If I am going to engage with something (educational content, for example) I need:
To see a direct relevance to my life
To be interested or curious
To anticipate a reward

If I am trying to engage someone, I need to:
Know what they find relevant
Know what they find interesting or curious
Know what type of reward would motivate them

I need data.

This is an area where online educators are at a disadvantage. We cannot watch our students enter the room and note their demographic identities. We usually have little more than a list of names on a class roster. We can speculate as to why they are taking the course. In this search for data we would have a greater chance of accuracy with students enrolling in a cooking class versus students on a roster for a course on American literature.

Live or virtual, the best way to get data needed to create an engaging experience is to ask them. As easy as that. We can be direct. Go to the source. Ask what we need to know to partner with them in a successful educational endeavor.

Now we have a problem. What to ask? What questions will help us learn about our learners so we can help them learn?