10.13 Using Active Learning Strategies in Online Courses

Thirsty for a Strong Instructional Practice?

Adult student works on laptop, outside, during a workbreak; dressed professionally

The trifecta of effective online instruction comprises social presence (see SIP 10.10), instructor/teaching presence (see SIP 10.2)  and cognitive presence. Cognitive presence is a combination of active learning, critical thinking and reflection. Most people learn best by actively working with new concepts and ideas, rather than passively reading about them or watching a video. Critical-thinking skills help learners think through concepts to construct knowledge and make decisions. Reflection helps students absorb and assimilate information and relate what they are learning to real-world situations (Stavredes, 2011). Active learning is foundational to student success in the classroom, but most faculty (and students) don’t associate active learning with what happens in the online environment.

Take a SIP of this: using active learning strategies in online courses

Active learning enables learners to make choices and reflect on their learning individually and through interaction with their peers and instructor. It is easy in an online environment to create modules with a list of reading material, videos and websites for students to review. But you need to ask yourself how you know whether students are really engaged in the material or, better yet, assimilating the information and relating it to the real world?

Suggestions for increasing cognitive presence in an online course:

  • Active vs. passive learning in online classes. Are students required to just read through PowerPoints or watch videos or are they required to actively engage in the content? Active engagement can be online discussions/debates, group projects, synchronous online meetings, assignments that encourage problem-solving (such as case studies) and content-related games. With a little imagination and technical skills, games mentioned in SIP 5.7 could be incorporated into an online course; also see SIP 9.5.
  • Make it authentic. How does the content of your course apply to the real world? What kind of activities, interactions and/or tasks are your students required to do as a future professional in their field? Develop assignments and activities around real-world tasks such as problem-solving activities, role-playing (using video) and simulations.
  • Debates: Instead of your typical forum discussion where students discuss a particular topic by answering corresponding questions and perhaps replying to classmates’ responses, debates can increase student interactions, critical thinking and reflection.
  • Reflection: Learners need the opportunity to reflect on their learning individually and socially. Reflection activities can allow students to provide feedback to the instructor about the course as well as about their learning and interaction with the course content. Within Blackboard Learn, you can use blogs and journals to provide a variety of ways for students to reflect in your course.

Just as in a face-to-face class, you may directly ask students questions, assign group work/discussions and/or play games or engage in activities to encourage students to interact with course content in creative and innovative ways. Developing cognitive presence in an online course also requires creativity and innovation. Active student learning is a critical component of online courses.

Still thirsty? Take another SIP of this: using active learning strategies in online courses

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