The use of learning activities in higher education is as important and relevant as it is in primary and secondary settings. When used appropriately, they generate the right conditions for learning, fostering and nurturing new understanding, behaviours, values, skills and attitudes. As Schuell, 1986, p.429 clearly explains:

“the teacher's fundamental task is to get students to engage in learning activities that are likely to result in achieving the intended learning outcomes. It is helpful to remember that what the student does is actually more important than what the teacher does” 

What Schuell was referring to was simply about active learning as opposed to passive learning, Therefore, we want you to think of learning activities as active learning activities.

What is Active Learning?

Active learning involves activities in which learners take an active and participatory role in the learning process in order to construct knowledge and understanding; but more than just simply doing something, it is also about thinking about what they are doing.

Why use active learning activities?

Because it gives students “agency”. Active learning activities allows students to engage in higher order thinking. Underpinned by a constructivist learning theory, these activities provide the space for learners to build their own knowledge, connect new ideas and experiences to existing knowledge and experiences to enhance understanding (Bransford et al., 1999).

Through evidence-based research, the benefits of active learning activities have been well documented and established. Prince (2004) proposes that active learning:

  • Improves students’ outcomes
  • Improves critical thinking skills
  • Increases retention
  • Increases transfer of new information
  • Increases motivation
  • Improves interpersonal skills
  • Decreases course failure

According to the Center for Teaching Innovation at Cornell University, active learning:

  • Reinforces important concepts and skills
  • Provide immediate feedback to learners
  • Provides leaners with the opportunity to think, and talk about the content Fosters collaboration
  • Create a sense of community through increased student-student and teacher-student interactions

Examples of active learning activities

The graph below shows some active learning activities represented on a continuum from simple to complex, as well as reflecting what is referred as classroom (face-to-face commitment).
We have also compiled a list of active learning activities you can use asynchronously or synchronously in your course. Remember that these activities can be used face-to-face and online.
Activity Name

Pause for Reflection Throughout a lecture, particularly after stating an important point or defining a key concept, stop presenting and allow students time to think about the information. After waiting, ask if anyone needs to have anything clarified. Ask students to review their notes and ask questions about what they’ve written so far. Collaborate Ultra breakout rooms

MS Team breakout rooms
Triad Groups Pose a question for each group while you circulate around the room answering questions, asking further questions, and keeping the groups on task. After allowing time for group discussion, ask students to share their discussion points with the rest of the class. Collaborate Ultra breakout rooms

MS Team breakout rooms
Group Evaluations Like peer review, students may evaluate group presentations or documents to assess the quality of the content and delivery of information.Collaborate Ultra breakout rooms

MS Team breakout rooms

Canvas Discussion Boards
Hands-on Technology Students use technology to get a deeper understanding of course concepts. Any technology learners must learn to use as part of their course.
Inquiry Learning Activities Students use an investigative process to discover concepts for themselves. After the instructor identifies an idea or concept, a question is posed that asks students to make observations. Canvas Discussion Boards

Canvas Studio Videos

Jigsaw Discussion A topic is divided into smaller, interrelated pieces. Each member of a team is assigned to read and become an expert on a different topic. After each person has become an expert on their piece of the puzzle, they teach the other team members about that puzzle piece. Collaborate Ultra breakout rooms

MS Team breakout rooms
Video Discussions Ask students to comment on a video they are required to watch. Canvas Studio Videos

Canvas Discussion Boards
Polls Use polls to check understanding, gather student opinions, or to challenge students position on something. Collaborate Ultra Poll (does not keep data)


Poll Everywhere



Video activities Ask students to respond to a question or a simple research activity with a video. Canvas Discussion Boards

Canvas Studio Videos

Virtual Field Trips Ask students to explore a virtual field trip which is a guided exploration through the world wide web that organizes a collection of pre-screened, thematically based web pages into a structured online learning experience. Several websites available online
Concept Maps Use concept maps to visually represent information and concepts. MS Whiteboards





Explain Everything

Think-pair-share Use TPS to get students to work together to solve a problem or answer a question Collaborate Ultra breakout rooms

MS Team breakout rooms
Minute papers During a brief pause, students alone or in pairs are asked to answer a question in writing about the weekly content. The submitted responses can be used to gauge student comprehension of the material. Collaborate Ultra breakout rooms

MS Team breakout rooms
Quizzes Quizzes can be used at the beginning of a session or after delivery. Canvas Quiz



Google Forms

MS Forms


Muddiest PointThe technique consists of asking students to jot down a quick response to one question: “What was the muddiest point in [the lecture, discussion, homework assignment, film, etc.]?” The term “muddiest” means “most unclear” or “most confusing (Vanderbilt University) Collaborate Ultra

MS Teams
Real world case studies and problem solving Students work in groups, applying knowledge gained from lectures or reading materials to a given situation Collaborate Ultra

MS Teams
Peer Led Instructions Have students prepare and present course material to the class. Collaborate Ultra

MS Teams

Narrated PowerPoint Slides
Post-It Demonstration Students provide their thoughts and ideas to a question or prompt on a post-it. MS Whiteboard



Pros and Cons Grid Get students to list advantages and disadvantages on some issue. Shared MS Document

Shared Google Document



MS Whiteboard

CU Whiteboard
Question-discussion *quescussion This activity involves the exploration of a topic or concept by asking questions only. Shared MS Document

Shared Google Document



MS Whiteboard

CU Whiteboard
Content Curation Ask students to curate relevant, meaningful and current resources on a topic. Wakelet

Strip Sequence Provide student with the steps to a process in a disorganised way and ask them to reconstruct the proper sequence. Canvas Quiz

Bloom Taxonomy Questioning Use the verbs remember, understand, apply, analyse, evaluate and create to design questions. TopHat Innovative Activities to Engage Your Students
Brainstorming/Thinking Techniques You can use some brainstorming/thinking tools to brainstorm and generate ideas with your students using the templates Double Bubble Map with perspective

SWOT Analysis


KWHL Chart

Tips to promote engagement

If students are resistant to engaging in activities:

  • Introduce the concept early in the course and clearly specify expectations and roles for each activity
  • Explain reasons and connection to assessments and further learning
  • Use a variety of active learning strategies in a targeted way, e.g. include several of the activities during a session If activities are taking too much time

If students are taking too much time:

  • Consider whether the task can be shared between peers
  • Consider how pre-class work could prepare students

If students are resistant to group work:

  • Consider whether if the activity is challenging enough to need two or more working together
  • Ensure the activity requires different perspectives and experience
  • Make group work a regular experience, with expectations and required participation


  • Schuell, T.J. (1986). Cognitive conceptions of learning. Review of Educational Research, 56, 411-436 
  • Bransford, J.D., Brown, A.L., and Cocking, R.R. (Eds.) (1999). How people learn: Brain, mind, experience, and school. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press 
  • Active Learning Strategies – Berkeley Center for Teaching & Learning 
  • Prince, M. (2004) Does active learning work? A review of the research. Journal of Engineering Education 93 (3) 223-231.