Learning Activities

Step Two: Learning Activities

Organizational Framework

With goals and objectives in place, instructors then determine the course’s organizational framework—the structure and sequence of course material. Instructors have many options, and the “right” organizational framework will depend on the nature of the material and students’ abilities. Some options for the organizational framework include:

  • Chronological
  • Concrete to abstract
  • Abstract to concrete
  • Stepping stones; increasing complexity
  • Disciplinary categories/themes
  • Central idea

Many courses may combine more than one organizational framework. For example, a history course may use a chronological approach while also relating the material to a central idea or thesis.

Learning Activities

Learning goals and objectives are the desired endpoint, and the organizational framework is the conceptual trajectory to get students to that endpoint. But how will students encounter the material? This is where learning activities come in to view. Learning activities refers to all experiences aimed at promoting student learning. Again, instructors have many options, including:

  • Lectures
  • Discussions
  • Case studies
  • Group projects
  • Problem-based learning
  • Student presentations
  • Service learning
  • Writing reflections

There is no static hierarchy in learning activities. Because the task is to “produce learning” (Barr and Tagg, 1995), the instructor should use whatever means available to best produce learning for each student. As an instructor seeks alignment throughout the course, learning objectives will primarily determine learning activities. Furthermore, your organizational framework may lend itself to certain learning activities. For example, for a course organized on a “concrete to abstract” framework, case studies may be a good approach. Likewise, a course organized on a “central idea” framework may usefully incorporate regular discussion or writing reflections/journals, asking students to relate specific material to the central idea.

“Active Learning”

While many speak of the difference between “active learning” and “passive learning,” in truth, all learning is active (Zakrajsek, 2016). Students only learn if they are mentally attending to the material. Being physically or overtly active is not the same as being mentally attentive and does not guarantee learning, although in some situations, it can help. What matters for learning is whether the information is of value to the learner, is understandable, can be put into practice or reflected upon, and can engage students who are mentally and emotionally ready to learn—all of which can be accomplished by a lecture, discussion, problem-solving, or any other learning activity.


Barr, R. B., & Tagg, J. (1995). From teaching to learning: A new paradigm for undergraduate education. Change, 27(6), 13-25.

Zakrajsek, T. (2016, November 23). All learning is an active process: Rethinking active/passive learning debate [Web log post]. Retrieved from https://www.scholarlyteacher.com/blog/all-learning-is-an-active-process