Archive for the ‘ Active Learning ’ Category

Active Learning and Technology – Compounding Technology on Virtual Training Technology


In the article, “How Technology keeps a 3000-Student Class engaged” (, John Boyer successfully uses technology to engage his class of 3000 students in active learning. For instance, Skype interviews with guest speakers, announcing online quizzes only on Facebook and Twitter, etc. This is blended into his physical classroom.

Technology is moving the world into a Global Village paradigm.
Free images from 


Upon reading the article, my reaction was, “I agree that technology can definitely create opportunities for active learning and engagement…but I am cautious. Can I use the technology in my virtual classroom in the same way that Boyer does in his physical classroom?”


Currently, technology is what’s holding my virtual classroom together. My department uses Webex technology and VOIP conference lines to share computer screens and conduct training sessions about market research technology. This has already closed the physical space between clients and my trainers in entirely different countries. For example, clients in Australia do not need to fly to our office in Vancouver to be trained or vice versa.

But what about using Skype for guest speakers? My company does host virtual webcasts using a tool similar to Skype providing discussion sessions similar to the interviews that Boyer incorporates into his classes. In these webcasts, an expert from another department in my company discusses tips and tricks for better research online. This is something the expert does outside of his/her daily operations at the company. As well, these do not happen during class time but at a scheduled time once a month and is accessible by all our clients – past learners, and current learners. They are also recorded in case our clients/learners are not able to attend at the scheduled time. This technology has enabled one expert to communicate to hundreds of learners in different cities and countries. This is slightly different from Boyer’s approach of having a guest speaker Skype in during class, but it is a better solution for my company as we can have up to eight sets of classes going in a week. If a guest speaker were to show up for all these classes, it would pull them away from their core function at the company which is not ideal. However, one should note that in this case, it isn’t Skype that is inappropriate for my classroom setting, but rather, the instructional strategy of using a guest speaker in class. It isn’t exactly scalable for the hundreds of sessions that we provide every month.

Currently, my company does use Twitter and Facebook to communicate with the world with respect to company news, tips and tricks about online research, interesting resources, etc. However, the training department does not use Twitter or Facebook in the way that Boyer does in providing access to online quizzes. If these channels were to be adopted, they would be made private to learners only as my company is very careful about protecting how our products work. I wouldn’t be able to tweet a link to a quiz containing screenshots of our software product as it could easily be shared from one student to a competitor. Any quizzes are best completed during the training session. As well, having more than one Twitter or Facebook account associated with the company can be confusing to our learners as both the corporate account and the training department account would be tweeting resources about online research.

What my interpretations have shown me is that I can’t use the technology in exactly the same way that Boyer does in a virtual setting. However, with modifications, the technology/media can be appropriate for my teaching situation. More about this in the Decisional section.


The article has brought to light that not all forms of technology and media are marketed to be educational tools. For instance, John Boyer found a way to make use of Skype in his classroom to enhance the learning experience of his students. Skype was not intended to be an educational tool, but it reminds me, as an educator, to consider new technology/media from a training perspective. I will write about new technology/media that I stumble upon in the department blog and encourage my trainers to do the same.

I’ve also realized that I shouldn’t force technology/media into my classroom just because I work at a technology company and it is expected that I would be a cheerleader for it. More importantly, what should happen is that when considering new technology/media I should identify whether or not it fits the needs of my learners and whether it balances the needs of my employer. I will sit down with my team and we will collaboratively come up with guidelines for analyzing the appropriateness of new technology/media and for adopting these tools.

As well, a tool can be used in more than one way that suits different educational settings. For instance, Boyer found that guest speakers via Skype works for him. Although this would not work too well for my virtual class, I could use Skype to stay connected with students who need to speak with me or my trainers face-to-face outside of class. I will meet with my team to discuss adopting Skype as a tool of communications with clients as soon as we analyze the appropriateness and determine the guidelines for adopting the tool.

With respects to the Twitter and Facebook, rather than setting up an account specific to the training department, the trainers (myself included) should pass on any resources to the Marketing department as they manage the corporate Facebook and Twitter accounts. The Marketing department can post on our behalf. We can then point our learners to one Facebook or Twitter handle rather than two. This reduces redundancy and any confusion.


Jigsaw Strategy: Instructional Strategy for Active Learning and Motivation

I made the following video presentation on the Jigsaw Instructional Strategy. In this video, I explore how the method works, the advantages, limitations, best context and practices, and more.

To summarize the video, students are assigned to expert groups where each groups learns a different subtopic of the course and develops a teaching approach. Jigsaw groups are then formed and is comprised of a student from each expert group. Each student in the jigsaw group takes turns teaching their area of expertise.

The Jigsaw Method is great not only because of its demonstration of Active Learning and its ability to encourage depth of knowledge,  but also because it has built-in factors for intrinsic motivation.

If we revisit the three factors that Dan Pink mentions in his TedTalks video, we can see that the Jigsaw strategy satisfies the factors.

Intrinsic Motivator How Jigsaw Fits In
Autonomy Learners are autonomous as they are in control of how they want to learn or present the information to their groups – expert and jigsaw.
Mastery Mastery is accounted for as they need to be experts on their subject matter to be able to teach others.
Purpose Purpose is fulfilled in that they are part of something larger. In order to get a full picture of what is being learned, they are driven to learn from other members in their group and to teach the other members.

Jigsaw does have its limitations. For instance, you do need to ensure that the number of subtopics you have (for the expert groups) are equally divisible by the number of students in your classroom. Otherwise, you may have students who are left out.

Do all instructional strategies that involve active learning have built-in intrinsic motivators? I suppose as I explore more instructional strategies in this blog, I will take note of any correlations. If there is a correlation, this means this approach to teaching is sound and best suited for adult learners.

“…teaching without learning is just talking.”


Angelo and Cross (1993) (as cited in Barkley 2010, p.16) state, “learning can — and often does occur without teaching but teaching cannot occur without learning; teaching without learning is just talking” (p.3).


Upon comprehending the statement above, I exclaimed, “This is so profound! I completely agree!” I had to read Angelo and Cross’ perspective a few more times as I felt perhaps its meaning may slip away from me.


When I read the first half of the statement, “learning can — and often does occur without teaching”, I was reading it from the perspective of a student and I could relate. I am typically a self-directed learner and can learn on my own without the guidance of an instructor. For example, I learned to knit while in university by reading instructional books about the subject matter, scouring the internet for videos and webpages, and comparing whatever I produced to these resources. Another example is learning how to use my company’s software by reading the manual and practicing on my own. (I work at a Market Research Software Company in the Training department as the Manager). Learning without teaching can also occur in a less deliberate manner. Sometimes we learn without fully acknowledging it and we aren’t sure how it is we’ve come upon the knowledge. For instance, did you know that Corgis have a habit of nipping at the ankles of their owners because they were bred to be herding dogs? I am not sure how I’ve come upon learning this, but that is my point. These examples demonstrate learning without teaching.

When I read the second half of the sentence, “…but teaching cannot occur without learning; teaching without learning is just talking” (p.3), I agreed but struggled to comprehend. I could not understand how a teacher could have students who were not learning while in his/her classroom. The reason I struggled with this is because I related the latter part of this sentence to my more recent personal teaching experiences. When I provide virtual software training to clients (the learners), I am interested in engaging them by asking them questions about how they plan to use the software, passing them mouse control to complete learning tasks, asking them to solve scenario-based problems, asking them to reflect upon the things that they’ve learned, asking them what they are hoping to get out of the training program, etc. Because this is currently my definition of teaching, I could not imagine my students not learning while in my sessions. However, if I think back to my first job as a software trainer, I can see how teacher-student interactions (or the lack of it) can result in poor learning experiences for students.

In my first job as a trainer, I demonstrated software for an hour to clients over the web. I was asked by my employer to learn the software inside out, and to merely show the steps for various tasks in the tool. A result of this approach was low knowledge retention (as incoming calls for help was high), and low attention span (as clients would drop off the call). I was as disengaged as they were. This is an example of “teaching without learning”. It goes against the values of what is inferred in Angelo and Cross’ statement.

The underlying value of Angelo and Cross’ statement is that the purpose and expectation of teaching is so that students learn. From my example, my students were not learning. They were calling the technical support line because they were not able to complete any of the tasks I had shown them. In hindsight, I should have gone beyond what my employer was asking me to do and set up a process by which I could evaluate teaching effectiveness and student engagement. This could have been through formal or informal assessment.

The latter half of Angelo and Cross’ statement, “teaching without learning is just talking”, emphasizes the importance of student engagement in learning. Barkley suggests “cooperative and collaborative learning, discovery learning, experiential learning, problem-based learning, and inquiry-based learning” (2010, p.16) to encourage student engagement. These approaches have an element of student participation. Students need to be included to be engaged. From my example, my students were disengaged. They were leaving the training session part way through. I was solely focused on being a subject matter expert, and did not consider how I could facilitate learning for my students. I did not involve them while I taught. I could have asked them how they planned to use a specific feature, given them activities, asked them to solve a scenario-based problem, etc.

Although my current approach to teaching is more in line with the values inferred in Angelo and Cross’ statement, it does not make the statement less profound. I haven’t had my current teaching beliefs and approach verbalized to me before. To have it verbalized makes it more concrete: there is a realization about what it is I’m doing.


To apply what I’ve realized in my interpretations, I plan to involve students by using various engagement techniques in the categories of “cooperative and collaborative learning, discovery learning, experiential learning, problem-based learning, and inquiry-based learning” (Barkley, 2010, p.16). Although I do practice some engagement techniques currently, I feel there are many more waiting to be implemented. I plan to have my training department (myself included) research techniques that fall under the categories that Barkley has listed. Our research methods will include visits to the library, scouring online academic journal databases, watching videos, researching LinkedIn Groups and online forums, etc.

Another aspect to consider is how I can develop the trainers in my department to teach clients. Strategically speaking, it would be ideal to teach them in the manner I would like to have them teach the clients. Rather than have my trainers be passive learners, they would need to be active learners. I will implement activities that encourage their participation in their education. For example, journaling in the department blog, collaborating on the development of a training techniques for a specific course module, having them present a new technique they’ve researched as a group, etc. These activities would engage them, encourage learning, and set an example as to how client education should be approached.

Currently, to gauge student engagement and learning, my trainers evaluate the learners during training sessions. To assess student engagement, my trainers observe who is participating and who isn’t during a session via various features in Webex (our virtual teaching tool). The passing of mouse control is used to assess whether learners grasp course concepts. After the trainer provides a learner with mouse control, he/she observe how well the learner does in completing learning tasks. However, another way to gauge engagement and learning is through evaluations of the trainer during the course of the session. This approach has been ignored in the training department and will need to be implemented. I plan to collaborate with my trainers with respects to an approach for this type of evaluation. We will question whether their assessment should be provided by their selves, peers, the students, a consultant, etc.


Barkley, Elizabeth. (2010). Student Engagement Techniques. A Handbook for College Faculty. San Francisco, CA: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Strategies: Active Learning in the Physical and Virtual Classroom.

This is a continuation of the Active Learning Series of blog posts. See the last blog post for an explanation of what Active Learning is, and its importance. This blog entry will look at Active Learning in both physical and virtual classrooms. Specifically, I will look at the strategies employed by teachers in the physical classroom and look at what can be done for my own virtual classroom.

Active Learning in Action in a University Classroom

The following video from McGill University looks at employing active learning techniques in the classroom. Have a gander.

From watching this video, I’ve learned the following about Active Learning:

  • Classrooms are arranged in a way where there is no front or back of the class. Students cannot hide and are encouraged to participate.
  • Collaboration is key in this type of learning. Students are placed in small groups and are encouraged to ask one another for help or perspectives.
  • Students are held accountable for what both they and their group learns.
  • The teacher becomes moreso of a facilitator and education is no longer top-down.
  • Class is more activity-based than it is lecture-style.
  • With the aid of technology, learning becomes real-time. For example, rather than relying on resources like the class textbook, or whatever other resources the teacher has on-hand, students can (and are encouraged) to research online during class.
  • Encourages a healthy attitude towards learning – being wrong isn’t bad, it’s good because it’s another opportunity for learning to happen.

Employing Active Learning in my Virtual Classroom

My classroom is virtual. I connect with students via conference line and over the web and share my desktop to conduct software training. Webcams are not used as it slows down the virtual training session and creates unnecessary technical lags. The class size is rarely larger than 4 learners, as that is the limitation I’ve placed. The students in a class belong to one company. Their goal is to learn the software tool to be able to conduct research through online surveys.  Learning what I have from Active Learning in a physical classroom, there are a number of techniques I can use to encourage Active Learning in the virtual classroom.

Because there is no physical aspect to a virtual training session, one may assume that there is no “back of the classroom” where a student can hide. However, there is. My learners can decide to not speak up. A means of addressing this is the use of a webcam where I can see each student, however, this is a hindrance on bandwidth and can slow down the training session.

Essentially, what needs to be done is to create a sense of accountability in each learner. Each learner is not only accountable for their own education, but for the education of the entire team. This encourages a learner to speak up, and provide input. To create a sense of accountability, I, the instructor, will do the following:

  • Ask the learner how they are working together as a team on a research project in relation to the software. Essentially, ask what their role is in the team, and how they will depend on one another. Be clear that because there will be that type of relationship outside of training, that they will need to have that type of relationship in training too.
  • Ask each learner what they would like to be able to do upon completing the training sessions. Piece all their goals together and show how they are interdependent.
  • Create a safe learning environment where the learners feel comfortable speaking up. This means emphasizing that there are no wrong questions, or perspectives and that they are experts of their own experiences.
  • Facilitate discussions to encourage students to share their perspective on a feature of the software. If there are differences in opinion, encourage research outside of the training session to be shared in the next session.
  • Focus the students on what they have learned at the end of each session to be shared with their colleague. They are not there to be judged on how well they perform learning tasks. The focus is on education.

In terms of activities in line with Active Learning, I will do the following:

  • Pass students mouse control: They take over my computer, and complete tasks in the software. I will encourage students to help one another when they get stuck.
  • Provide problems they will need to solve as a team: For example, I may ask them , “How would you go about setting up the survey so that you are inviting respondents who have either a Masters Degree or an income of $75k and who enjoy gardening and water skiing.”
  • Provide opportunities for them to share their perspective (relating to features in the software): For example, I state, “This feature allows you to turn off the back button on your survey. From your experience, what is best? Having it on or off?”

What are your thoughts? What are some things that could be used in a physical or virtual classroom to facilitate active learning?

Looking for more posts about Active Learning? Check out the Active Learning category in the footer of the page to pull up these posts. Also check out the blogs in the Resources where my colleagues have written about Active Learning. In the Other Resources section there is a section dedicated to Active Learning.

Concept: Active Learning – What is it and who cares?

What is Active Learning?

The term Active Learning conjures up images of students performing some activity to learn. For example, if I were to teach a friend to knit, I wouldn’t lecture and provide theories about the act of knitting, but rather, hand him/her knitting needles and a ball of yarn and walk him/her through the mechanics of it. The former is more passive whereas the latter is more active. However, the latter isn’t only more active in a sense that the learner is performing a task, but the mind is also more actively engaged.

Why should we (as teachers) care about Active Learning?

According to Elizabeth Barkely in her textbook, Student Engagement Techniques (2010), Active Learning is one of two components of Student Engagement, the other being Motivation. Student Engagement is particularly important as it results in increased knowledge acquisition, and cognitive abilities.

As we will see in a later blog entry, a number of students can attest to how active learning is more enjoyable than passive learning.

Stay tuned for the next post about Active Learning. For even more posts about Active Learning, click the Active Learning category at the footer of this page. Also check out the blogs in the Resources where my colleagues have written about Active Learning. In the Other Resources section there is a section dedicated to Active Learning.