Fredonia campus on a foggy day

Engagement & Active Learning

This pathway provides information on developing introductions, discussions and feedback. How to design active learning instructional components in an online environment is also examined. 

Engaging All Learners

Universal Design for Learning aims to ensure that course content and activities are accessible to people with a wide range of abilities, disabilities, backgrounds, language skills, and learning styles. Principles of Universal Design compliment the other practices that faculty engage to create a classroom environment that values diverse learners and is inclusive. While many students are accustomed to navigating student support services and disability-related accommodations, online learning can present different challenges and faculty teaching remotely should encourage students, with a statement on their syllabus, to meet with you to discuss any special learning needs.

  • Planning for accessibility doesn't automatically mean creating multiple versions or discarding activities, assignments, or content up-front because it could be inaccessible for certain students. It means thinking through how to make course materials and experiences accessible for diverse students who might register for your class.
  • As you plan and prepare activities and assignments in your online course, think through how they may provide challenges to students with visual, hearing, or motor disabilities.
  • What specific parts of the activity/assignment may be problematic?
  • How could you potentially revise the activity/assignment to improve accessibility?
  • What might an alternate version of the activity/assignment look like that would still meet the learning outcomes but eliminate the accessibility issues? 


Active learning, or “learning by doing,” involves learners in action-oriented experiences to help them deeply engage course content. The goal of this style of learning is to get students to engage, rather than passively take-in. In an active learning environment students interact with the course material through: reading, writing, talking, problem-solving, synthetical thinking, web camming, constructing, deconstructing, and reflecting. Ideally, rather than completing these activities in isolation, learners are given opportunities to work collaboratively and receive feedback from one another as well as the instructor. The dynamic that occurs through shared, constructive feedback and collaboration helps to form a learning environment rooted in connection and community, the importance of which is discussed specifically in the module on “Social Presence.” We introduce the principles of connection and community here to emphasize that learning is, fundamentally, a social process and that active learning can be a powerful (but not exclusive) vehicle to facilitate it.

Some may worry that active learning means a complete abandonment of content driven lectures, however this is far from the truth. Rather, it presents instructors with opportunities to imagine activities that will help learners develop a deeper and more authentic understanding of the lecture content that is shared and shaped with feedback.


Active learning is not confined to the classroom. In fact, the online space creates opportunities to reimagine active engagement of learners in more abundant ways.

Whether you are experienced or new to using electronic tools for learning, it is best to keep the perspective that developing sound learning objectives comes first and selecting the proper electronic tool comes second. The tool or tools you select should complement your learning objectives but not be the basis for them. Remember that the "bells and whistles" of a high-tech learning experience in the absence of a pedagogically sound course design will not lend much integrity to your course.


In most cases, planning traditional learning strategies that are more passive in nature takes less time than planning and assessing active learning assignments for an entire semester or summer session. While some passive learning strategies in a course may be indicated (we are not suggesting that all passive learning is ineffective or unnecessary), it is also important that planned activities align with passive learning experiences.


Video conferencing, as a medium for student engagement, is a much different environment than that of the traditional classroom. If you’ve ever participated in an hour-long virtual meeting yourself, then you know how taxing it can be to stare at a screen for such a length of time. Now imagine you are a student taking multiple courses online. Imagine how it would feel to endure several virtual lectures, spanning one to four hours in duration, each day. The potential for video conferencing fatigue from sitting silently in front of a screen for extended lengths of time could make for a rather unpleasant learning experience. With this in mind, breaking up large chunks of lecture with interactive elements such as polls, discussion, annotation, etc. -- is best.

The same recommendations are indicated when it comes to creating pre-recorded lecture videos for your classes. According to our course textbook authors Darby and Lang (2019), recent research findings on the engagement patterns of online students suggests that video lectures be no more than 6 minutes in duration (p. 53).

Darby, F., & Lang, J. (2019) Small Teaching Online, Applying Learning Science in Online Classes.

Want to explore this topic further? 

Self-paced Modules:

Course modules have been set up FREDLearn with self-paced activities where we will look at the various tools available to you in FREDLearn and some ways that you may want to use them in your own courses. To dive deeper into the 7 principles, visit the Remote Learning Roadmap Landing Page in FREDLearn.

Accessing the Remote Learning Roadmap Modules in FREDLearn

  1. Visit the Remote Learning Roadmap Landing Page in FREDLearn. 
  2. The Fredonia eServices login screen will appear.
  3. Login using your eServices username and password.
  4. Press the orange “Enroll Me” button.
  5. The course will be added to your Course block on the Dashboard page in the Groups category.

Visit the next topic: Community of Inquiry

CC BY-NC 4.0


This site is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. Derived from Muhleberg College's Camp Design Online.

Camp Design Online

Take the next step