How “active” are my active learning activities?

K.Park/ March 5, 2022/ 2 comments


What are some effective active learning activities for asynchronous professional development?


Many professional development sessions I have participated in utilize a synchronous component to tie the content together. As I’ve started to think about onboarding for new employees on my new team, I’ve realized that it’s not possible to have a synchronous session.  Employees will join at many different points during the year; maybe in groups, but most likely as an individual who will work through material on their own.  How then, can I make this asynchronous opportunity as engaging and meaningful as possible? 

What Kind of PD Is This?

First, I want to be clear about what type of online learning I’m writing about.  This is meant to be about being fully asynchronous, where a learner will view materials as they are able and in the order they choose.  There will be pre-recorded videos, but each employee will essentially manage their own pace through the content.  That said, in practice, there will likely be times when a person going through this onboarding course/professional development training, could meet with someone afterwards to discuss things they’re learning or ask questions, but that’s separate from what’s been planned and set up as part of the original course design.

Where to Start

One of the first places I would start before picking activities, is with backwards course design where all the pieces (goals, assessments, activities, and content) have been aligned, but also where interaction has been thoughtfully balanced and been planned throughout the design of the course. In a course that the University of Illinois shared with a creative commons license on Canvas Commons, the authors developing the course wrote that “interaction is the center of the teaching and learning process” and that this is who we keep learnings actively engaged.  These interactions are the student to faculty/teacher, student to student, and student to content interactions. These interactions directly influence the effectiveness of the activities selected.

Here’s a course planning template I put together during my time in ETM.

Course planning map/table adapted by ETM

After planning out my course, I can then go back through and examine how interactive and “active” my activities are and one of the best ways I can think of doing that is to utilize a rubric like the one below before getting creative.

Rubric for evaluating activities

Rubric provided by Indiana University through Canvas Commons under the Creative Commons license.


In my experience, common asynchronous learning activities are quizzes, reflections, work sheets and discussions, but they’re not always effective or engaging. We also know from John Hattie’s work, that not all activities have significant impact on student learning too.  So, I’ve been wondering what is the most effective in asynchronous sessions and will it always be dependent on who the learner is, or can I create something that is effective and meaningful?  What would this look like and how would this work when many active learning strategies I’ve seen and experienced, require more than one student (Think, Pair, Share)?

As you can see from this screenshot, there are fewer activities listed for an individual than for a small or large group of learners.

For the professional development I’m specifically thinking about, I think the most effective activities are going to be activities that allow the learner to apply something they’ve learned or to try working through something themselves – like case studies & reflection, but I also realize the activities I chose are going to also be limited by how much I am willing to participate and interact with the learner’s work in the course, so things like quizzes and summaries may also work well for what I need. 

I’m still not sure what the most effective activities are, but I’m sure with the rubric above and with feedback from participants, that I can continue to improve those activities to create a more meaningful experience.


Park, K. 2021. ETM Blog. New online course design resources.

Indiana University. 2017. Teaching Online. shared in Canvas Commons.

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  1. A very practical post, Karen! It’s helpful that you clarified upfront that you are addressing active learning in an asynchronous learning environment. The rubric you shared gives a structured and concrete way to measure effectiveness. I agree with you that activities that allows the learner to apply what they’ve learned tend to be the most effective. The key is to get them to actually “want” to apply the learning in order for it to be effective!

  2. Big fan of the rubric. Thanks for including! There are many resources out there for how to use rubrics well to evaluate student learning, but I love that you’ve highlighted an opportunity for instructors to evaluate their own pedagogy using a rubric. I also really appreciate your topic for this post — making asynchronous learning ‘engaging’ and ‘active’ requires much more intentionality from an instructor/course designer than synchronous does, and I think it can be less intuitive from a design standpoint. Even though it was almost an after thought, I also love that you made room for future feedback from your participants to shape the learning activities which will be most helpful for them (in other words, you don’t have to have it all figured out immediately). Always a wise way to approach professional learning!

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