1. Design for learning
  2.  — Design learning experiences

Design learning experiences

The TeachWell@UoA Framework reminds us that effective teaching should “focus on actions aimed at optimising learning and engagement,” defined not only by the teacher’s knowledge, but by student contribution and experience. There are two main approaches to facilitate learning:

  • Active Learning promotes learning as a student-centered activity. It extends the emphasis from content (what students learn), to activation (how students learn). 
  • Passive learning involves the learner as a recipient of content (e.g. sitting in a lecture, reading a prescribed text). 

Both approaches are needed to ensure that students grasp foundational concepts through passive learning (i.e. lectures, reading materials) and to ensure that students are able to use higher-order thinking skills such as analysis, synthesis and evaluation through active learning.

Benefits of active learning

While passive learning approaches are needed in teaching, active learning: 

  • Promotes collaboration and a sense of learning community.
  • Scaffolds and develops learner confidence and sense of belonging.
  • Highlights and reinforces the most significant concepts and skills.
  • Creates opportunities to reflect, discuss, process new concepts, and practice and apply new skills.
  • Provides more opportunities for learners and facilitators to gauge learner understanding.
  • Creates opportunities for informal and formal learning feedback to students.
  • Encourages learners to make connections to their prior knowledge and experiences, and to consider the implications of new learning within their own world view.
  • Develops skills for learning and learner efficacy e.g. collaboration, facilitation, critical analysis, presentation, reflection.

Principles to guide the design of learning experiences

The following are recommended principles to guide the design of learning activities in face to face, blended and online delivery modes:

  1. Establish the intended objectives* for each learning activity (course lecture/ workshop/ tutorial/ online course week or module). These will usually support attainment of the overarching course learning outcomes and scaffold student learning.
  2. Plan for inclusion and diversity. Consider the diversity of your learners. Ensure the activities you select or design are accessible to all, and recognise and uphold the range of people’s cultures and different ways of being.
  3. Plan activities. Based on the learning objectives you have determined, decide on the activities that will best support these objectives. Consider learner mastery levels, learner comfort and confidence in the learning environment, and the skills and knowledge you want to highlight, practice and reactivate.
  4. Articulate expectations clearly to ensure positive outcomes for your students, be explicit about what you want them to do. Plan to model the activity wherever possible. Source exemplars, demonstrations and other learning support if needed. Be clear about the scope and constraints of the active learning activities you have selected.
  5. Design for assessment and feedback. One of the great advantages of integrating active learning in your teaching is the opportunities it provides for frequent iterative assessment and feedback. Decide how you will determine if your students have met the objectives you have set, and how to identify gaps in their understanding.

* Learning objectives are statements of what you intend to teach or cover, as opposed to learning outcomes, which are statements of what students will be able to do when they complete a course (DePaul, n.d.).

Types of learning experiences

When designing learning experiences, start with low-risk, simple activities to develop student confidence and trust, and progress to more challenging and complex activities as a sense of learning community and learner safety is established. The ‘Simple’ end of the Active learning techniques spectrum below provides some starting points for activities that can be quickly and easily integrated into your teaching.

Active learning techniques ranked from simple to complex as follows: reflection, minute paper, self-assessment, large group discussion, think-pair-share, informal groups, triad group, group evaluations, peer review, case studies, brainstorming, hands-on technology, interactive lecture, active review sessions e.g. game simulations, role playing, inquiry learning, jigsaw discussion, forum theatre, experiential learning.

This spectrum arranges active learning techniques by complexity and classroom time commitment.

Prepared by Chris O’Neil and Tershia Pinder-Grover, Centre for Research on Learning and Teaching, University of Michigan.



Chickering, A. W., & Gamson, Z. F. (1987). Seven principles for good practice in undergraduate education. AAHE bulletin3, 7.

DePaul. (n.d.). Course Objectives & Learning Outcomes. https://resources.depaul.edu/teaching-commons/teaching-guides/course-design/Pages/course-objectives-learning-outcomes.aspx

Garrison, D. R. (2009). Communities of inquiry in online learning. In Encyclopedia of Distance Learning, Second Edition (pp. 352-355). IGI Global.