Active Learning in the Online Classroom: Examples and Ideas

Someone recently told me that they heard of an approach where all the boring content delivery lecture material is put online so that more active learning can take place in the classroom. They then asked me if this was the best approach for online learning? What they were describing is blended learning or the “flipped” classroom approach. Good blended classrooms have a significant amount of active learning. The active learning philosophies need not only occur in the classroom however. There are ways to leverage the online space to include active learning. Active learning is basically any part of the course that involves active “interaction” instead of just passive tasks. It engages learners into activities that help them clarify, investigate, apply, create and integrate knowledge. Consider the human-factor: any types of human interactions such as Learner-to-Learner or Learner-to-TeachingTeam qualify. However, learners can also interact with their physical or virtual environment and that can be active. Just because you have an online course, it doesn’t mean you have to design learning activities that only involve reading web-pages or textbooks all day. Here’s a list of ideas, across four categories, for active learning online:

Learner-to-Learner Interactions:
Group brainstorming
Group role-playing
Study/support groups
Peer feedback on student work
Exploring a Virtual World as a team
Creating visual posters to share with the class
Creation of video presentations to share with the class
Asynchronous individual or collaborative learning activities (i.e. Projects)
Creative writing (in groups or individually) that is shared with peers
Problem-based learning Learning activities which encourage critical thinking
Cooperative learning group discussions (real time video chat or via asynchronous discussion forum) 

Learner-To-TeachingTeam :
Tutorials
Reflective questioning
Relating learning to relevant current events and personal life
Problem-based learning Learning activities which encourage critical thinking
Cooperative learning group discussions (real time video chat or via asynchronous discussion forum)

Learner-To-Virtual Environment:
Interviewing people
Exploring a Virtual World individually
Learning activities which encourage critical thinking
Online quizzes (graded and non-graded) that provide immediate feedback
Advanced adaptive technologies like simulations and sensitivity analyses 

Learner-To-Physical Environment :
Interviewing people
Home-based laboratories
Real-life data collection and analysis
Learning activities which encourage critical thinking
Learning activities with hand-on experiences and tasks
Learning activities which apply the content of the lesson in real-life situations
This list is not exhaustive.  Do you have something to add? If so, leave a comment below. Which ever active learning activity you choose for your online course, remember to keep the purpose in mind. Ask yourself, what Learning Outcome will this learning activity serve and does this activity align well with it? If you can answer that question clearly, then you’re on the right track.

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