Variety is key

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Use the Pedagogical Patterns collector to browse learning designs created...

Foundations

Revised Bloom's Taxonomy: www.utar.edu.
my/fegt/file/Revised...

Getting stuck in a 'rut' when you're planning learning activities for your course can be frustrating – for both yourself and your students! However, there are simple processes you can work through to help the learning activities take shape.

We know that students need to be engaged if they are to have rewarding and successful learning experiences. They need a diversity of teaching strategies, which can then be used to incorporate a variety of learning activities (e.g. specific assignments), so that these activities don't become rote or focus too much on a single level of learning. Think of Bloom's Taxonomy; we don't want most activities to fall into any one category of learning: remembering, understanding, applying, analysing, evaluating, and creating. Yet, we don't want to use different learning activities for the sake of it either.

First, consider the learning objectives: what is it our learners need to demonstrate? Next, have resources on hand that will help you brainstorm potential types of learning activities for various categories. The activities below will help you develop these resources in ways that are more likely to keep your students engaged.

Although you have already considered a number of teaching strategies in this course, we will now explore more deeply the types of learning activities that can be incorporated into your own online course.

Finding inspiration

There are several online resources and a number of good books that will help you plan, design and develop learning activities for your online course. Bonk and Dennen (2007), for example, have created a useful chart that breaks activities into four categories:

  • Motivational/icebreakers
  • Critical thinking activities
  • Creative thinking activities
  • Collaborative learning activities.

Critical thinking

The process used to arrive at reasoned conclusions based on a reasoned process; using the conceptualisation, application, analysis, synthesis and evaluation of gathered information.

Source: Copyright © 2007 From 'Frameworks for design and instruction' by C. J. Bonk & V. P. Dennen, in Handbook of Distance Education by M. G. Moore (Ed.). Reproduced by permission of Taylor and Francis Group, LLC, a division of Informa plc.

In the following activity, click on the categories to see examples of the learning activities you could use in your online course. Click 'Home' to return to the 'menu' and select the next category.

You will now be presented with some examples of learning activities you could use in your online course, based on Bonk & Dennen's four categories.

Interactivity icon
Sample
learning activities based on Bonk & Dennen's four categories
Motivational/icebreaker activities (used to begin interaction and to try out the learning management system/virtual learning environment.)
  • Scavenger hunts: Teacher provides a list of 'items' for learners to search for and gather online or within the content of a course.
  • Two truths, one lie: Students list three things about themselves; two true, one false. Students then interact to search out the 'lies'.
  • Share-a-link or resource.
  • Class biography (text or video).
  • Miscomm-puter-unication: Teacher asks the class to share their most embarrassing mishap using a computer.
  • Memory lane: Students list three major world events from the year in which they were born.
  • Soundtrack of your life: Students state which two songs best describe their lives to date.
Critical thinking activities
  • Electronic voting and polling.
  • Delphi technique: A research process in which large groups of 'experts' work together to devise ways of tackling a complex problem.
  • Reading reactions.
  • Summary writing and minute papers.
  • Field reflections: Hands-on experiences for learners 'in the field'.
  • Online case analyses.
  • Evaluating web resources.
  • Teacher/student-generated virtual debates.
  • Concept mapping.
  • H-Chart of comparative organisers: Students have two topics to investigate and create an organiser similar to a Venn Diagram to compare, contrast and make conclusions about the topics.
  • Critical evaluation letter: A non-threatening letter-writing activity to an 'editor' about a published work, enabling students to use critical evaluation skills based on knowledge and experience.
Creative thinking activities
  • Brainstorming.
  • Role play.
  • Topical discussions.
  • Online explorations and readings.
  • Recursive tasks.
  • Journaling.
  • Digital storytelling.
Collaborative learning activities
  • Online discussions.
  • Structured controversy: Typically, learners are asked to construct an argument based on an issue(s) within the course.
  • Symposia or expert panels.
  • Electronic mentors and guests.
  • Round-robin activities.
  • Jigsaw and group problem solving.
  • Gallery tours, publishing student work.
  • Email pals and critical/constructive friends.
  • Fishbowl: A group of students present a topic and discussion, and a secondary discussion occurs concerning the outcomes and process of the first.
  • Peer editing and review.
  • Socratic dialogue: Ongoing dialogue that builds from one student to the next.

PROGRAMME | Teaching Online
COURSE | Designing and developing your online course
UNIT | 4 : Improving your online course designs
PAGE TITLE | Varying your teaching strategies and activities with a purpose

Motivational/icebreaker activities (used to begin interaction and to try out the learning management system/virtual learning environment.)

  • Scavenger hunts: Teacher provides a list of 'items' for learners to search for and gather online or within the content of a course.
  • Two truths, one lie: Students list three things about themselves; two true, one false. Students then interact to search out the 'lies'.
  • Share-a-link or resource.
  • Class biography (text or video).
  • Miscomm-puter-unication: Teacher asks the class to share their most embarrassing mishap using a computer.
  • Memory lane: Students list three major world events from the year in which they were born.
  • Soundtrack of your life: Students state which two songs best describe their lives to date.

Critical thinking activities

  • Electronic voting and polling.
  • Delphi technique: A research process in which large groups of 'experts' work together to devise ways of tackling a complex problem.
  • Reading reactions.
  • Summary writing and minute papers.
  • Field reflections: Hands-on experiences for learners 'in the field'.
  • Online case analyses.
  • Evaluating web resources.
  • Teacher/student-generated virtual debates.
  • Concept mapping.
  • H-Chart of comparative organisers: Students have two topics to investigate and create an organiser similar to a Venn Diagram to compare, contrast and make conclusions about the topics.
  • Critical evaluation letter: A non-threatening letter-writing activity to an 'editor' about a published work, enabling students to use critical evaluation skills based on knowledge and experience.

Creative thinking activities

  • Brainstorming.
  • Role play.
  • Topical discussions.
  • Online explorations and readings.
  • Recursive tasks.
  • Journaling.
  • Digital storytelling.

Collaborative learning activities

  • Online discussions.
  • Structured controversy: Typically, learners are asked to construct an argument based on an issue(s) within the course.
  • Symposia or expert panels.
  • Electronic mentors and guests.
  • Round-robin activities.
  • Jigsaw and group problem solving.
  • Gallery tours, publishing student work.
  • Email pals and critical/constructive friends.
  • Fishbowl: A group of students present a topic and discussion, and a secondary discussion occurs concerning the outcomes and process of the first.
  • Peer editing and review.
  • Socratic dialogue: Ongoing dialogue that builds from one student to the next.
Source: Adapted from C. J. Bonk & V. P. Dennen, in M. G. Moore (Ed.) (2007). Copyright © Reproduced by permission of Taylor and Francis Group, LLC.; also adapted from P. Shank. Copyright © 2007 Reproduced with permission of John Wiley & Sons; also adapted from www.ion.uillinois.edu/resources/otai/.
Used with permission.

There are also several resources, both text and online, that look to authentic learning and activities, scenario-based learning, and problem-based learning. Use the 'Useful links' pod on the right-hand side of this screen to find some of these resources.

There are also several resources, both text and online, that look to authentic learning and activities, scenario-based learning, and problem-based learning. Use the 'Useful links' pod at the end of this section to find some of these resources.

Discussion-based activities

Useful links

Online activity ideas from the Illinois Online Network: www.ion.uillinois.edu/...

Another practice is to re-evaluate your discussion questions across a course. Discussion questions are one of the most common strategies and activities in online learning. They allow you to check for understanding, to build community, and to integrate collaborative learning. They also enable students to learn from one another's experiences. Keep in mind that not all discussion questions are created equally. A recent study (Richardson, Sadaf & Ertmer, 2012) found that there are a number of types of discussion question prompts that can be used in various situations and which take different levels of learning into account. For example, a 'brainstorming' discussion question prompt would be more likely to encourage students to respond at a triggering or exploration level than at the higher levels of integration and resolution.

In the following activity, click on the tabs to find out more about the different types of discussion forum question, and when each might be useful in your course.

The following paragraphs will outline the different types of discussion forum question in more detail, and help you to consider when each might be useful in your online course.

Playground (PG)

Questions require the interpretation or analysis of a specific aspect of the material, or 'Playground', for discussion. Students are free to discover and interpret the material.


Brainstorm (BS)

Questions ask students to generate a number of conceivable ideas, viewpoints, or solutions related to a specified issue. Students are free to generate any or all ideas on the topic.


Focal Question (FQ)

Questions relate to a specific issue and require students to make a decision or take a position and justify it. Students are asked to support one of several possible positions.


General Invitation (GI)

Questions invite a wide range of responses within a broad topic in an open or unfocused discussion.


Lower-level Divergent (LD)

Questions require students to analyse information to discover reasons, draw conclusions, or make generalisations.


Analytic Convergent (AC)

Students are required to examine a relevant material and produce a straightforward conclusion, summarise material, or describe a sequence of steps in a process. Answers require analytical thought but lead to a single correct answer.


Shotgun (SG)

Multiple questions that may contain two or more content areas.


Funnel (FUN)

Prompt begins with a broad opening question, followed by one or more narrower questions, and ending with a very concrete question.


Critical Incident (CI)

Questions relate to a scenario or case study students have read; students are typically asked to propose solutions to the issues presented in the scenario/case study.

Source: Adapted from Richardson et al (2012), IGI Global Publication.
Reprinted by permission of the publisher. Andrews (1980). Used with permission.

There are any number of resources that you can look to for adding some creativity to your learning activities, and hopefully the variety of learning activities provided here have sparked a few ideas. Find a few resources you're comfortable with and keep them handy.


Useful links

Foundations

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