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Active Learning Planning Guide

Active learning is a teaching strategy that is proven to support deeper learning and encourage students to develop critical thinking skills and apply concepts they are learning through activities such as projects, discussions, and collaborations. To create an effective active learning experience, it is helpful to frame the design process around 4 sequential steps. Follow the steps below through the design of an active learning experience.

What Should Students be Able to do?

Step 1: Establish Student Learning Outcomes

Effective active learning experiences are designed to develop higher order thinking skills, instead of just memorization of facts and procedures. Begin the design process by selecting a challenging learning outcome from the curriculum. Outcomes are like learning goals, but instead of just looking at what a student should know, they describe what students should be able to do with that knowledge. Use the Revised Bloom’s Taxonomy document to determine the approximate level of critical thinking—remembering, understanding, applying, analyzing, evaluating, and creating—needed at each step to achieve that outcome.  

How Do You Know if Students Have Achieved the Learning Outcomes?

Step 2: Create an Appropriate Assessment for Students to Demonstrate Their Learning

Formative assessment is a crucial part of active learning. It is a dynamic process—both educators and students need a metric of student learning in order to adapt the activities to the learner’s needs. Select an assessment from the Assessment and Learning Activities document that aligns with the level of critical thinking skills (Bloom’s) necessary to achieve the learning outcome. Make sure students understand how they will be evaluated by creating a clear list of goals and/or a rubric. For example, if the outcome is for students to apply marketing strategies to sell a product, they should know what elements to include in their marketing proposal and how they will be evaluated. Assessment should also include opportunities for students to show improvement in areas of weakness and master their learning outcomes.

What Activities Will Help Students Achieve Learning Outcomes?

Step 3: Design Learning Activities

In-class learning experiences should be reserved for higher level cognitive activities. Select activities that align with Bloom’s from the Assessment and Learning Activities document. A comprehensive learning experience will usually require several learning activities. Always provide students with clear guidelines and a set of instructions to follow as they move through more complex activities. For example, instructions can be displayed on the overhead, printed, or posted within the learning management system. To allow more time for in-class experiences, learning that requires lower order thinking skills such as reading, memorizing, or viewing lectures are moved outside of class, yet still connect in some way to in-class activities. Encourage students to complete outside work by assigning points for activities such as quizzes, discussions, or written responses.

How Can Students Find Relevance in Their Learning?

Step 4: Make Real-World Connections

Adult learners need to know why they are doing something and how a learning experience can be applied to their personal lives and careers. It is crucial for educators to help students make that connection. Whenever possible, each learning experience should conclude with an activity that has students explore the relevance of their learning experience. For example, students may wonder why they need to give a final presentation of their work to the class. They need to understand that good communication in the workplace is crucial to a successful career, and classroom presentations are designed to prepare them for the real world.

Below is an example of one way an instructor might design a class for active learning. The process begins by establishing a student learning outcome. Notice how activities that require lower order thinking skills are moved before class to make room during class for active learning. The learning experience includes an assessment to measure student learning at the appropriate level of Bloom’s Taxonomy. Students are also prompted to think about how the material they are learning is relevant. After class, students are assigned homework to review course content.

Sample Syllabus for Week 2 SPK211 Group Dynamics Class

Student Learning Outcome/s: Analyze group leadership styles and behaviors in group dynamics. 

Level of Bloom's Taxonomy: remembering, understanding, applying, analyzing, evaluating, creating

Before Class During Class After Class

Read chapter 10 on Leadership

10 points
Canvas week 2 discussion forum

View this week's video clips in Canvas

Whole Class Discussion (20 min.)
Continue online discussions and make connections to video clips.

Learning Activity (40 min.)
20 points - Group collaboration activity (See Syllabus for Active Learning for details.)

Exit Ticket: Students write a reflection about how they can apply today's learning in their own lives.

Homework Assignment
Answer reflection questions 1-6 at end of Chapter 10 and submit to Canvas.


Anderson, L. W. (2001). A taxonomy for learning, teaching, and assessing: a revision of Bloom's Taxonomy of educational objectives. Abridged ed. New York: Longman.

Weimer, M. (2013). Learner-centered teaching: five key changes to practice. 2nd ed. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Wiggins, G. P.., McTighe, J. (2005). Understanding by design. Expanded 2nd ed. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.