• Blended learning allows us to draw upon more activities than face-to-face or online platforms alone.
  • Learning activities need to align with learning outcomes to be meaningful and drive learning.
  • Activities should be planned to integrate across online and face-to-face elements.
  • Planning involves looking at the sequence of activities and how they build learning collectively.

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Engaging students in learning activities Learning activity examples Face-to-face aspects of Blended Learning Example of Practice
 Learning Outcomes Activities

Engaging students in learning activities

Student engagement is defined as students’ involvement in activities and conditions that are linked with high-quality learning. A key assumption is that learning outcomes are influenced by how an individual participates in educationally purposeful activities. While students are seen to be responsible for constructing their own knowledge, learning is also seen to depend on institutions and staff generating conditions that stimulate student involvement (ACER, 2017).

Why is engagement important?

When higher education institutions understand the nature of student engagement and work towards influencing it for the better, the impact on outcomes for students and learning processes is huge (ACER, 2017).

Teaching staff are at the centre of these efforts because of 'the role teaching staff play in inspiring, challenging and engaging students' (Richardson, 2011).

Research identifies a link between the use of active learning strategies in teaching and learning and improved student learning outcomes (Freeman et al, 2014). The reason active learning works is because it promotes a deep learning approach and discourages a surface approach. If students are actively working towards building their knowledge and skills, then they are more likely to be engaged with their course or unit. As Biggs and Tang (1999, p. 68) wrote, “it’s what the student does that is important”.

Explore the following resources for inspiration on how to integrate active learning strategies in your teaching.

Some ideas for formal or informal interactions, mediated by technology, when your students are off campus are listed below:

Strategy Technology
Schedule weekly drop-in sessions at flexible times. Students turn up for all or part of the session and pose questions or initiate discussions related to their learning. Zoom
Weekly live chat.
Students participate in a synchronous (real time) chat about that week’s themes and learning.

LEO Chat.

Twitter or other social media tool

Asynchronous (not in real time) discussions.
Students discuss the week’s themes and learning; you can suggest they take turns in moderating the discussion
LEO Forum

As part of their course, students can participate in a number of activities designed to enrich their educational experience.

Teachers can also make a difference well beyond the classroom – and the research shows that this is where many of their most formative contributions can be made (ACER, n.d.). Indeed, some universities in both the UK and the US assert that “if you can engage students outside of the curriculum then they will also be more engaged inside the curriculum” (Gibbs, 2014).

There are a number of different ways outside the classroom that educators can create, or raise awareness about, educational activities that both support the curriculum and enhance student engagement.

Some strategies for outside the classroom include:

  • Encouraging students to attend external seminars, symposia or public lectures on discipline related topics
  • Offering field trips – in person or virtual
  • Sharing industry-related opportunities

Viewing students as valuable and competent contributors outside of their coursework can have a significant impact upon their student experience (ACER, n.d.).

Some strategies include having students:

  • Take guided responsibility for literature searches and literature reviews
  • Assist in editorial activities related to academic journals
  • Introduce speaker at public lectures and offer the vote of thanks
  • Participate in peer assisted study sessions, such as ACU’s PASS
  • Consider other community engagement activities that ACU offers and promotes.

(Sources: ACER, Broadening staff involvement in student learning, n.d.; Edwards, 2011.)

Educators can help enhance students’ feelings of support and belonging at ACU both through their teaching and also by linking students with wider ACU resources.

Strategies for creating a sense of support

Strategies include:

  • Start of semester: Design an activity with the aim of getting to know more about your students and for them to learn more about each other.
  • Team work: Encourage students to form study groups or pairs, sharing the reading load and working through materials together (Edwards, 2011).
  • Model collaboration: Model supportive and collaborative behaviours during group discussions either online or face to face
  • Foster ‘social presence’ in online units: Social presence is the degree to which participants in online environments feel actively connected to one another. Be aware of your ‘social presence’ in relation to the online component of your unit.
  • ACU resources: Ensure students are aware of all the support services ACU offers

Learning activity examples

Learning activity example 1 – Building community

Building a sense of community is an important aspect of creating a good learning environment. Orienting students to the structure and expectations of a unit, and familiarising them with necessary tools is an essential aspect.

Activity pattern 1 

Learning activity example 2 – Supporting large groups

Designing activities for large groups can present specific challenges, it is important to create a learning environment in which students feel supported, connected and empowered.

Activity pattern 2

Learning activity example 3 – Developing problem solving skills

In the 21st century problem solving skills are highly valued. Designing activities that will develop these skills can be achieved by using Problem-based learning; Enquiry-based learning (EBL) and Project-based learning (PBL) approaches, to name a few.

 Activity pattern 3

Learning activity example 4 – Developing communication skills

Field experiences can assist students to make connections between theory and application. Online mediums support continuity in communication in the time lapse between face-to-face experiences.

 activity pattern 4

Face to face aspects of Blended Learning

Blended learning combines online opportunities with face-to-face experiences. The best opportunities for students require careful integration of the online and face-to-face elements. Maximising active learning in face-to-face contexts assists students to attain higher level cognitive skills.

A range of activities can be used to facilitate active learning for students. Examples provided below:


Think–pair–share is a useful strategy to encourage every member of the class, even shy students, to participate. It also fosters a community of learners and can help students get to know their peers.

Time: 5 to 10 minutes.

Use: Ask the group a question or pose a problem or get students to brainstorm.

Method: Students work individually for a couple of minutes to work through the designated task. Under direction they then discuss the task with another student. Then call on the group to ‘share’ answers or ideas.

Variation: Extended think–pair–share. As before, students work individually and then in pairs, but for sharing they join in groups of four and then groups of eight. In smaller groups this can become a whole class debate.

Develop an effective argument

The aim of this activity is to get students into the habit of supporting their arguments with academic evidence. Because students are assigned a role, they can be more critical about that stance.

Time: 5 to 10 minutes.

Use: Critical thinking, synthesising information and developing an academic argument.

Method: A debatable statement or problem with two opposed solutions is posed to the group. Students work in pairs where one person has been assigned the affirmative and the other the negative side of the statement. Each person must develop a logical argument that follows a debating structure involving an assertion, rationale and supportive evidence.

Variation: This activity also works well in groups of four.

One-minute paper

This is a useful strategy for students to use to reflect on a lecture. It is also useful as a method of peer support and guidance. Linking this activity to a discussion board means students can raise their questions in a peer-led discussion moderated by a lecturer.

Time: 1 to 5 minutes.

Use: At the end of a lecture or to check comprehension.

Method: Ask students to note down for one minute what they understand the main point of the lecture to have been. They also write down areas of uncertainty. The students then discuss their notes with a person near them. Questions or areas of uncertainty can be posted on a discussion board.


  • Main points: Students try to list three to five main points raised in the lecture. They then compare their list with others, working in small groups of no more than five students.
  • Muddiest points: Students write down the points that have confused them the most.
  • Collaborative review: Students work together to summarise the lecture in three to five points.

Six hats of critical thinking

This activity offers a chance to hear from different groups. It can also be used as the starting point for a group assessment.

Time: 10 to 15 minutes.

Use: To get students thinking critically about a problem or issue. (Collaborative learning)

Method: A problem or issue is posed. Working in small groups of two to four, students think about a problem using Edward de Bono’s Six Hats of critical thinking.

These are:

  • The White Hat calls for information known or needed; that is, what is known about the issue?
  • The Red Hat signifies feelings, hunches and intuition; that is, how students feel about the issue?
  • The Black Hat is judgement; that is, what is wrong or flawed or open to challenges?
  • The Yellow Hat symbolises brightness and optimism; that is, what are the benefits or what works?
  • The Green Hat focuses on creativity; that is, what new or innovative ideas can students see?
  • The Blue Hat is used to manage the thinking process. This is self-regulated learning.

Students spend several minutes discussing a problem. Wearing a particular hat, groups can then discuss their outcomes with other groups, or groups can be called on to present their ideas for a particular coloured hat. Students can also develop a written solution to the problem that can be collected and summarised.

Variations:  Each person can take turn at wearing a hat or the whole group can progress together.

Graphic organisers

Graphic organisers are a great way to simplify complex topics. Students can see categories and sub-categories, the flow of a process or the relationships between ideas. This can assist students to visually identify gaps in their understanding.

Time: 15 minutes.

Use: To allow students to reflect on what they have learnt and to clarify gaps in knowledge.

Method: At the end of a lecture or a topic, provide students with a graphic organiser that has missing information. The graphic organiser can be a flow chart (processes), a branch diagram (hierarchies and categories), a mind map (ideas) or a table (relationships). Students are required to complete the graphic organisers. Working with the person next to them, they compare their organisers. Back in the large group, the lecturer can fill in the table with the students or show them the completed table.

Multiple choice

Real time knowledge checks and voting systems can provide students with immediate feedback on learning. They can also assist students to understand how others in a group understand things.

Time: 5 to 10 minutes.

Use: To allow students to reflect on what they have learnt and to clarify gaps in knowledge.

Method: At the start of the lecture, present students with several multiple-choice questions (no more than five) on the content you are going to cover, and have students discuss the answers. At the end of the lecture, post the same multiple-choice questions so that students can monitor their understanding. The use of electronic voting systems (EVS) works well here.


Role plays can assist students to develop understanding and empathy. They also promote active learning by letting students use the space in the room to move around.

Time: 10 to 15 minutes.

Use: For engagement, to play the devil’s advocate, kinaesthetic learning. Revision of ideas and concepts.

Method: Students are broken up into small groups. Each group is given a scenario where group members are assigned parts to play.

Notes: Have a couple of different versions of the role play – that is, give different groups different scenarios and characters to play and then get them to swap cards after five minutes.

Celebrity heads

This is an engaging activity that can be used to help students to clarify key ideas and concepts.

Time: 10 to 15 minutes.

Use: Revision of key term or concepts.

Method: Write concepts, key words, people, and theories on cards. You will need multiple copies for each group. Divide students up into small groups of five to six. The students sit in a circle. Each person ‘sticks’ or holds their card so that they cannot see it, but the rest of their group can. One student asks ‘yes’ or ‘no’ questions to their group members and can keep asking questions until they get a ‘no’ answer. Then the person next to them has a turn at asking questions. The aim is to guess the term or concept on the card.

Long-term learning groups

This system works well with postgraduates that are often used to working in teams and enjoy the contact with peers. There needs to be regular occasions (weekly is better) throughout the semester where students are required to work together in lectures to ensure that the bond between the students is maintained.

Time: Entire semester

Use: To build a community of learners.

Method: Students are assigned to a small group of no more than four or five students at the start of semester and are required to sit with that group and work through problems together (even to complete group assessments) over the course of the entire semester. Students can complete activities together and contact each other for help and guidance. The idea is that the students form a buddy group. The group members make sure everyone is completing work and provide a point of call for support and assistance.

Jigsaw activities

This approach allows students to become relative ‘experts’ in a particular area, share this expertise with peers and build learning relationships. Just as in a jigsaw puzzle, each student has a piece of information that is essential for the completion and full understanding of the total picture (such as a patient profile, an individual education profile or an author’s biography). Students work together in groups to share their knowledge with other group members. This means that every student is both an expert and a receiver of knowledge. If each student's part is essential, then each student is essential.

Time: 30 to 50 minutes

Use: Builds student expertise in a particular area.

Method: Two variations are presented below.

Simple Jigaw: Students are divided into small groups of five to seven students. Each student is given a piece of information or a part to a problem, and a table to fill in. They become the expert in that area. They then have to talk to other members in the group. Each person has to share their information (expert role) while their team member listens and writes down the information (receiver). They swap roles and then check that they have recorded the information correctly. At the end of the activity each member of the group should have a completed table that records all the pieces of knowledge.

Expanded Jigaw: This is a bit more complicated but gets people moving. Students are assigned to a group – no more than five to six students. That group is given a piece of information or a problem that they need to work through and solve as a group (no more than five to six pieces of information). Hence, the entire group becomes experts in that area. The students then reform in new groups with people from different areas of expertise to share their information and to hear from others.

Problem-based learning (PBL)

Students are given a stimulus problem to solve in groups.

Time: Two sessions minimum

Use: Students work in groups to engage with a problem that may last for several weeks.

Method: Students working in small groups are assigned a problem. Typically, students analyse the problem and discuss their collective knowledge. Potential hypotheses or solutions are brainstormed. The group then identifies what additional information or resources are needed to test the hypothesis. The group develops a strategy or plan, and members are allocated roles. A period of independent research follows. The group reconvenes to share gathered information and to test the hypothesis in light of the new information. Students may then need to go through the cycle again if original hypotheses are not confirmed. This activity may lead into an assessment.

Notes: There is a range of variations of PBL. Students must be given time to develop their plan and to reconvene in class.

Digital story-telling

Students work collaboratively to produce their own digital stories using flip videos, iPhones, iPads, or other mobile devices to record the story, and software such as iMovie or movie makers to edit the movie. The movies can then be uploaded to the Internet or uploaded to LEO via a discussion forum. A digital story is a short movie that may combine photographs, video, animation, sound, music, text, and a narrative voice. Research on the use of digital stories in higher education has shown that students enjoy the process and learn from the experience.

Time: No more than 5 minutes in length but may take several hours to develop.

Use: Digital stories are a great alternative to group presentations.

Method: Students work in groups to create a digital story on a particular topic, as a scenario, a role play, or creative presentation. Students storyboard their movie, record movies and then edit the story. These can form part of the assessment.

Electronic Voting Systems (EVS)

EVS can include the use of online response systems, such as Poll-Everywhere.

Time: 5 to 10 minutes.

Use: Students can either ask or respond to questions via an electronic voting system. EVS can be used for simple questions to check understanding or to give ‘formative feedback’ to both students and the lecturer.

Method: Create your questions before the lesson. During the lesson ask students to access the link and respond to the questions using their mobile devices. The results are displayed instantly. This can be worked around pair work, problem solving and discussion.

Notes: These technologies are relatively easy to use. Students do not need to login so all they need is a device with Wi-Fi access.

Example of Practice

Elisa Yule presents a blended learning activity developed with Alexandra Logan that seeks to enhance the readiness of occupational therapy students for practice in mental health. The activity supports students in finding and critiquing evidence to inform practice. The activity uses video interviews with mental health occupational therapists and guided questions to encourage discussion and understanding.

Other resources

Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER) (n.d.), “Broadening staff involvement in student learning”, AUSSE Enhancement Guide. Retrieved https://www.acer.org/files/AUSSE_EG_Broadening.pdf

Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER) (2017). Australasian Survey of Student Engagement (AUSSE). Retrieved https://www.acer.org/au/ausse

Biggs, J.B., & Tang, C.S. (1999). Teaching For Quality Learning at University. McGraw Hill

Edwards, E. (2011). Monitoring risk and return: Critical insights into graduate coursework engagement and outcomes. Retrieved https://research.acer.edu.au/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1002&context=ausse

Freeman, S., Eddy, S., McDonough, M., Smith, M., Okoroafor, N., Jordt, H., & Wenderoth, M. (2014). “Active learning increases student performance in science, engineering and mathematics”, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Jun, 111 (23) 8410-8415. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1319030111

Gibbs, G. (2014). “Student engagement, the latest buzzword”, Times Higher Education, May. Retrieved https://www.timeshighereducation.com/news/student-engagement-the-latest-buzzword/2012947.article

Richardson, S. (2011). “Uniting teachers and learners: Critical insights into the importance of staff-student interactions in Australian university education”, Australasian Survey of Student Engagement (AUSSE) Research Briefing. Retrieved https://research.acer.edu.au/ausse/13/
Page last updated on 21/04/2023

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