Top 3 Signs That a Student is Disengaged (And What You Can Do About It)

May 25, 2022

Keeping learners “engaged” is often a key priority for online learning programs. When it’s all too easy for learners to close their laptops and mentally check-out, determining and tracking signals that learners are on track can be essential for making sure they’re crossing the finish line of your program. 

These engagement signals typically involve concrete actions - classes attended, assignments submitted, and more. But what about disengagement signals? These are typically the absence of an action and can therefore be significantly harder to track or take any sort of meaningful action on.

That said, this blog post takes a deep look into student disengagement - what the signs are, how you can track them, and what you can do to re-engage learners that might have fallen off the wagon. 

Top 3 Signs of Student Disengagement

The telltale signs of student disengagement are as easy as ABC: 

A - Attendance 

Missing class consistently - without any sort of heads up - is a clear sign that a learner might be falling behind. Based on the number of live sessions in your program, it’s important to determine a percentage or ratio of missed classes that crosses the line into disengagement. For example, in a program with 10 live sessions, missing 3 classes is likely enough to know that a student is struggling. 

B - Behavior

Not interacting with fellow classmates is a clear sign of disengagement. It’s important to look out for things like few or no posts on your community platform (i.e. Slack, Discord), few or no logins to your LMS, or limited participation in live classes (lateness, camera off, no participation in the chat, etc.). Given that this type of behavior can be subtle, it is among the hardest pieces to track, yet it can provide the earliest warning signs of disengagement or struggle. 

C - Coursework 

Students that aren’t completing modules on time (or at all) or submitting required assignments are very likely disengaged. Just like with attendance, it’s important to determine the “line of acceptability” for your program to know at what exact point learners are deemed as disengaged or ineligible for successful program completion.

Learn the only two questions you need to ask students to know if they'll succeed here.

Why Learners Disengage

Learners may disengage from your program for a variety of reasons. Here are a few common ones: 

Personal Reasons

Maybe the timing of the program is just off for a given learner. Unexpected issues or responsibilities may have arisen in their family or professional lives and they just no longer have the bandwidth to participate fully in your learning program. Considering ways your program can be flexible to support this can help these learners complete your program in the best way that works for them.

Challenging Content

If your program’s content proves too challenging for given learners to the point that they feel overwhelmed or discouraged, they’ll be at risk of disengagement or drop-off. To combat this, it’s important to build in support resources, such as office hours, mentor sessions, or interventions that help learners develop a clear action plan with next steps. 

Technical Difficulties

If learners find navigating your program across multiple different platforms and tools, it’s possible they’ll disengage entirely. It’s important to make sure there’s adequate training on each of the tools they’ll need to interact with throughout your program, or even better, do whatever possible to minimize the number of tools they’ll need to use to access content, classes, community, and more. 

While some of these reasons for disengagement are inevitable, understanding them can provide insight into what kinds of extra support you can build into your program to support learners that fall through the cracks. 

How to Support Disengaged Learners 


Have a team member (or student success team) manually collect attendance data, input grades, and review and track community messaging into a central tool (Google Sheets, Airtable, etc.). From there, have a team member review this data periodically to see who is at risk and conduct outreach to provide support across multiple channels (email, community platform, etc.).

Student Relationship Manager

While having a learner success team that conducts manual outreach is great, as your program grows, there’s only so much attention each team member can dedicate to your learners. That’s where automation can help. 

Virtually’s Student Relationship Manager (SRM) offers a fully automated option to keep tabs on your learners and intervene to prevent churn. 

The SRM automates data collection from across all of your different tools - attendance, feedback, community engagement, etc. -  flags at risk students based on custom triggers you create, and automatically reaches out to flagged learners to check in and offer support. 

Curious to learn more? Sign up for the waitlist here

Read Next: How to Intervene with Struggling Learners to Boost Completion Rates

Laura Marks

Laura Marks is Head of Customer Experience at Virtually