The Educational Engagement Framework

The Anatomy of Engagement

To understand what makes a course engaging, we first need to split the learning experience into 3 separate, but overlapping, foundational components:

  1. Content - the facts and expertise students will learn and carry away with them for later use

  2. Pedagogy - the strategic decisions made to help students process and internalize the content

  3. Influence - the means by which students are encouraged to engage with the content and pedagogy

We won't spend a lot of time here on the first two, content and pedagogy, because volumes have been written elsewhere. There are whole classes and even degrees devoted to applying appropriate pedagogy to content. Instructional Designers and teachers learn about content and task analysis, learning objectives, taxonomies of learning events, and much more. Many tools are available for working with content documents and media. Canvas is technology designed to support your pedagogy by providing activities like quizzes, assignments, and discussions; and Canvas provides pages and links for delivering content. Canvas also provides an app store with hundreds of 3rd party tools to extend and improve your ability to deliver content and pedagogy. The volume of tools and theories available to aid with content and pedagogy is enormous. At the same time, surprisingly little training, frameworks, and tools are available to aid with educational influence.

Foundational components in a learning experience.

Creating effective content and pedagogy is critical to effective learning environments, but they are largely outside of Delphinium's scope. Delphinium assumes that a course effectively delivers the appropriate content and pedagogy. And even if it doesn't, Delphinium will still help students want to engage more in the class. Delphinium, for the most part, is content and pedagogy agnostic. Delphinium is very flexible and will adapt to any media and activities you choose to best teach your class and won't ask you to change any of them.

Delphinium focuses on the third foundational component to an effective course—influence. Influence is often neglected when formally designing a course, but most of us intuitively understand that it should be a foundational consideration. Intuitively we understand that we need to add something to facts and assessments to help our students want to engage. However, till now, there were not many formal tools to help us conceptualize what it means to build influence into your course, or what best practices are; nor are there many effective technology tools to help us quickly and effectively bring influence to our courses. Delphinium fixes all that.

The Case for Educational Influence (An Analogy)

Why is educational influence critical to creating effective learning environments? Consider preparing a family meal as an analogy. We could say that an effective family meal consists of three components:

  • The food

  • The tools for consumption

  • The reason to get together

A family meal is about more than satisfying the need for nourishment. If it were only about nourishment, then we would all eat food paste from a tube in private moments snatched from the rest of our day. Instead, a family meal is a rich tapestry that reflects many facets of being human. Family meals are social events, and opportunities to recount and celebrate success and experience. They are influenced by our culture, socio-economic status, preferences, and habits. Family meals are a way to demonstrate and build commitment to the family and to build and reinforce our own identity. There is choice in the when, where, and what is consumed. How and what we eat reflects our moods and emotions, social trends, convenience, ceremony, and tradition. Finally, eating can be inherently enjoyable for it's own sake.

In short, while food and cutlery are necessary for a family meal, it is short sighted to suggest they are the reason for the meal. A family meal is a human-centered event with human-centered considerations. Food and cutlery are in the service of the family experience, not the other way around. There is only so much you can do to improve a family meal by improving the food and cutlery; there is much more about the experience that makes people WANT to participate.

In our analogy between a family meal and learning environments

  • The food is educational content,

  • The table, chairs, flatware, glassware, cutlery, serving staff, etc. (i.e., the means of internalizing the content) are the pedagogy, and

  • The reason to get together, or engage, is educational influence.

Unfortunately, we sometimes prepare learning experiences like tubes of food paste at worst, and stuffy formal state dinners with disinterested strangers at best. We often focus on "setting the table" when we design a course, but we sometimes neglect making the meal appetizing. One is about making all the tools available for consumption, the other is about giving people a reason to want to come eat. Simply adding students to content and pedagogy does not necessarily make a good learning experience.

Effective education answers the question of "why do we engage?" from a variety of perspectives. There is only so much you can do to improve learning by improving content and pedagogy—learning does not happen until students engage and perform. We also need to provide reasons for students to want to learn. This is educational influence. Educational influence fully embraces the human psychology of the student and draws upon cognitivist, behaviorist, and humanist perspectives to influence the learner to improve academic outcomes. At the risk of employing too many metaphors, we might say that content and pedagogy without influence is like a car without a driver. Technically, everything required to make the car go is present, but it accomplishes nothing until the human engages in the experience.

While we likely intuitively understand the need for educational influence, it seems peculiar and even somewhat astounding that educational influence issues are not a more central focus of instructional design. Without well defined and rigorously researched models for educational influence, most of us rely on our intuition or anecdotes to create influence in our courses. In this tutorial we will map out the principles and tools our research has revealed about how you can effectively apply educational influence in your courses to improve motivation and engagement.

The Educational Engagement Framework

A framework for understanding educational influence must answer the following questions:

  • To what end are we influencing? (Outcomes)

  • What are we influencing? (Attitudes and Behaviors)

  • How do we influence? (Methods of Influence)

  • Who or what will perform the influence? (Sources of Influence)

  • How do we design for educational influence? (Backwards Design and Player Types)

The model to the right summarizes the answers to these questions and they are described in detail below.

The Educational Engagement Framework

Influence, engagement, and motivation are widely researched in numerous disciplines including Education, Social Psychology, Behavioral Psychology, Economics, Communication, Political Science, User Experience Design, Marketing, Sales, Organizational Behavior, Legal Studies, Public Administration, Public Health, and Game Design. What these disciplines all have in common is an interest in influencing others and understanding why people do what they do. They try to answer the question "Why do we engage?". As you can imagine, there is a lot of overlap between these perspectives, and at the same time each offers unique contributions. The Educational Engagement Framework draws upon the following theories to integrate a wholistic model of influence (click the links below for details):

Influence is Distinct from Pedagogy

Let's pause for just a moment and head off a potential point of confusion. Pedagogy is primarily concerned with understanding how people learn and prescribing methods to promote learning. Educational influence is primarily concerned with understanding why people do what they do and prescribing methods to help students want to engage in a learning environment. Some of the approaches and techniques listed below can be categorized as influence AND pedagogy. Their contribution to the learning environment are BOTH in their ability to engage AND their power to convey knowledge and ability to a student. For example, situated cognition, simply speaking from a pedagogy perspective, suggests that people often learn better together. In addition, situated cognition also provides for important influence dynamics like variety and social interaction. Here is another example: Gagne's Events of Instruction introduces the concept of attention in service of the content and pedagogy (i.e., activating the learning capacity of the student). At the same time, attention also serves to influencing students towards engagement and motivation by making the experience meaningful. Understanding how principles apply to both perspectives allows you to maximize the impact of a specific activity.

Because you are likely more familiar with pedagogy, you might be tempted to focus on the pedagogy aspects of some theories employed in the Educational Engagement Framework, but it will be important that you keep the influence aspects of theories distinct from the pedagogy aspects. The Educational Engagement Framework teases out the influence components of a variety of theories and frameworks and integrates them into a comprehensive model. It asks you to treat educational influence with the same level of attention you typically give to content and pedagogy. If you find yourself tempted to focus on the pedagogy aspects of what you read, we ask you to consider more deeply the influence angle as well.

To What End Do We Influence? (Academic and Learning Outcomes)

To understand the Educational Engagement Framework better, we begin at the end by looking at the outcomes we hope to achieve using the framework, and then work our way backwards to identify how we can achieve those outcomes. Clearly, the ultimate goal of education is to imbue students with greater knowledge, wisdom, and abilities. These are typically described in a course using learning outcomes. In addition to learning outcomes, it is also important to evaluate academic outcomes, like completion and performance, as measures of how well the learning environment engages students. The academic and learning outcomes that we are most interested in when discussing educational influence are:

Academic Outcomes

  • Improved retention and completion

    • Withdrawals

    • Failures

    • Dropouts

  • Improved course performance

    • Grades

Learning Outcomes

  • Course objectives

  • Competencies mastered

The Educational Engagement Framework

The Case for Academic Outcomes

While there may sometimes be resistance to emphasizing academic outcomes as measures of the effectiveness of a learning environment, there are at least two good reasons to use academic outcomes as a metric for deciding the effectiveness of educational influence:

1. If the content and pedagogy are well designed, then academic outcomes serve as effective surrogates for measuring increases in student's knowledge, wisdom, and abilities.

    • If academic outcomes are not effective surrogates of learning in a course, then the burden is on the instructional designer to improve the content and pedagogy so that they are.

2. Pragmatically speaking, separate from their connection to learning, academic outcomes have real-world impact on students' progress and success in life. For this reason, improving academic outcomes (without impoverishing the learning outcomes) is a worthwhile pursuit.

    • About 38% of students who began seeking a bachelor’s degree at a 4-year institution in fall 2012 failed to complete that degree at the same institution within 6 years. In the 2018-2019 school year, 57.6% of students dropped out of school with an average of $6,800 in school-loan debt. Leaving school without a degree can have lasting impacts on students’ career success. People without a degree make as much as $20K less a year than those with a degree or nearly a million dollars less in a life-time. Up to 40% of student dropouts that occur in the first years of university study can be attributed to how well students perform academically. If improved educational influence is able to significantly reduce withdrawals, failures, and dropouts; and improve academic performance, we suggest that the result would be higher graduation rates and, as a result, improved career outcomes.

    • Many educational stake holders like legislators, tax payers, school boards, parents, and boards of trustees look to academic outcomes for accountability and as metrics of success and effective stewardship of resources

What Exactly are We Influencing? (Learning Related Attitudes and Behaviors)

After defining the desired course outcomes, the next step is to understand the influence-related drivers for obtaining those outcomes. When we say educational influence, what exactly are we influencing? Our objective is to influence the learning related attitudes and behaviors that drive improved outcomes. In other words, we need to answer the question of "What do we want students to feel and do to help them improve their course outcomes?" The Educational Engagement Framework focuses on the learning related attitudes and behaviors described below.


  • Learning identity

    • Self-efficacy

    • Desire to learn

  • Commitment

    • Citizenship

    • Perseverance

    • Grit


  • Learning self-regulation

    • Assessing

    • Performing

    • Evaluating

  • Learning Hygiene

    • Time on task

    • Quality work

    • Meeting deadlines

    • Quality interaction with content

The Educational Engagement Framework

Learning Identity

A student's ability to learn is often a reflection of how they see themselves as learners, or in other words, their learning identity. Students who see themselves as good learners often learn better. Student who see themselves through a lens of failed learning experiences often disengage and underperform. One objective of the Educational Engagement Framework is to surface the right information at the right time to promote and celebrate success so ALL students can build and internalize their identity as a capable learner. This involves helping students to build their sense of self-efficacy.


One important attitude that the Educational Engagement Framework aims to promote is a commitment to one's own success and the success of the learning community. This means participating as a high functioning citizen in a course and demonstrating perseverance and grit.

Learning Self-regulation

Learning self-regulation is a virtuous cycle where students 1) assess the learning tasks and their abilities; 2) perform by identifying standards for success, setting goals, creating a plan to accomplish those goals, and acting (e.g., giving time to tasks , doing quality work, and meeting deadlines); and 3) evaluate their performance and personal reactions. Finally, the cycle repeats as students continue through the course using the results of their evaluation to adapt to the assessing phase of the next round of assignments.

This process of learning is a skill that exceptional students have mastered. Not every student has this skill before they start your course, but all can learn it. One objective of the Educational Engagement Framework is to scaffold learning self-regulation into your course by surfacing the right information at the right times, and by giving students a reason to engage with the learning self-regulation process. Learning self-regulation is described below.

Learning Self-regulation


  • Perceive task - Understand what is expected

  • Evaluate task - Identify the specific requirements

  • Evaluate self - Consider your own abilities


  • Identify Standards - Determine how your learning will be evaluated

  • Set Goals - Establish what your final results should look like

  • Plan - Define when you will do what

  • Act - Time on task, Quality work, Meet deadlines, Thoughtful consideration


  • Monitor self - Consider your own cognitive and emotional response

  • Evaluate performance - Compare your results with the task's standards

  • Evaluate reactions - Consider how your teacher or grader responded to your work

  • Adapt - Use what you learned in the Evaluating phase to improve in the next cycle

Learning Hygiene

Learning hygiene is related to the "Act" stage of "Performing" described above in Learning Self-regulation. Similar to personal hygiene, learning hygiene is the basic level of learning behavior a student must engage in to succeed. For inexperienced or disinterested students, maintaining this level of engagement can sometimes be difficult. One objective of the Educational Engagement Framework is to encourage students to regularly participate in the "doing" of learning, including:

  • Time on task

  • Quality work

  • Deadlines

  • Quality interaction with content

How Do We Influence Learning Related Attitudes and Behaviors? (Influence Methods)

Now that we have defined the learning related attitudes and behaviors that drive our desired course outcomes, the next step is to outline the methods available to influence those attitudes and behaviors. A broad variety of disciplines and theories (described above) are focused on influencing people. The Educational Engagement Framework distills those influence approaches that are related to education into a single influence model including engaging, motivating, nudging, and supporting. Click the titles below to open a page with detailed prescriptions for how to employ each influence method to promote learning related attitudes and behaviors.

Engaging (click for details)

  • Attention

  • Self-regulated Learning

  • Agentic thinking

Motivating (click for details)

  • Relevance

  • Success

  • Autonomy

Nudging (click for details)

  • Social

  • Personal

  • Environmental

Supporting (click for details)

  • Learning identity

  • Socio-economic influences

  • Citizenship

  • Personality

  • Emotions and moods

The Educational Engagement Framework

Who or what will perform the influence? (Sources of Influence)

Finally, our last step is to describe who or what will influences student's education-related attitudes and behaviors to drive successful course outcomes. There are four distinct means or sources of influence within a course, and while there is some overlap between them, each source of influence lends itself to employing specific influence methods (described above) in different ways. Here are descriptions of each source of influence:

  • Delphinium - A Canvas plugin that adds a motivating and engaging overlay to influence students in your Canvas course towards improved outcomes.

  • Designer - A person responsible for designing the educational influence in a course, often the same person who designs the content and pedagogy. Delphinium and Canvas provide tools to the designer to influence students towards improved outcomes.

  • Mentor - A person responsible for directly influencing students' attitudes and behaviors toward improved course outcomes. Delphinium and Canvas provide tools to the mentor.

  • Student - A person who engages in a course's content, pedagogy, and influence and influences their own performance. The Designer and Mentor provide educational influence experiences, and Delphinium and Canvas provide an interface and tools to the student, to influence them towards improved outcomes.

The Educational Engagement Framework

The Role of a Teacher in the Educational Engagement Framework

What is the role of a teacher in the Educational Engagement Framework? The answer is that it depends on how the course was developed. Some courses are designed, developed, and delivered by a team including instructional designers, subject matter experts, artists, technical writers, technology specialists, instructors, and more. In other courses all of these functions are performed by the same person: the teacher.

The sources-of-influence model, described above, intentionally does not include the term teacher, instead it describes functions. In some situations, like a well-designed online course, the teacher's role will primarily be that of mentor with secondary roles as subject matter expert and instructor. In other situations, the teacher will wear all of the hats and will be required to design the influence as course designer, mentor, and the one who configures Delphinium—in addition to designing the pedagogy, providing the content as subject matter expert, and being the primary medium for communicating content and pedagogy to students in a classroom. The Educational Engagement Framework is flexible enough to adapt to these two extremes and anywhere between.

Understanding the Relationship Between Educational Influence Methods and Sources

Some educational influence methods are better employed by one source than than another. Understanding who does what will help you design a more influential course. For example, Delphinium excels at helping students measure their success, but it is not integrated enough with the content or pedagogy to provide course relevant agentic thinking opportunities and does not have the ability to develop a genuine and sincere relationship with the student. These activities are best performed by the designer and mentor. The chart below outlines the relationship between educational influence methods and sources. In other words, the chart describes "who does what" in relation to designing and implementing influence experiences within a course. Click the name of each influence method in the chart to view detailed suggestions and recommendation for how each influence source can successfully apply each influence method.






Agentic Thinking
Adapt to student


Relationship Building
Supportive Behaviors
Adapt to student



How do we design for educational influence? (Backwards Design and Player Types)

Now that we have answered the questions of "to what end are we influencing? (Outcomes)"; "what are we influencing? (Attitudes and Behaviors)"; "How do we influence? (Methods of Influence)"; and "Who or what will perform the influence? (Sources of Influence)", the last question the Educational Engagement Framework answers is "how do we design for educational influence?".

We will answer that question in the next tutorial, click here to continue: