Engaging Learners

Definition of Active Learning

Definitions of active learning abound, but critically, it is defined as "anything that involves students in doing things and thinking about the things they are doing" (Bonwell & Eison, 1991, p. 2) or "anything course-related that all students in a class session are called upon to do other than simply watching, listening and taking notes" (Felder & Brent, 2009, p. 2). 

In other words, during a class session, a learner:

Examples for Active Learning Activities

Online lectures (like their brick-and-mortar counterparts) benefit greatly by having  students actively involved, engaged, and contributing to the learning space.  Students are more connected with the material in an active learning space, and as such, more accountable for the information. 


The following are some examples of active learning activities that can be incorporated into the online lecture:

Incorporating Active Learning into Multimedia

The activity you use during your online lecture should match with your teaching style, topic, instruction-level, and students. You should also have a purpose in mind with the activity you choose:​

When incorporating any multimedia in an online space, you should provide clear, precise instructions, so that students understand your expectations for the materials and their learning.  You can keep the instructions simple such as how and where to complete the activities embedded in the lecture.  You can also remind students that this information will likely be revisited in another lesson or in another assignment.  If you want students to submit these activities for a grade, you should provide the point value, uploading instructions, and rubrics.  Again, the instructions will largely depend on your intended purpose for giving these activities.

Once you have determined your activity and presented your instructions, it's time to determine where, when, and how to present your prompt.  

  • If you are doing guiding or framework questions, these will go at the beginning of the lecture, so you can refer to them as you go through the materials.  

  • If you are doing a reflection or knowledge check, you might want to save these until you have completed the lesson.  

  • For other activities, you will want to place them strategically throughout the lecture after especially difficult or important topics.  These will help students to retain the information while emphasizing its importance.  

Once you have completed an activity during an online lecture, you will want to resume the lecture and discuss it.  If you have given a one-minute paper, for instance, and asked students to pause the video to write it,  you will then want to resume the video and briefly discuss the prompt.  You may say that during your own reflection on the topic, you remembered an interesting example you want to share.  If you have done a knowledge check, on the other hand, you should provide the answers and discuss them.  Whatever your activity, you should discuss it with the students to further underscore its meaning and importance.  

After you've finished the activity, you should follow-up with your students about their experience.  You can follow-up informally with a short, anonymous poll or discussion board where you ask students if they found the activity helpful, why (or why not), and how.  This feedback will reinforce the importance of their participation and their learning.  You can also follow-up formally by having students submit the activity for a grade or ask them to incorporate it into a journal, essay, or exam.  By following-up, you also have an opportunity to intervene in the learning process and reinforce your own active role in the online classroom. 


Bonwell, C. C., & Eison, J. A. (1991). Active learning: Creating excitement in the classroom (ASHE–ERIC Higher Education Rep. No. 1). Washington, DC: The George Washington University,

Felder, R.M. & Brent, R. (1996). Navigating the bumpy road to student centered instruction. Ret. Jun. 3, 2017 from http://www4.ncsu.edu/unity/lockers/users/f/felder/public/Papers/Resist.html