Taking An Active Learning Activity To A Learning Strategy


Jeff’s Note: I met Romy Hughes around 2004 during a visit to Texas Christian University (TCU).  Immediately we noted synergies in design philosophy, teaching practices, and eLearning strategy.  Since then, we’ve performed workshops, sat on product strategy boards, and consulted together on various occasions.  I hope you enjoy this guest blog as it aligns so perfectly with Learning Innovation!  Thanks Romy!

Moving from the teaching paradigm to the learning paradigm can be challenging. John Tagg and Robert Barr wrote an article in 1995 From teaching to learning-A new paradigm for undergraduate. This article is a good introduction to understanding the need for a paradigm change.  Implementing learning strategies in the classroom leads to the learning paradigm. A successful implementation of a learning strategy includes incorporating your course student learning outcomes with active learning activities. This marriage of active learning and the student learning outcomes becomes a learning strategy. Mapping both active learning activities, and the student learning outcome provides greater explanation and understanding of the course topics for the students.

Students need to visualize and understand why they are completing the active learning activity in the class. Active learning activities should be clear how they relate to course topics, assignments, and learning outcomes. If it is not clear to the students, students will feel the active learning activities are busy work.

The strategy should be introduced showing the student learning outcome, course content topic, assignments, and class active learning activities. Faculty should take the time to discuss the learning strategy introduction.


The image above shows an example of how one can introduce a learning strategy.  Faculty can use any medium to display the strategy, in this example PowerPoint was the tool selected.

When introducing the active learning activity in class, faculty need to create a solution that provides clear instructions and a timeline for each active learning task. The student learning outcome listed at the top of the instructions enforce the connection between the activity and learning.


Keeping the instructions up during the active learning activity in class helps students keep focused and allows for the faculty member to facilitate within the groups and to move around the room. Faculty should have a timer in class to keep time on task. Make sure the timer is loud enough that the entire class can hear when it is time to move to the next task. Always review the introduction with the students before you begin and ask “what are your questions” before you start the timer for the activity.

The last important component of a learning strategy is debriefing the topic with the students. Debriefing at the end of a topic enforces the connection to the topic content, assignments and class activities completed, and how it relates to the student learning outcome. The goal when debriefing is to close the loop on the topic and ensure students can relate the topic and activities to the student learning outcome. The image below is an example of debriefing a topic.


Faculty should consider creating questions that students answer during debriefing.  These questions should inspire students to reflection and discussion. Depending on the responses from the students, faculty can choose to conduct a mini-lecture to hit areas from the topic to restate or to move to the next course topic.

Developing course learning strategies takes practice and time. I found several resources and training that helped me design my learning strategies and faculty development workshops.

  • On Course Workshops
  • Teaching Naked: How Moving Technology Out of Your College Classroom Will Improve Student Learning by Jose Bowen
  • The Understanding by Design Guide to Creating High-Quality Units (Professional Development) by Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe
  • Student Engagement Techniques: A Handbook for College Faculty by Elizabeth F. Barkley
  • 101 Activities for Teaching Creativity and Problem Solving by Arthur B. VanGundy
  • Active Learning: 101 Strategies to Teach Any Subject by Mel Silberman

Implementing a learning strategy should be done using baby steps. Start off small by implementing one learning strategy; assess the process and collect student feedback. Moving away from the Sage on the Stage to the Facilitator on the Side takes courage, training, and time.  Associating the student learning outcomes to class activities emphasizes  student learning and also provides a relationship and reason as to why the class structured using the learning strategies.  It also maneuvers the shift from the student focus on grades to the focus on learning.

Romana J. Hughes

About Jeff Borden

My title at work is ‘Chief Innovation Officer.’ So I'm trying to transform teaching and learning at scale. How do I do that? Through my "life" jobs. Primarily, I'm a dad and husband. But I'm also a professor, writer, professional speaker, comedian, researcher, lifelong learner, musician, dog-owner, and even a ranked disc golfer... I've spoken to, trained, or consulted with hundreds of thousands of educators at all levels, in numerous countries, K-20, about how to teach and learn effectively in the 21st Century.

Recommended for you