Active Learning

In any classroom, students need to be active rather than passive learners; it is especially important to engage the learner in the online environment. Getting motivated, energized, engaged, enthusiastic, and focused makes a fundamental difference in a student’s ability to learn and achieve results (Neville, Murphy, & Connolly, 2010). Successful learning experiences connect with learners; empower them to explore, experiment, and react in a learning environment that provides feedback, help, and guidance (Allen, 2011).

It has often been said that students retain more by doing rather than just listening; therefore, it stands to reason that active participation offers more opportunity for an engaging, effective, and efficient learning experience than would be possible by just listening to a conventional lecture.  Material that is learned passively is typically not well retained and is commonly not effectively applied; active learning is a process where the learner takes a dynamic and energetic role in the educational process, which adds to the retentive qualities of what is learned (Petress, 2008).  The focus should be on creating an atmosphere that encourages a deeper level of communication between students (Conrad & Donaldson, 2012). The problem then becomes how to motivate the student to want to be active.  When students believe that they have control over some aspects of their learning, they are more likely to be motivated (Jones, 2009).  Students do not always fully grasp the big picture and cannot relate activity to retention.  One thing they may recognize is that when they are more engaged they are more attentive, which empowers them to question and consider topics, ultimately resulting in comprehension of more of the lesson.  A student who is engaged in the class must use more problem solving and critical thinking skills offering another layer to the benefits of interactivity.  Getting students involved in their learning encourages them to take ownership of their education.

An effective engaging classroom requires a more student-centered approach, giving the student more responsibility for his or her own learning.  Active learning provides the student an opportunity to engage in a higher-order of thinking, such as analysis, synthesis, and evaluation (Michael, Carter, & Varela, 2009).  The instructor takes on a new role of helping the student to turn information into awareness; encouraging the student to use the information; guiding him or her through mistakes, and offering feedback through each attempt.

Heritage University participated in a project that featured problem-centered learning and transparent assignment design with 1,172 graduate and undergraduate students – Transforming GE Courses from Predictive Contexts to Engage Unstructured Twenty-First-Century Problems



Allen, M., (2011). Successful e-learning interface; making learning technology polite, effective, and fun. San Francisco, California: Pfeiffer.

Conrad, R. M., & Donaldson, J. A. (2012). Continuing to engage the online learner: more activities and resources for creative instruction. San Francisco, California: Jossey-Bass.

Jones, B. D. (2009). Motivating students to engage in learning: the music model of academic motivation. International Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education. 21(2), 272-285.

Michel, N., Carter, J. J., & Varela, O. (2009). Active versus passive teaching styles: an empirical study of student learning outcomes. Human Resource Development Quarterly. 20(4), 397-418.

Neville, C., Murphy, M., & Connolly, C. (2010). The ultimate study skills handbook. McGraw-Hill International.

Petress, K. (2008). What Is Meant by” Active Learning?”. Education128(4), 566-569.

Can I offer a tip or two?

Tip: It may be helpful to encourage your students to get digitally organized.  Google drive is a great way to store documents and notes but it is important to ensure that course documents, assignments and notes are quick and easy to find. Modeling digital organization through how you create your modules or units in Blackboard provides students with a structure for how they can organize their materials.

By providing students with examples of what good organization looks like you give them the foundation that they need to develop a system that works well for them.


Tip: Another great tip, is to encourage students to use tagging for better recall of content.  I bet they are familiar with the technique of tagging because they use it with their social media but I wonder if they realize how useful it can be for school?  Tagging helps to connect related materials for easier searches.  It is great to get into the habit of tagging all documents as they are created, before saving a document add the tags that relate to the content so that days, weeks or even years later you can easily find what you are looking for.


Tip: Encourage students to create a Portfolio to collect the artifacts that make up their educational journey at VCU.  Students can share their portfolio with prospective employers, or as part of a graduate school application as evidence of the skills they have learned and their future potential.  Portfolios can be created in Blackboard outside of a specific course by accessing Tools in the menu in the top right-hand corner under you name.

Helping your students to get better organized will not only help them in your class but it will set them up to be more successful when they move beyond the University.

For more great tips or support adding technology to your classes contact us at