Active learning is a key prerequisite to effective learning. Students learn actively when they are equal participants in the learning process alongside the teacher, as opposed to being passive recipients.
It’s essential to promote active learning in the virtual classroom. When students are active learners their engagement and retention levels spike. An added benefit of active learning is that for the teacher it’s easier to stay on track with the pulse of the classroom.
A teacher can encourage active learning in an online setting by implementing some popular techniques from the traditional classroom. Of course, certain modifications might be necessary for these to work as effectively in a digital environment.
Ask open-ended questions
It’s important to regularly assess students’ understanding. Ideally, you should do this right after you’ve introduced a new topic or concept. A common mistake teachers make is to ask students if they have questions. Students would almost always reply that they don’t, even if they do. That’s because the information is too new for them, and they can’t formulate a question independently. It’s the teacher’s task in this situation to help students organize their new knowledge. The solution is to only ask open-ended questions or follow-up with such questions after the closed one. This approach helps teachers gather valuable information about the students’ level of understanding. It also stimulates students to think more actively on the topics they’ve just been taught.
Encourage students to share previous knowledge and experience
Showing interest in your students and acknowledging their prior experience will make them feel valued and competent. Before you introduce a new topic, ask students if they know something about it. This way you activate their existing knowledge and enhance the retention of new information. If the topic is entirely new to everyone in your class, ask them what they think it might be about. With this technique you draw students’ attention, especially if their guesses were very different from the essence of the topic. Use the opportunity to assess their expectations as well as to smoothly transition into the topic itself.
Include exercises with immediate feedback
Questions alone are not enough to promote active learning when you teach online. You also need to provide students with opportunities to learn through experience. The most effective way to do this is to have them apply what they’ve learned into practice. This can happen either in groups or individually. Ideally, you would first explain to the students how a certain activity is performed, then demonstrate it step by step. A great tool to help you facilitate this process is the online whiteboard.
The next step is to ask students to do the same on their own. Once they’re done with the task, encourage them to share their work with the class. While they’re presenting, provide immediate help and feedback. If students are stuck or too shy to show their finished products, suggest working on the task together. Ask a student to share their screen and guide them through the process one step at a time.
Organize peer feedback sessions
If time and group size allow, you can build on the previous activity by incorporating a peer feedback round. Ask students to share what they liked about their peer’s work and what they would do differently. The purpose of this exercise is to stimulate students to be critical and reflective of their and their peers’ work. A crucial step during peer feedback sessions is to first teach students the rules of giving feedback. It’s a good idea to have students share their opinions before you share yours, so they’re not biased. Peer feedback rounds are also a great opportunity to talk about the importance and the specifics of giving and receiving feedback. Active learning is about partnership between students and teachers. This approach lets you step away from the position of authority and show students that their opinion is as valid as yours.
Ask students for their opinion
An online course is an experience you create for your learners, so it makes sense to include them in the creation process. Make sure to regularly ask students for their feedback on the various aspects of the training. Topics to touch on include the content’s relevance to their goals and needs, its level of complexity, pace and means of delivery.
This works especially well with older students and adults. Asking for students’ opinion boosts motivation and engagement and provides you with valuable insights and ideas for improvement. You can perform these check-ins at the end of every session, so you know what to change in the next one. With smaller groups, this can simply be a free-flowing discussion, where you ask a few guiding questions. If your group consists of ten or more students, make it more structured to ensure that you capture every opinion. In this case, polling tools such as Mentimeter, Slido or VEDAMO’s own polls feature can come in handy.