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Active Learning: Maximizing Engagement Online

Active learning is an approach to instruction that involves using teaching methods and strategies that actively engage students with course material, and often, with one another. Activities can range from writing literature reviews to completing a group project. Active learning is proven to be an effective approach to engaging students in deep learning and can complement traditional lectures with additional forms of engagement and multiple means of representing course content. The following resources provide information about the purpose and use of active learning:

Hosting your classes virtually using online platforms like Blackboard, Microsoft Teams, or Zoom, can generate new opportunities for active learning and student engagement. When selecting active learning strategies, consider the following questions:

  • What skills should students acquire and/or be able to perform by the end of the course? These might include writing, communication, reflection, critical thinking, and more. Your course learning outcomes will direct your choices.
  • What specific teaching methods would give students the opportunity to practice those skills? What is viable in an online setting? What is not?
  • How will students then reflect on what they've done/learned? Note, active learning is not only about doing, but building awareness around what they've learned as a result of what they've done.

Dee Fink's (2003) framework around creating significant learning experiences is a helpful model to follow:

  • Information and Ideas: What do students need to know, first? This can be achieved via short lecture, synchronously or asynchronously.
  • Experience: How will students engage with this information? This can be achieved through discussion tools and breakout rooms.
  • Reflective Dialogue: What might you do to encourage students to reflect on what they've learned? This can be done using Mentimeter, one-minute papers, journals, etc.

The strategies you select should directly complement both the course learning outcomes and assessments, and engage students with the material, one another (if possible), and in reflection on what they've experienced. Use the following chart to help select active learning methods: