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Academic Outreach

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Active Learning Strategies in an Online Environment – Part Two

Posted on: October 27th, 2014 by Wan Latartara

Part Two in a two-part series on Active Learning Strategies. Read Part One here.

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

Interactive Lectures

Interactive Lectures are basically presentations with added activities to engage students and promote learning. Selecting activities before, during, and/or after your online lectures depends on the learning outcomes or objectives of the lecture. So, ask yourself: what do I want students to be able to do, know, and think/feel, after they watch this lecture.

How May you use Interactive Lectures?

I discussed why you should incorporate active learning activities in part one of this series.  Moving forward we will look at how you may use these strategies in your online course.

1. Make sure the video lectures are 15 minutes max. Keep them under 10 minutes if you can.

While an online classroom does not have a time limit, people’s attention span does. It is time to break out of the usual 50-minute lecture mindset. There is no time slot to fill in an online class. Instead of planning your lectures based on length, try dividing them into topics and sub-topics. Be precise and stick to the point during the recording. If it takes more than 15 minutes to explain a concept, break it into parts or mini-lectures.

2. Prepare students for the lecture.

Before the lecture, pose a question leading to the lecture to give students an idea of what to expect and what might be worth thinking about. Let them know there are activities waiting for them to participate.

If you are showing more than one video lecture, present them in a nested or indented outline to display the content structure. (Moore, 2013). Adding the runtime of each lecture can help students with time management.

Activities Ideas
Individual activities using a poll or a drop box:

  • Have students guess what the content of the lecture might be by selecting an answer.
  • Have students select what they expect to get from the lecture.
  • Have students select situations, events, or actions that might be related to the lecture topic.
  • Have students complete a work sheet and submit to a drop box.

Activities on a discussion board or social media:

  • Have students post a question or speculate about the upcoming lecture.
  • Have students post what they expect to get from the lecture.
  • Have students post about a situation, an event, or anything in their life that might be related to the lecture topic.

3. Check for student learning during and after each lecture or mini-lecture.

For lectures to be interactive you will need learning activities that involve students doing something with the new information they have just received. By limiting the lectures to 10-15 minutes as attention fades, you are creating a break that gives them time to process the information. This, therefore, is a perfect timing for a learning activity. Depending on your learning outcomes and the level of skills and thinking you expect of students, learning activities can be as quick and easy as responding to a poll to rich discussion and involved group work.

Activities Ideas
Individual activities:

  • Insert an online poll asking students to respond to a question during a lecture. (You will need to include a URL or link to the poll in the lecture.) Online services like or make it easy to set up polls and collect responses from students. This is similar to Clickers in a classroom.
  • Add a short quiz with no more than 4 questions to quickly measure student learning. Effective quiz questions should focus on the most important skills, knowledge, and feelings or attitudes presented in the lecture. Video lessons made with EDpuzzle or TED-Ed can help add interactivity and keep students engaged.
  • Have students keep a journal of their thoughts and feelings after each lecture. Limit the time for writing each entry to no more than 5 minutes.
  • Practice makes Perfect – Provide self-assessments or practice exercises for more concrete skills.

Activities on a discussion board or social media:

  • During a lecture, have students post their thoughts and notes on a microblogging site like Twitter or Edmodo as they watch the lecture.
  • Have students write down keywords or create word clouds of the lecture using tools like or
  • Create discussion prompts that require students to think creatively and critically about the lecture content and help them make connections between the new information and what they already know.
  • Have students post a question about the lecture, what they find confusing, and what important questions remain unanswered.
  • Have students post about important concepts they learn and elements they find interesting from the lecture.
  • Have students summarize the lecture in 2-3 sentences. Selected or all submissions may be shared with class. This may be done in a quiz or a survey, or on a post-first discussion board.

Small group activities:

  • Think-Pair-Share – Pose a question after the lecture and have students make notes of their response, then share it with a partner via email, social media, or group discussion board. The pair discusses their responses and posts their conclusion to class discussion board.
  • Problem Solving – Introduce a problem related to the lecture to each group of students and ask them to come up with a strategy to solve it. The representative of the group will share their strategy with the class.
  • Test Question – Have each group of students create a good multiple choice question based on the lecture. Each group then posts their question to class discussion board and discuss the questions. The questions may be used in a self-assessment or included in a future test.

A few Things to Keep in Mind

  • Keep it simple.
  • Think about how you will introduce the activity and provide instructions as needed.
  • Don’t forget about providing feedback.

As an instructor, not only do you transmit the information but also help students synthesize it and make it relevant in their lives. It is until then that learning occurs. How much and how well students learn new concepts depends on your involvement in instruction and their learning process. Make it active!

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