Online Teaching & Learning

This guide was created in partnership with The Centre for Teaching and Learning & Library and Learning Services.

Principle 1

Actively Engage Learners: Ensure online learning material is stimulating, relevant and interesting; explain material clearly; use a variety of methods that encourage active and deep approaches to learning, as well as adapt to evolving online learning context.

What is Active Learning?

As shown in the diagram, active Learning can be acheived through learner-centric activities, reduction of lecture time, dialogue of questions and reflection, higher-order thinking, and more student interaction.

Image from: Sheridan, CTL

Why is it Important to Actively Engage our Learners?


Research on teaching and learning indicates that...Active learning strategies can be created for large and small groups as well as individual learners.

Active Learning promotes “a deep, conceptual understanding of a topic that is the hallmark of rich learning as opposed to passively listening to a lecture and cramming for exams” (Hahn, 2018).

Active learning provides learners with opportunities to practice skills needed for procedural knowledge (i.e., knowledge formed by doing) (Michael, 2006).

Active Learning involves the construction and (co)construction of knowledge by the learner, engaging them in any of the three domains (cognitive, affective, psychomotor). When engaged in learner-centered activities, learners are involved in a meaning-making learning process that facilitates an articulation of understanding and provides an opportunity to both ask and answer questions (Prince, 2004). 

Here are some detailed descriptions of active learning strategies in individual, small group, and large group scenarios, as well as some great tips for adapting these activities in the online learning environment. Check it out Queen's University - Examples of Active Learning Activities.

Image: Queen's University, Teaching and Learning in Higher Education

Eight Considerations for Creating Interactivity in Online Learning Environments

  • High quality and meaningful content has the potential to keep learners engaged and more motivated to learn
  • Including information that is general and not specific won't bring any added value to the learning experience, and may even make the learner question the value of the learning experience
  • Stay on-topic and always ensure that you offer information that will help them to improve their knowledge base and learn or improve upon a desired skill set
  • The key to finding what's relevant for your interactive online learning experience is to not simply include what you think is important, but include what you believe the learner may find both relevant and valuable
  • Learners need to be given an opportunity to explore the learning experience, to know what is expected of them, if you want it to be a fully interactive learning experience
  • Include links that learners can just click on in order to learn more about the topic, create stories that they need to interact with, integrate visual components that make the topic more eye-catching, and encourage them to explore the module by hyper-linking to other pages that may be of interest (connect to a website or to other relevant content)
  • One of your most powerful tools are reality-based scenarios
  • Integrating real life examples and problems into your online learning experience has the potential to draw in learners and show them, first hand, how knowledge acquired can be applied outside of the learning environment
  • Making these scenarios interactive by including video, images, and audio, enables you to create an immersive and effective learning environment that motivates and engages them
  • Including quizzes and mini-tests at the conclusion of each ‘chunk’ of the learning experience not only allows facilitators and creators to assess the effectiveness of the learning experience, but also offer learners the opportunity to gauge their progress and summarize the content they have learned
  • Make the quizzes interactive, such as including real-life problems that learners must solve by using their newly acquired skills
  • Include mini-tests or quizzes that feature video and/or audio questions. Offer point-and-click games that test their knowledge while still keeping them engaged
  • IEnd-of-lesson quizzes can not only help to avoid boredom, but boost knowledge retention rates as well
  • Emotional responses can help learners to better acquire and retain new information or skills
  • Including videos that may elicit an emotional response or images that may allow them to personally relate to the subject are keys to interactive experiences
  • Find human interest pieces (such as real-life news and events) that relate to the topic and integrate those into your online learning experience
  • Just keep in mind that you shouldn't necessarily go for “shock value,” as this will only serve to pull the attention away from the core content
  • Get your learners communicating with one another, even if your online learning course is centered around asynchronous learning (the kind of learning that doesn’t happen with all learners at the same time)
  • How can you do this? Start group discussions on online forums, encourage them to solve problems collectively via group chats online, and integrate social media sites into your online learning strategy
  • Group collaboration enables you to include the human element despite the fact that learners may not be meeting face-to-face
  • The use of a variety of different multimedia elements and a learning experience that is aesthetically appealing is going to be more interactive than one that relies solely on text alone
  • Use fonts that are visually pleasing and videos that make a potentially repetitious or dry topic more engaging and attractive
  • Making your online learning experience attention grabbing and unique will help the learners to connect with the curriculum and get more from the educational experience (this does not mean that it needs to be sophisticated or complicated!)
  • In order for good interaction to happen, learners need to be able to access the learning activities
  • AODA standards need to be followed- online learning materials need to be accessible
  • Universal Design for Learning (see Further Readings)

Creating Interactivity with Online Learning Tools at Sheridan

At Sheridan, we use SLATE (Brightspace/D2L) as our Learning Management System (LMS). Learning can be facilitated within the LMS through the use of different tools that are both integrated and institutionally supported. We have a particular interest in creating learning experiences that provide students with the opportunity to interact with their faculty and their fellow students. This is done through both purposeful design and the use of various online tools.

When students need to make appointments to discuss issues pertaining to their courses with faculty, they are able to do so through Cisco Jabber/WebEx. These platforms provide options for students to connect with faculty members outside of the virtual classrooms. Visit the I.T. website for setting up web conferences.

At Sheridan, we have an excellent, premium tool for synchronous online learning called The Virtual Classroom. Classes can run up to 240 minutes in length and faculty members can take attendance in class—documenting each participant’s name, role, minutes of the session they attended, and number of chat messages they submitted. In addition to the large classroom where all students can interact with their faculty member, The Virtual Classroom offers the option of Breakout Rooms, where small groups of students can meet to discuss different topics in classroom activities and then return for debriefing in the larger classroom. The breakout rooms are also great for scheduling office hours or one-on-one meetings.

The other features that provide additional interactions and facilitate the learning process are document and desktop sharing, as well as live chat. This is particularly helpful when faculty are discussing different documents that they want to share with students. Students are able to see the document right on their screen rather than having to open up a separate document. Recording of meetings or of classes are also possible, which is a great feature so that students are able to return to the content delivered by their faculty member and the in-class discussions.

The Video Assignment tool is a great tool to promote both faculty and student interaction and student to student interaction. It is one of the tools that is available through Bongo- The Virtual Classroom and it is integrated into SLATE, our Learning Management System.

Through the Video Assignment Tool, both students and faculty are able to record and upload both documents and videos, as well as use the desktop share tool. Another feature that is particularly useful is the Meeting Creation tool, which offers a small group experience.

The evaluation tools with the video assignment tool are significant, including an auto analysis tool that encourages repeated practice and reflection, enables more targeted feedback, and supports the development of soft skills like communication and critical thinking. The Peer Review tool provides an opportunity for students to reflect on each other’s work and to learn about giving feedback. The choice between automatic and manual distribution of peer reviews gives the faculty member the freedom to respond to the learning context and the students.

When students need to make appointments to discuss issues pertaining to their courses with faculty, they are able to do so through Cisco Jabber/WebEx. These platforms provide options for students to connect with faculty members outside of the virtual classroom.

SLATE is equipped with a discussion forum that is integrated into every course. This provides faculty with an opportunity to design learning activities that give students a chance to both reflect and to contribute. The discussion forum can be integrated into the group function in SLATE, as well. There are a number of external tools that can be embedded into SLATE— Padlet and Flipgrid —that  provide alternative discussion formats for students, as well. The addition of discussion forums can add significant engagement and interactivity to an online course.

The quiz tool in SLATE is quite sophisticated and provides the faculty member with lots of opportunity to interact with students even though they "aren’t in the room" with them.  There is an optional description, introduction, and header/footer for each quiz and each quiz can be tailored for multiple learners. Special access can be granted for students with academic accommodations to allow for extra time or different dates. This access can be assigned on an individual basis.

There are a number of functions that are meant to discourage academic dishonesty as well:

Question Randomization- When enabled, the quiz tool draws questions from a Question Pool so that learners receive different questions in a random order.

Respondus Lockdown Browser: This tool performs the following functions:

  • Prevents access to other applications including messaging, screen-sharing, virtual machines, and remote desktops
  • Browser menu and toolbar options are removed, except for Back, Forward, Refresh and Stop
  • Assessments are displayed full-screen and cannot be minimized
  • Printing and screen capture functions are disabled
  • Copying and pasting anything to or from an assessment is prevented
  • Right-click menu options, function keys, keyboard shortcuts and task switching are disabled
  • An assessment cannot be exited until the student submits it for grading
  • Assessments that are set up for use with LockDown Browser cannot be accessed with other browsers

Respondus Monitor: This tool builds upon the power of LockDown Browser, using a student’s webcam and industry-leading video analytics to prevent cheating during non-proctored exams.

Kaltura is another tool that we have integrated into our LMS. Kaltura is a screen capture tool that both faculty and students can use to create and share video content with each other. It can capture both the screen and the scope of the webcam to create asynchronous videos that have the capacity to incorporate a quizzing tool.  This tool is perfect for student assignments, exam review and for the delivery of content.  It provides an opportunity for asynchronous content delivery so that students are able to interact with their faculty in different ways when they are in the synchronous delivery.

Hahn, B., (2018, December 10). How people learn best: Active vs passive learning [Blog post]. Retrieved from

Pappas, C. (2014). 7 tips to develop a successful interactive elearning strategy. E-learning Industry website. Retrieved from