Learning Activities

Learning activities are actions, practices, or behaviors that facilitate learning. The nature of the learning activity will affect how students master content and processes. For this reason, the activities must align with course learning objectives. Learning activities also lead to the creation of learning artifacts (concrete, documentable evidence), which allow learning to be assessed. Download the Pro-Tips to review strategies for designing learning activities.

Alignment is nonnegotiable

No matter how beloved or engaging a learning activity is, it must align with course objectives if it is to be included in a course. One conventional approach for course design is to introduce information through learning materials, give students opportunities to practice using the information through learning activities, and evaluate mastery through learning assessments. Sometimes learning activities serve as models—with formative feedback included—for summative assessments. Regardless, learning activities serve as the primary link between objectives and assessments, so the connections must be established.

Be explicit with purpose and expectations

Learning activities are more effective when students understand their purpose and expectations regarding performance and assessment. Introduce all activities by explaining their relevance. Model or provide examples of exemplary work products or behaviors. Finally, provide assessment rubrics, checklists, or other grading criteria in advance to help students understand what is expected of them.

Prioritize active learning activities

Active learning includes any activity that requires student to engage in the learning process. Such activities can range from annotated reading to class discussions and experiential learning. Research indicates that active learning strategies lead to higher levels of student engagement, deeper learning, and academic success.

Balance independent and group learning

How students engage with one another during an activity will affect the quality and depth of the learning activity. Consider the examples provided in the table, below.

Core Activity Individual Learning Small Group Learning Whole Group Learning
Read Read a document. Read a document and report on your reading to the rest of the group; alternatively, individuals take turns leading a “journal club.” Read and annotate the document as a whole group; alternatively, teams take turns leading a “journal club.”
Watch Watch a video recording of an expert panel and write a response paper. Watch a video recording of an expert panel and critique it together, asynchronously or synchronously. Engage with the expert panel in real time through moderated chat.
Research Research a topic and create an annotated bibliography. Research a topic and create an annotated bibliography as a group. Create a digital database of all found resources that can be filtered by tags or keywords.
Write Write a paper. Write a paper that undergoes peer review as part of a “writing group” experience. Create a wiki or website as a public resource using crowdsourced contributions.
Complete Complete a worksheet. Complete the worksheet as a team. Post answers to the worksheet in a digital space; the class votes the answers up or down to decide the best answers.

Integrate reflection

Experiential learning and active learning often require a reflective component to help students process and remember what they have learned. This can be as simple as holding a whole- group wrap-up session after small-group work or having students write a blog in which they reflect on various learning activities.

Additional resources


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