Posted by & filed under Online Teaching Resources.

jeswin-thomas-dfRrpfYD8Iw-unsplashExperience and research have shown us time and time again that the critical component of any successful online course is student engagement. The more students are actively involved in their online course work, the better they perform, the more enjoyable they find the course, and the more likely they are to continue on to graduation. As online teachers, we are not only “disseminators of knowledge,” but we must also inspire curiosity, critical thinking, and creativity in our learners. As Bloom’s famous taxonomy would put it, “We don’t just stop at the base of our pyramid – we reach all the way to the top. Students must know and comprehend, for sure, but true learning doesn’t happen unless we apply, synthesize, evaluate, and create.”

One of the best ways to engage students is to create an active learning environment for them; a fun, collaborative, exciting online class experience that lights up all the lobes of the brain. This environment is neurologically rich and diverse, facilitating deeper learning. The purpose of this article is to highlight how to leverage active learning strategies in the online classroom – and how these strategies empower our students, propelling them even further in their academic and career goals.

What is Active Learning?

Active learning requires students to step out of the traditional “passive learner” role and into being active participants in their own learning process. Rather than (or in addition to) receiving information passively via lecture or textbook, students who are actively learning engage in mindfully crafted activities that exercise their critical thinking ability, require dynamic collaboration, and provide “real world” application of what they are learning. This approach enhances retention, understanding, and overall student satisfaction.

Leveraging Interactivity

compare-fibre-fRGoTJFQAHM-unsplashIn the distance learning environment, one of the most effective ways of activating our students is to provide plenty of opportunities for interactivity – between the students themselves, between the students and the instructor, and between the students and the material. Some examples include:

  • Asynchronous Discussion Forums: Create online discussion areas where students can express their thoughts, ask questions, and debate topics related to the course material. Encourage active participation by assigning roles or facilitating the conversation. Remember that discussion forums are not places where students “show they know something.” While they may be graded, they are not assignments, really. They are opportunities for learning. A place where mistakes are okay.
  • Polls and Surveys: Use real-time polls and surveys during synchronous lectures or asynchronous communications (announcements, emails, discussion posts) to gauge students’ understanding, gather opinions, and encourage reflection.
  • Group Projects: Assign collaborative projects where students work together, share ideas, pool their experience and individual resources, and solve problems together. Group work builds teamwork skills and fosters camaraderie that inspires students to log in more than they may otherwise.
  • Interactive Quizzes: Create engaging quizzes that challenge students to apply their knowledge and receive immediate feedback, reinforcing their understanding.

Implementing Multimedia Resources

Neurons that fire together, wire together. We learn best when our visual, auditory, language, and memories centers are all firing in unison, which suggests that we need to provide our students with enriching multimedia learning resources. These include:

  • Video Lectures: Record concise and engaging video “micro” lectures that cover complex topics, breaking them down into manageable segments – 10 minutes or less! Visual aids, animations, and demonstrations can enhance comprehension.
  • Virtual Field Trips: Take students on virtual field trips, exploring relevant sites or conducting lab simulations, offering an immersive experience that supplements theoretical learning.
  • Guest Speakers and Webinars: Organize webinars or invite engaging guest speakers to share real-world insights and experiences, inspiring students to apply their knowledge to practical scenarios.

Encouraging Self-Assessment and Reflection

caroline-veronez-bbjmFMdWYfw-unsplashIncorporate self-assessment and reflection activities into your online courses. Encourage students to review their progress regularly, set personal learning goals, and reflect on their strengths and areas for improvement. This self-awareness empowers students to take ownership of their learning journey. You can give assignments that are specifically self-reflective in nature (i.e., a weekly journal or a beginning and/or end-of-course reflection) and you can also embed self-reflection into other assignments, like within your weekly discussion forum prompts (i.e., “Identify something you found particularly interesting in this week’s reading and explain why it resonated with you.” Or “What questions were you left with after watching the TED talk assigned this week?” or “This week you learned about X, Y, or Z theory – how did it strike you? What was your reaction to it?”).

Providing Timely, Supportive Feedback

Prompt and constructive feedback is essential to reinforce active learning efforts. Offer personalized feedback on assignments, discussions, and assessments, acknowledging students’ strengths and providing supportive guidance for growth. Do not think of yourself as a “grader” – think of feedback as a conversation and an important learning moment for each individual learner. Additionally, be available for one-on-one virtual consultations to address questions or concerns.


In the digital age, active learning has proven to be a powerful online teaching best practice. By incorporating interactive elements, multimedia resources, and fostering a supportive learning environment, educators inspire students to become active participants in their education. Embracing active learning not only enhances student engagement and retention but also cultivates critical thinking and problem-solving skills that are invaluable for their academic and professional journey. Indeed, information, knowledge, and simple “book learning” is way too easy to come by in a world where the answers are at our fingertips. The most successful among us will be those who can take that information and use it creatively and with ingenuity, purpose, wisdom, and confidence. These are the types of people online instructors are tasked with molding, and one of the best ways to do that is by harnessing the power of active learning.

To Learn More…

At AdjunctWorld we offer two certificate courses intended to help you increase your understanding of online teaching best practices (OT101: Fundamentals of Online Teaching) and best practices in online course creation and design (CD501: Foundations of Online Course Development). Click the links to learn more and to see when our next cohorts launch. We’d love to have you! Join the over 500 members of our community who’ve improved their online teaching skills (and shored up their online teaching job resume!) with our professional development courses.

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