One frustration of teaching is when students don’t engage in activities that could improve their learning. The writer Max Leon Forman was credited with the quote “Education seems to be in America the only commodity of which the customer tries to get as little as he can for his money.” Dr. Karin Esposito of the Roseman University College of Medicine visited the College of Pharmacy on April 13, 2020, to talk with faculty about how to improve student engagement in learning.

Changing Your Approach

At the beginning of her presentation, Dr. Esposito provided some perspective on making changes to one’s teaching approach, noting that anything you attempt in the classroom will improve learning for some students, but nothing will work for all of them, so it is important to be deliberate about change and realize that every teaching adjustment is a tradeoff. Begin by considering what is already working well, then try to anticipate both what will improve and what will worsen if changes are made.

Minimizing the Negative

One enemy to student engagement is high cognitive load, which has been discussed in a previous post. Some level of cognitive load, or mental effort, is intrinsic to learning anything new, but too much cognitive weight from extraneous sources, such as clunky methods for presenting the material, can stand in the way of effective learning. For example, the cognitive load may be overwhelming when a student is asked to apply concepts they don’t yet completely understand—they may need help learning basic facts or processes first. Other barriers to engagement include too much lecture and unnecessary amounts of redundancy. Lecture and redundancy both play important roles in learning, but squelch student engagement in excess, so it is worthwhile to consciously choose how much of each to include in class.

Maximizing the Positive

Teachers can enhance engagement by facilitating factors that improve motivation. Students are intrinsically motivated by a desire for competence in their chosen profession. Faculty can harness this motivation by ensuring learning outcomes are relevant to professional competency. Extrinsic motivators are also useful and abound in academic environments. One example at Roseman is the three-day weekend students can enjoy by passing an assessment on the first try.

Faculty encourage student engagement as they provide appropriate scaffolding for learning exercises and frequent, small formative assessments, which are a key piece of the Roseman University Six-Point Mastery Learning Model®. Formative assessment offers an opportunity for providing productive student feedback, which itself augments engagement. Dr. Esposito insightfully observed that the purpose of feedback is to improve the student, not the work, and feedback will eventually become redundant as learners become more self-directed.


A few resources recommended by Dr. Esposito to inform your efforts to elevate student engagement are listed here: AMEE Guide No. 86 on cognitive load theory, Kosslyn’s Active Learning Online, and MedEd Portal.

If you would like to contribute to the Faculty Development Blog, please contact Tyler Rose at

Tyler Rose, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Pharmaceutical Sciences
Roseman University of Health Sciences College of Pharmacy