Active learning

In recent years, many instructors have expanded their repertoire of instructional styles to include a larger emphasis on participatory learning, in which students are actively involved in the learning process rather than simply being “recipients of knowledge.” This form of pedagogy can be called active, experiential, hands-on, authentic or real-world learning. Some disciplines have always required participatory learning—think of science labs, fine arts studios or field courses.

At first glance, it might seem challenging to facilitate active learning online. Yet there are many ways for you to create interactivity and provide space for hands-on learning in an online environment. Begin with this two-step process:

  1. Even if you have taught your course for many years, take time to think about what you would like students to learn through the course and what you are trying to achieve through the learning activities.
  2. With this purpose clearly in mind, be creative and think outside the box about ways to meet those goals, given the limitations of an online environment. The resources below will help to stimulate ideas.

What to consider

When you design interactive or hands-on activities for your online course, take into account the following factors:

  • Bandwidth
    Simulations can require significant bandwidth. Will the activity disadvantage students who lack a high-speed internet connection?
  • Costs
    There can be costs associated with home lab activities. Factor in the costs just as you would when considering course texts.
  • Accessible location
    Can the activities be conducted in or near the student’s home? What are the current health requirements with regard to entering public spaces? Will the kinds of spaces and places required be available to all students?
  • Safety
    Some activities should only be done in a classroom setting under instructor supervision to ensure that safety protocols are followed.
  • Complexity of instructions
    Will students need to discuss instructions with a peer or TA in order to understand what is required? If so, the learning activity doesn’t need to be ruled out, but may require a different type of design.

What are the options?

Labs

Assignment design

See the section of this website that focuses on Assessing Student Learning.

Additional resources