Active Learning Activities Toolbox

Consider tailoring these active learning activities to help your online learners achieve your course’s learning objectives.

Case Studies: Students are presented a challenging case that requires them to analyze the associated issues, concepts, and problems. The best cases have the complexity of real life situations and are purposefully matched to learning outcomes for the subject.

Co-authoring: Learners collaborate to collect research and generate and edit content. Products could include a group research paper, PowerPoint presentation, website, etc.

Debates: Debates can be held in Forums. By participating in pairs or teams, students engage in research, planning, critical thinking, and communication. Students can post their analyses of all arguments based on a class rubric.  

Digital Demonstrations: Online demonstrations can introduce a concept or facilitate learners’ understanding of occurrences that cannot actually be physically seen. Students can create a video presentation or create a presentation using images and voice-over in presentation software like PowerPoint or Loom. Require students to submit an outline for approval ahead of time. This forces them to plan. 

e-Portfolios: These collections of student work (files, graphics, photos, multimedia, etc.) give students a place to record, reflect and present evidence that they have achieved Student Learning Outcomes. As students share and comment on their e-Portfolios, they learn from each other and develop a sense of accomplishment.  

Forums (Full Class): To build and maintain a sense of community and energize the class dynamic, it is important to have forums that include the entire class at one time. Small group discussions have their place, but students also need the chance to interact with all students on the roster. 

Forums (Small Group): For specific assignments, the class roster can be divided into two or more smaller groups. A Forum can serve as the private discussion area where students brainstorm, plan, and post the work for their group. An effective group work assignment requires students to analyze, research, and develop a solution to a problem. Limiting the number of students in a group helps ensure that all group members will participate. 

Games: Educational games take traditional content review principles and package them in an interactive and entertaining format.  

Glossaries and Dictionaries: Specialized dictionaries may be created by students individually or collaboratively in a wiki or website. Instructors may post an online dictionary of relevant specialized terms, as well. You can have students create categories for organizing the terms. Dictionaries can include graphics and pronunciation links. 

Interactive Decision Trees: Interactive Decision Trees can be used to create scenarios that challenge students to progress through a series of decision points. Students investigate and assess the risks, and then see the outcomes of possible course of actions. 

Interactive Timelines: The Internet has free online timelines that allow students to map events with text, images, and multimedia. 

Interactive Study Guides: Add an interactive element to your study guides by including questions that require students to express their understanding of the concepts and principles presented. You may provide an answer key in the document or use the questions to frame the interaction during synchronous video sessions. 

Journaling: By keeping a diary of their learning, students chronicle their individual journeys toward achieving Student Learning Outcomes. They discuss what worked, what didn’t, what they would do differently, and what results they obtained.  

Learner Self-Assessment: Self-Assessment tools can help students generate their own formative feedback. Self-assessment tools include self-authored progress reports, crossword puzzles, journals, web-based flashcards, interactive decision trees, podcast progress reports, and interactive games. 

Learning by Designing: Students are given a goal and required to conceptualize and build something to achieve that goal. How students choose to reach the goal is left to their imagination and creativity. 

Multimedia: Multimedia presentations feature audio, graphics, text, and animation. This includes, but is not limited to PowerPoint. To be effective, multimedia should follow established design principles and content should be broken up into manageable segments. For students, PowerPoint or other multimedia presentations provide a creative and effective way to present their information to the class. For a humorous look at what not to do when creating your slides, view Death by PowerPoint on  

Online Flashcards: With a click of the mouse students can review key concepts that they need to know. Online flashcards can feature hints.  

Peer Analysis: Have students evaluate each other’s work and provide feedback. Provide a rubric, and require reviewers to justify their evaluations. This works well with teams who must determine whether or not all of the group’s work meets the provided standards. 

Podcasts: Free, web based podcasting sites allow students can create podcasts as projects or self-assessments and share them in class. The sites allow you to create your own podcasts that enable learners to engage with content while driving, exercising, etc. 

Problem-based Learning: Present  a complex, real-world problem that students must analyze the problem and recommend a course of action. Unlike scenario-based learning and goal-based learning, problem-based learning does not assign roles or instruct students what actions to take as they seek to solve the problem. Problem-based learning is ideal for small groups. 

Project-based Learning: Individual students or groups integrate a range of skills and knowledge to produce an end product that supports a learning outcome. Projects may vary widely in scope and time frame, and end products vary widely in the level of technology and sophistication. May include “jigsaw” learning where different groups work on different issues surrounding a problem or process. Finally, groups put their separate pieces together and collaborate to form a “big picture” and develop a solution.      

Research Projects: Research projects often begin with a central question and require learners to question, gather, sort, sift, synthesize, evaluate and report using a variety of reliable sources that include digital, human, and print. Options beyond a research paper or report include student-produced multimedia and web-based presentations. 

Role-play-based Learning: Learners play out specified roles and follow with reflection upon the activity and its analysis in order to focus attention on the expected learning outcomes of the study. For online learning, role-play could happen in a designated forum where the entire class could view the interaction and comment. 

Scenario-based Learning: Scenario-based learning presents students with a storyline that poses a realistic problem that needs to be solved. Students usually are required to take on roles, research, and analyze. Scenarios may be transformed into interactive, web-based experiences. 

Simulations: Simulated models allow learners to experience and control complex concepts with a range of variables. These virtual situations require learners to utilize a range of skills and knowledge in problem solving.                                                                                                                                                                                   

Students as Teachers: The old axiom is true: “One of the best ways to learn something is to teach it.” Let groups choose an upcoming concept to teach the class as a supplement to the standard curriculum. Allow them to choose from a selection of appropriate learning activities from this Toolbox. 

Webliography: Give your students a list of valuable websites by posting a Webliography in your course. Better yet, post a blank Webliography on the class Wiki and invite (or require) students to add their relevant links throughout the term. 

WebQuests: WebQuests make effective use of learner’s time by focusing on using information rather than looking for it. Provide students a list of vetted websites that focus on the specific information that students need to support an assignment’s learning objectives. 

Wiki: A Wiki is a collaborative online space where people gather to build content together. The wiki is viewed by all and can be used to disseminate information, exchange ideas, and facilitate group interaction.  The wiki forms a record of the group’s thinking on a subject. Google Docs works well for online collaboration.

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