#WYInnovations2017 Presentation: Active Learning Strategies for Online Courses

#WYInnovations2017 Presentation: Active Learning Strategies for Online Courses

While attending the Wyoming Innovations in Learning conference, I sat in on a presentation focusing on active learning strategies for online courses given by Tim Kochery, a Senior Instructional Designer at Laramie County Community College. He began his presentation by defining active learning.

Active Learning Strategies

“One must learn by doing the thing; for though you think you know it, you have no certainty, until you try.” ~ Sophocles

Students need to explore for meaning and not simply have information handed to them. They need to wrestle with the content in order to find meaning.

Active Learning Frameworks

Kochery discussed a number of theories and frameworks to assist with active learning.

Kolb’s 4 Stages of Experiential Learning

Kolb’s theory is represented by four stages:

  • Concrete Experience
  • Reflective Observation
  • Abstract Conceptualization
  • Active Experimentation

The theory begins with an activity or experience that the participant then reflects upon. This then leads to new ideas that are experimented with. While all four stages are essential, I believe the key stages in terms of this presentation are the concrete experience and reflective observation stages.

Merrill’s First Principles of Instruction

Kochery next spoke about Merrill’s First Principles of Instruction. This is a task-centered learning model.  According to Merrill (2002), “These five first principles stated in their most concise form are as follows:

  1. Learning is promoted when learners are engaged in solving real-world problems.
  2. Learning is promoted when existing knowledge is activated as a foundation for new knowledge.
  3. Learning is promoted when new knowledge is demonstrated to the learner.
  4. Learning is promoted when new knowledge is applied by the learner.
  5. Learning is promoted when new knowledge is integrated into the learner’s world.” (pp. 44-45)

There are five elements to this model:

  • Problem
  • Activation Phase
  • Demonstration Phase
  • Application Phase
  • Integration Phase

The key to me was that students need to be working on real-world problems. Students will acquire new knowledge as they work to solve the problem. It should be through their exploration. This learning process can be hard and messy compared to simply providing learners with content.

Additional reading

Increasing Student Engagement

Kochery shared a number of strategies for increasing student engagement. I have added links to resources for further discovery.

Reflection Papers and Journals

Muddiest Point

KWL Chart

The KWL Chart is a reflection activity. It focuses on three elements:

  • What a student already knows
  • What a student wants to know
  • What the student has learned


Concept Maps and Venn Diagrams

Peer Reviews

Role Playing and Case Studies


Videos are a great place to start engagement. You are recommended to find or create videos that are 2-10 minutes long. To increase engagement, use guided questions and follow up questions.

Videos can be used as part of quizzes, polls, and problem sets. They can be used as part of reflection exercises or discussions.  Assign 2-3 videos and have students compare and contrast. Students can also be tasked to find a video that is reflective of the content being discussed.


Discussions are a very powerful way to increase online classroom engagement. Here are some strategies that were recommended:

  • Introduce netiquette early in the course.
  • Have students write original posts to the question before viewing other student comments.
  • Use open-ended questions.
  • Encourage personal anecdotes.
  • Have students solve problems.
  • Encourage the sharing of resources.

Here is some advice for instructors:

  • Use the Socratic method as a means to draw out the discussion.
  • Instructors can be discussion killers if they provide definitive answers.
  • Treat a discussion like an interview as you engage students.
  • Studies show that students want instructors to be more involved in the discussion.
  • At the end of the discussion, do a summary.

Other Active Learning Strategies

Center for Teaching & Learning: Active Learning Strategies for the Classroom

This was an informative presentation on different strategies to use in an online class. If you would like to explore these or other strategies, stop by the TEI Synergy Center.


Stan Skrabut, Ed.D.

Stan is Director of Technology-Enhanced Instruction. He has over 20 years experience working as an instructional technologist and trainer. He has a master’s degree in computing technology in education and a doctorate in education specializing in instructional technology.

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