Reimagining teaching and learning

Active Learning in the Digital World

Active learning is the opposite of passive listening. Esther explores some key teaching methods and a range of digital tools and techniques to help.

What is active learning?

What are the benefits of active learning in the digital world?

What teaching methods can we use to enable and support active learning?

Active learning

Active learning is the opposite of passive listening. It focuses on what our learners are actually doing in our classes; what activities people are taking part in during our workshops; and how students are interacting with resources and peers outside class time.

Experiential learning is nothing new. Student-centred methods have been at the heart of teacher training for generations. Learners engage in a variety of relevant activities – researching, reflecting, discussing and collaborating with others. This enhances critical thinking and provides a range of approaches to learning for work and life. We should make sure that we engage learners in active learning using digital tools and platforms ready for the digital world.

Group of people working together around a laptop

Benefits of active learning in the digital world

Developing the digital skills of our learners and staff has been high on the agenda for many years, but the pandemic in 2020 has accelerated the adoption of blended and hybrid learning. Many learning providers don’t intend to return to their old ways and are looking at planning for a post Covid future. Active learning supported by the development of digital skills is crucial for learners in the digital world. It can help with

  • Empowerment and confidence
  • Accessibility and inclusion
  • Lifelong learning
  • Lifelong employability
  • Health and wellbeing
  • Social interaction and citizenship

Teaching methods

When we are designing our session plans and learner support our starting point will likely be the content that we want to deliver. Programme and lesson plans should specify the active ways in which learners will be engaging with our content. This engagement will include both real time and asynchronous delivery. Making learning objects and resources is a craft and we must ensure that all our activities are accessible and inclusive for our learners.

Each of the following active teaching and learning methods comes with suggestions for digital tools and techniques to support them. You can find out more about the most popular digital tools for learning here and many of them are mentioned below.

During the course our active learners will be:

Researching and recording information

Discussing and debating

Reflecting and sharing ideas

Collaborating on projects and presentations

Taking part in games and activities

Using digital resources

Researching and recording information

Help your learners to access online resources and sites with guidance and research techniques

Develop their digital information literacy by introducing ways to assess credibility and validity

Provide a platform for them to store and share information like a VLE, Teams or G Suite

Discussing and debating

Set up live online sessions with structured discussions and debates

Use the breakout rooms in some platforms

(Zoom, Teams, Big Blue Button, Adobe Connect, Blackboard Collaborate)

Set up group chats in other platforms

(Google Meet, FaceTime, WhatsApp)

Use polling to kick start discussions

(Mentimeter,, Poll Everywhere, Google Forms, MS Forms)

Provide opportunities for asynchronous discussion and debate using the VLE or social media groups

Reflecting and sharing ideas

Suggest tools for writing or recording and sharing reflections

(WordPress, YouTube, podcasting)

Provide access to collation platforms

(Pinterest, Diigo, Wakelet, ePortfolio, VLE)

Set up or suggest messaging tools

(Teams, Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp)

Explore appropriate social media for professional networking

(LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram)

Collaborating on projects and presentations

Use available corporate collaboration platforms

(Teams, Google Drive, Dropbox, SharePoint)

Find free or freemium collaboration platforms

(, Backchannel Chat, Tricider, Miro)

Provide project management tools

(Trello, Teams, OneNote)

Suggest data collection tools

(Google Forms, MS Forms, Survey Monkey)

Explore ideas and plans with free or freemium mind maps

(MindMeister, Coggle, MindMup)

Offer a range of presentation tools

(PowerPoint, Google Slides, Haiku Deck, Genially, Adobe Spark)

Taking part in games and activities

Create interactive resources

(Quizlet, ProProf, H5P, Articulate, EdPuzzle)

Have fun and consolidate learning with quizzes

(Socrative, Kahoot! Quizizz)

Organise real time games using learners’ suggestions

(Bingo, Pictionary, charades, word search, crosswords, trivia, Countdown, show & tell)

Research online games suitable for your subject area

Support learners to share or design and develop their own games

Using digital resources

Incorporate accessible, engaging resources in a variety of formats to ensure participation and inclusion in tasks and assignments

Resources might include videos, screencasts, podcasts, blogs, online journals & e-books

Encourage learners to create resources and assessment evidence in a range of formats

Planet earth with communications networks overlaid

Active learning can take many forms and with careful planning and preparation we can transform our delivery and enjoy the benefits in the digital world.

How will you make sure your learners are actively engaged on their course?



Dr Esther Barrett

Top tools for learning – Centre for Learning and Performance Technologies

Blog posts

Crafted Teaching, Splendid Learning

Webinars, classes and meetings – from Yawn to Yay

Building bonds in online induction


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