Thursday, 10 March 2011

Best Practices for Activity-based Learning from a Practitioner’s Perspective

Define the outcomes (competencies and skills) beforehand

You might be familiar as an educator with the process of writing learning outcomes and objectives based on the famous Bloom’s Taxonomy. However, many educators tend to focus on lower cognitive levels of Blooms Taxonomy especially when it comes to a content-driven approach towards learning. A structured approach to writing learning outcomes would be that the course designer needs to relate the outcomes with the assessment criteria and this should in practice be reflected in assignments, written exams or tests (whether theory or practical).

In activity-based learning, you can apply more or less the same principles but with some flexibility. Furthermore, in such approaches outcomes may not always relate to the subject matter content that is being taught. Outcomes are often translated into the words competencies and skills that demonstrate more what the learner can do in practice than his ability for rote learning and memorization.   

Keep the outcomes list and the number of learning activities reasonable

Learning activities essentially contain instructions on what is expected to be done by the student. In many cases, there are a number of sub-activities to do such as reading materials, installing and using software, participation on forums and other related activities. These sub-activities take time contrary to reading and understanding a chapter. Therefore, having too many activities will unduly overload the learner and cause a sense of illusion and de-motivation causing disinterest and probably dropping the course. As a rule of thumb a course of 45 hrs (3 credits) would preferably contain at most three major activities.

Furthermore there should not also be too many skills and competencies that should be targeted at in each learning activity. The support of instructional designers can help the lecturer in getting the right balance or if the lecturer is experienced in such types of pedagogical approaches, then this task can be quite easy. The focus needs to be on the quality of the learning experience rather than on quantity.

To be continued.....