10 Drivers of Engagement You Can Use Right Now

By Eric Toshalis
January 5, 2021

Whether learning occurs in brick-and-mortar schools or in virtual environments, student engagement drives an impressive array of student outcomes. Eric Toshalis, Senior Director of Impact at KnowledgeWorks, uses research to present and explain ways educators can drive student engagement in their classrooms regardless of whether they are teaching virtually or in-person.

Below is a list of resources designed for educators to implement these evidence-based practices.

Access and opportunity

Educators and community members are able to open doors, supply tools, enrich learning and explain processes in ways that critically enhance engagement and supplement learning.

Evidence of high expectations

Telling students you believe in them helps — a little. What really helps inspire engagement is showing students you believe they can achieve at the highest levels.

Relevance and meaning

Autonomy, self-direction and ownership

If there’s a mantra in adolescence, it’s “you’re not the boss of me.” Students need to individuate, feel intrinsically motivated, follow aspirations and feel as if the thing they’re doing is theirs.


Our richest learning opportunities tend to be social. When brains access other brains with different funds of knowledge and alternative perspectives, learners are pushed to think with more complexity and less expediency.

Authenticity and responsiveness

All students will be more likely to engage in academic work when they don’t have to hide parts of themselves to be taken seriously while doing it. 

Need more information? The "10 Drivers of Engagement You Can Use Right Now" article is available.


When learners recognize that they have the requisite skills and knowledge to be successful in a given activity, they are far more likely to engage and complete it.


Nobody is born with the knowledge of how to initiate and sustain attention amid distraction and challenge. We learn how to do that by watching how others do it, and by reflecting on whether our strategies yielded the kinds of outcomes we prefer.

Relational connection

Connect with students’ feelings and adapt your approaches when life circumstances make it hard for them to complete assignments.


Anticipating and experiencing fun draws learners in, makes them relax, provides rewarding opportunities to bond with others and releases all kinds of feel-good chemicals in our bodies. 

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