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Active Learning Online

The Importance of Active Learning

Engaging with students makes them active participants in their own learning rather than as passive absorbers of information. L. Dee Fink, in "Creating Significant Learning Experiences", provides a framework that can be used to promote active learning:

  • Encounter new information/ideas
  • Engage with the information/ideas
  • Reflect upon their learning

This approach may be used in all modalities (face-to-face, online or hybrid). Additionally, active learning strategies can be utilized before, during or after the online class session.

Active Learning Strategies

Engaging with students in your online class can be achieved using the simple methods outlined on this page. Select only the active learning strategies that best support your course/unit learning objectives.

Step 1: Encounter

Whether teaching synchronously or asynchronously, chunk content into mini lectures (8-10 minutes); you may use as many mini lectures as needed.

  • Provide a short explanation/introduction to the topic to help students understand its value. For example, how it relates to course objectives, transferable skills, etc.)
  • Readings, videos, etc., may also be used to introduce the material — again, it is helpful to briefly frame your objective.
  • You may intersperse questions and/or reflection points along the way, or you may keep questions for the “engagement” portion of the lesson.

Step 2: Engage

Students can deepen their connections with the material, with you and with each other by engaging in various ways.


  • Small Group Sessions
    • Create groups or channels in Microsoft Teams, breakout rooms in Zoom, Group me, etc. where students can discus issues, questions, concerns, problem sets etc. related to the content. Assign roles to ensure full participation (e.g. facilitator and timekeeper, note taker, challenger, reporter, etc.)
    • Alternatively, depending on your learning objective, Jigsaw may be used: Students work in small groups, with each group becoming an expert in a particular aspect of the material. Groups come together to teach each other. This approach may be modified to have each group member become an expert in an aspect of the topic.
  • Polling
    • Top Hat, Poll Everywhere, etc.
  • Sharing/Collaborating
    • Using shared documents through OneDrive, Microsoft Office 365, etc.
  • Think-Pair-Share
    • Students join up with a partner to discuss a problem, and then share out their ideas to the larger group


Almost all of the synchronous strategies may be used asynchronously through discussion boards, VoiceThread,  etc.

Note: When using discussion boards, it may be helpful to post at the beginning and end of the thread. Studies show that too little instructor presence diminishes students participation, whereas instructor posting is often taken by students to signal that the discussion has ended.

Synchronously and Asynchronously

  • Minute papers (more realistically ~5 minutes or less): Students respond to a prompt. This activity may be used to check understanding, to prompt questioning or to encourage reflection.
  • Muddiest point: Students note the area that gives them greatest concern. After, the instructor collates the information and discusses themes with students.