Find and Use Tools that Allow “Shy” Learners to Engage Anonymously

I’ve heard teachers call anonymity a cop out in learning.

“If they’re so sure about their position, why not attach themselves to it?”

Insightful thoughts aren’t uniquely owned by those who are confident in them. Shy learners with great ideas sometimes need the opportunity to put them through a peer litmus test before confidence comes.

At a recent EdTech conference I attended in Las Vegas, one participant shared the following:

We are finding that online forums often have more critical thought driven responses because students have had time to formulate their response before submitting it.

The web has given us chat rooms, forums, Q&A tools, instant polling, formative quizzing and many other tools, such as our very own Lystnr, that allow for anonymous contributions from learners.

What do YOU do to engage the seemingly “disengaged” learners? Sound off friends!

Lystnr helps teachers and trainers create quality, open communication with learners through technology.

Author: Shawn Jensen

I'm a trainer, a teacher, a coach, an artist, a Lego enthusiast, a wanna-be guitarist and I love being part of learning.

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