4 active learning techniques to engage your students


Remember those days back in college when you’d enter a lecture theatre filled with energy and enthusiasm? Yet as the lecture waned on, you’d get distracted; those endless PowerPoint presentation slides becoming a mere blur as you drifted off into daydreams about what to eat for lunch, or that cute exchange student you met at the Uni Tav last night.

Eventually, you’d realise you’d lost track of the lecture—or even worse, which class you were in.

We like to think those sorts of lectures are a thing of the past. But even at the best of times, students can get bored or disinterested―especially when the temptation of mobile phones and social media can be too powerful to ignore.

These days, educators need a next level strategy for engaging their students in the classroom―and for many, active learning strategies are the key. Here are four ways you can incorporate active learning activities into your teaching today.


Start a poll

Whether you’re teaching in a classroom or a lecture theatre, live polling provides an instant platform for audience or student engagement. Once upon a time, polling activities relied on a show of hands in the air or a piece of paper passed around the room. These days, however, live audience polling software allows students to participate in polls from their smartphones or laptops. They can even contribute anonymously, in order to encourage honest opinion. With polls updating on lecture screens in real-time, students can instantly see the results of group thinking.


Run a group quiz

Beginning a class or topic on a dull note can lose your students immediately, so why not kick things off with a group quiz? After all, nothing strikes fear in students faster than a spontaneous exam (joking).

Question them on what they already know about a topic, or how much they’ve learned from a previous class. By talking through the questions, students will be encouraged to explain the rationale behind their answers to the group, which helps to clarify and deepen their understanding of the topic. Empowering your students to consider alternatives, take stances, ask questions and make decisions is far more productive than telling them what to think.

Group quizzes give your students the chance to engage with the content and interact with one another without the stresses of a formal assessment. The best active learning activities for college students are the ones that encourage positive relationships in the classroom and allow even the most introverted students to communicate their ideas freely. It’s no coincidence that students who participate in group work tend to perform and communicate better than those that work alone.


Run a Q&A session

Question and answer sessions are a great way of gauging how successfully your students are keeping up with the content. They also give you the chance review any areas that your students may have felt were rushed, unclear or overlooked entirely. Essentially, Q&A’s allow a teacher or presenter to gain immediate feedback on what’s been learned by the audience―and to fill in any remaining gaps.

Interactive Q&A software saves a lot of time in this process by allowing students to submit questions online through a device such as a smartphone (and seriously, what student isn’t already attached at the fingertips to one of those!) while the lecture is still taking place. This is particularly helpful to introverted or less confident students, who may otherwise be reluctant to voice their questions or opinions in a public space.


Start a turn-and-talk

If you’re stumped for a simple way to involve students in your lecture, try what’s known as a turn-and-talk. This simply means posing students a question, then instructing them to turn to the person sitting beside them to discuss. Once you hear the chatter start to die down or you notice faces turn back to you, stop the discussion and ask students to share their answers. This strategy only pauses your teaching for a few minutes, and it allows students to process new ideas in their own words with their peers.

Active learning strategies are about students taking charge of their learning―not about a teacher delivering them a sermon. Turn-and-talks give students the opportunity to take a break from listening and to process and articulate what they’ve learned.


Whilst introducing technology into the classroom may make you nervous, more and more students prefer to learn this way. A recent study by Charles Sturt University found that 66% of students reported using a smartphone for their study, while 74% believed that the use of digital technology made communication with their lecturers more effective. For teachers who are serious about using active learning strategies in higher education, digital technology must be seen as a friend and not an enemy; if students aren’t engaging in the class via their smartphones, they’re much more likely to be distracted by them.

Active learning is about engaging the mind, and encouraging people to think more deeply about what they’re learning and doing. Sound good to you? We bet your students will agree. Join Zeetings for a free trial and see how it benefits your teaching today.



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