skip to main content

Academic Outreach

Faculty Focused

Active Learning Strategies in an Online Environment – Part One

Posted on: October 13th, 2014 by Wan Latartara

An instructor in a traditional, face-to-face classroom delivers hundreds of lectures a year. While a well-crafted lecture presentation seems to be an efficient way for an instructor to transmit the information, many different sources indicate otherwise. Research suggests that audience attention in lectures starts to wane every 10-20 minutes. In an online class, without getting any clues from their body language or seeing that empty glare into space, what can you do?

You have probably heard of the term active learning. Bonwell & Eison (1991) defined active learning as “anything that involves students in doing things and thinking about the things they are doing.” The idea has been around for quite a while and research shows that active learning activities will encourage student engagement.

"Learning is not a spectator sport." -Chickering & Gamson

Many resources on the web suggest that students are more successful when the learning process is active rather than passive. A new study published in May 2014 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) students in a traditional lecture course are 1.5 times more likely to fail compared to students in courses with active learning. They were also outperformed by students in active learning courses on identical exams.

As Chickering & Gamson (1987) put it:

Learning is not a spectator sport. Students do not learn much just by sitting in classes listening to teachers, memorizing pre-packaged assignments, and spitting out answers. They must talk about what they are learning, write about it, relate it to past experiences and apply it to their daily lives. They must make what they learn part of themselves.

Why should you use Active Learning Activities?

Because active learning activities can
1) draw wandering minds back to the current moment and keep them focused on the content,
2) help students develop their creative and critical thinking skills,
3) assess how well students are grasping the new concepts,
4) help students retain new information, and
5) help build online community.

Several activities used in a face-to-face classroom can be adapted for the online classroom. In this blog post series, I will discuss a few active learning strategies and ways to use them in your online course. Stay tuned for my next post: Interactive Lectures.

Continue to Part Two.

Photo Credit: Image adapted from Men’s Track – Usain Bolt by Tom Thai | CC BY 2.0