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Different activities for learning

Introduction

Not all training courses delivered in the voluntary and NGO sectors have formal written learning outcomes but even if the courses you are working on do not, you probably still have an idea of key concepts and skills that each course aims to cover.

The activities that participants take part in during training sessions play a crucial role in helping them to develop these skills and knowledge. This section discusses some of the different types of activities that can be used to help participants learn in an online course.

The flipped classroom

In traditional training, the trainer possesses the required knowledge about the topic and tries to pass it on to the learners during their time together; either face-to-face or online.

A flipped classroom is one where learners access materials about the topic before they meet, and they spend the time when they are all together in applying the new knowledge, addressing any queries and discussing the issues. You can use a flipped classroom approach in face-to-face settings, but it works particularly well for online learning.

The following video explains the concept further, using the example of a school setting, but the same concept can be applied to all types of learning, including fully online learning where there is no face-to-face time.

Activity: The flipped classroom

Timing: Allow about 10 minutes

Watch this video and then think about the benefits and disadvantages of this approach for your own training by filling in the grid below.

Download this video clip.Video player: tto_1_week1_vidact3.mp4
Skip transcript

Transcript

MAGGIE WARD:

Every day, 7.2 million students walk into classrooms throughout the United States. These classrooms, generally, look the same. Thirty students sit in rows of desks taking notes in their notebooks, while the teacher stands at a whiteboard teaching a lesson. Regardless of ability level, each student receives the exact same information at the exact same pace. As Miss Jackson presents this same material, the students respond differently. Tommy gets it while Allison is bored and Maria is lost. At the end of the day, these same students head home, while at home they sit at the kitchen table doing their homework, and trying to remember what Miss Jackson said.

Students like Tommy make it most of the way through the homework while others like Allison find it easy and fly through it. At the same time, students like Maria get frustrated and need some extra help. Miss Jackson recognises that students have different needs and would love to work individually with each student, but this requires time and resources that her school does not have. One solution to this problem is the flipped classroom. Here's what it looks like. While at home, students sit in their rooms watching videos of the lesson that Miss Jackson assigned. Tommy is still able to work at his normal pace. Allison is no longer bored because now she can use this new technology to fast forward through the easy material.

Maria is no longer frustrated because she can review the material she didn't understand by pausing and rewinding. When really she gets stuck, she can get help from her classmates. New technology platforms like Moodle and Edmodo make it easy for her to chat online with her classmates. Just as the homework is different, the classroom is different as well. Instead of standing in front of the room speaking, Miss Jackson walks around the room. She checks in with Tommy as he works collaboratively with some students. She pushes Allison further with some more challenging work and she helps Maria with the pieces that she still doesn't get.

In the traditional model, the teacher stands between the students and the knowledge, but with the flipped model, the students have direct access to the knowledge and the teacher serves as a coach, mentor and guide, helping the students access this knowledge. The flipped classroom leverages technology in a way that lets both Miss Jackson and the students make the most of their time and efforts.

End transcript
 
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Possible benefitsPossible disadvantages
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Discussion

Your answers will depend on the training you were thinking about, but here are some answers we thought of:

Possible benefitsPossible disadvantages
  • Learners can study at a time that suits them. This may mean that more people can access the training overall.
  • Learners can study at their own pace.
  • Time together (whether face-to-face or online) can be spent on group activities and application.
  • The trainer can be more of a coach or guide and less the person who delivers the knowledge.
  • People often find it easier to keep a specific time in their diaries clear for a meeting, than to protect time for something that can be done at any time.
  • Learners may need to be more self-disciplined and self-motivated. If they encounter technological problems accessing the materials, the trainer will not be immediately on hand to help.
  • You may find when you meet up that people have not done the preparation work, and you end up having to teach material you were not expecting.
  • Some trainers might not be comfortable as a coach or guide. They might need additional support to take up this new role.

Do you think that a flipped classroom would work well in your context?

If participants are used to turning up to a face-to-face training without undertaking any preparatory work, it can require a change of learning culture in your organisation to make a flipped classroom work well.

It is helpful to be clear when people sign up for a flipped classroom course that it will work differently from other courses they may have attended, and to give them practical tips such as blocking out specific time in their diaries for the preparation work.

The sections Off the shelf: using existing online materials  and Making your own: creating and adapting content discuss some of the ways you can prepare online materials for learners to study independently.

Learning activities

Voluntary and charity sector trainers often use quite interactive styles of training in their face-to-face sessions. For example, they ask participants to do role plays, or they encourage people to share their own experiences of a topic, or they play games that convey a serious point.

These types of activities can help learners to understand topics more deeply, keep them engaged and interested and help participants see connections between their own experiences and the topic under discussion. When trainers first take their training online they sometimes find it difficult to find ways of doing these kinds of activities, and then there is a danger that training becomes very one-directional, with the trainer just imparting lots of information to passive learners.

The Open University categorises the different types of activities that can help people learn under seven headings:

  1. Assimilative
  2. Finding and handling information
  3. Communicative
  4. Productive
  5. Experiential
  6. Interactive/adaptive
  7. Assessment

For example, learning activities that involve reading an article or watching a video can be described as ‘assimilative’ because the main thing the learner is doing is taking in and understanding information – assimilating it.

Learners are usually quite comfortable with this type of activity but they will often learn better if they are also encouraged to do things they might find more challenging, such as drawing a mind map to summarise some information (a productive activity), or finding examples of data that contradict a given viewpoint (a finding and handling information activity).

The activity about flipped classrooms that you just completed starts with some assimilative activity (watching the video) and then moves on to a productive activity (filling in the grid). If learners are encouraged to engage in a range of different types of activity, then their learning is likely to be more effective. There is good evidence that online courses with a lot of communicative activities have lower drop-out rates than those with a lot of assimilative activities (Rienties and Toetenel, 2016).

Exploring activity types

View the interactive activity below to see some verbs to describe the kinds of things learners might be doing under each activity heading.

Click 'Reveal' on each of the flip cards to learn more.

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Not all types of learning use all of these types of activities.

For example, voluntary sector training does not always formally assess learners. The categories are not meant to be understood rigidly – the point is not to worry unduly about how to categorise activities but to use the categories to think about different activities you can use to help people learn.

The next activity explores this approach further.

Your past experiences of activity types

Activity: Assessing your past experiences of training
Timing: Allow about 15 minutes

Think about two pieces of training you have participated in: one that took place face-to-face and another online. They could be sessions where you were the trainer or ones that you just attended as a participant.

Make a quick note of the main activities you remember taking part in and put those in the middle column of the grid below against the activity type you think it matches. Then in the third column estimate approximately what proportion of the time you spent on each of the different types of learning activity.

Don’t worry if you are not sure which heading to put something under, just use the heading that makes most sense to you and your context. The point of the exercise is not to get precise figures, but to give you an approximate indication of what proportion of your time you spent on different types of activity.

If you have experience of only face-to-face or online training, just fill in the table for that one and compare your answer to those in the Discussion that follows.

Face-to-face training
Activity typeMain activities you rememberProportion of total training time
Assimilative
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Finding and handling information
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Communicative
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Productive
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Experiential
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Interactive/adaptive
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Assessment
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Online training
Activity typeMain activities you rememberProportion of total training time
Assimilative
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Finding and handling information
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Communicative
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Productive
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Experiential
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Interactive/adaptive
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Assessment
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Discussion

Here are one person’s answers:

Face-to-face training
Activity typeMain activities you rememberProportion of total training time
AssimilativeFormal talks from the trainer and some guest speakers.40%
Finding and handling information0%
CommunicativeSmall group discussions. Questions and answers with the guest speakers and the trainer.20%
ProductiveDrawing a diagram to summarise our view of one of the issues. Adding Post-it notes to a series of flip charts.15%
Experiential0%
Interactive/adaptiveRole plays. Discussion of case studies.25%
Assessment0%
Online training
Activity typeMain activities you rememberProportion of total training time
AssimilativePresentation from speakers using PowerPoint slides.90%
Finding and handling information0%
CommunicativeQuestions to the speakers at the end.5%
Productive0%
Experiential
Interactive/adaptive
AssessmentBrief quiz at the end.5%

Different people will have had different experiences and so come up with different proportions for each category of learning activity, but it is very common for online learning to end up being highly assimilative.

Assimilative learning can feel drier and less engaging online because the human contact is so much reduced compared to assimilative learning delivered face-to-face.

In face-to-face training, participants often learn a lot informally through conversations with other participants in break times but these opportunities for learning through informal communication are much reduced online.

However, online learning does not have to draw heavily on assimilative types of activity. Using the categories can help you to design in other types of learning. There are no right answers for what proportions of each activity type you should have – what is appropriate will depend on your particular context – but you should think about the following questions:

  • Do the learning outcomes for your course require participants to develop particular skills that could be practised during the training? For example, if one learning outcome is ‘increased confidence in discussing sensitive topics’, building in learning activities where participants practise discussing sensitive topics is likely to be very helpful.
  • What learning activities are your participants likely to be comfortable and familiar with?
  • What learning activities are they likely to find engaging and enjoyable?
  • What kinds of learning activities does your past experience of training in this area tell you are likely to be most effective?

In the next activity you will apply these ideas to your own online training to help you generate some ideas for new types of activity that will work in your particular context.

Activity: Applying to your context
Timing: Allow about 20 minutes
Ideas for activities

Think about an online course that you are either developing or hope to develop in the future. Read through the middle column of the table below which gives examples of specific activities that can be undertaken for each activity type. Then, in the third column note down one or two specific ideas for how you could include this type of activity in your course.

For example, if your course aims to train conservation volunteers, your specific idea for a ‘finding and handling information’ activity might be to ask participants to undertake a survey of wildlife in their local area, or to find out information about population levels of particular species.

You may find that some of your ideas for activities involve more than one of the seven main activity types. If this is the case, just put the idea under whichever one it seems to fit best. The point of this activity is not to worry about how to categorise learning activities but to help you generate some ideas about different ways of training people online.

Remember that not all the learning has to occur when you are ‘together’ in a synchronous setting such as a video conference; some of it can be undertaken independently before or after synchronous sessions. If your whole training course is asynchronous, remember that activities do not all have to occur online; you can also direct participants to do things in the ‘real world’. Participants are more likely to actually do the suggested activities if there is some form of feedback or reporting to the group. They are particularly likely to undertake any activities that are going to be assessed.

Activity type

Examples

Specific ideas for your course

AssimilativeWatch videos, listen to audio, read text, study diagrams and figures.
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Finding and handling informationFind out local information relevant to the course, e.g. availability and scope of services or population demographics. Select a key piece of information to report.
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CommunicativeAsk a question of the trainer. Discuss an issue in a small group (e.g. breakout room or WhatsApp or Facebook group) and report back to the main group.
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ProductiveWrite a list summarising an issue. Write a reflective account of personal experience. Record a short video or audio. Draw a picture to represent a key idea.
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ExperientialTake an idea from the course and apply it to their work or everyday life, e.g. a procedure or approach they have not tried before. Share ideas from the course with colleagues and gather views.
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Interactive/adaptiveRole plays and problem-based scenarios in breakout groups within a synchronous session. Computer simulations if working asynchronously.
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AssessmentAlmost any of the other activities in this column can form the basis of assessment. Quizzes.
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Discussion

Here’s an example of what someone working for a reproductive health charity thought.

Activity typeExamplesSpecific ideas for your course
AssimilativeWatch videos, listen to audio, read text, study diagrams and figures.Watch a video lecture.
Finding and handling informationFind out local information relevant to the course, e.g. availability and scope of services or population demographics. Select a key factor piece of information to report.Research local abortion guidelines and detail how one section differs to WHO guidelines.
CommunicativeAsk a question of the trainer. Discuss an issue in a small group (e.g. breakout room or WhatsApp or Facebook group) and report back to the main group.Discuss the differences between the WHO guidelines and local guidelines with a colleague or friend.
ProductiveWrite a list summarising an issue. Write a reflective account of personal experience. Record a short video or audio. Draw a picture to represent a key idea.Write about a case you attended (anonymise the patient) and outline how you would change that consultation with what you have learned.
ExperientialTake an idea from the course and apply it to their work or everyday life, e.g. a procedure or approach they have not tried before. Share ideas from the course with colleagues and gather views.Share your action plan from the course with a colleague and get their feedback.
Interactive/adaptiveRole plays and problem-based scenarios in breakout groups within a synchronous activity. Computer simulations.Simulated consultation with different interactions with the patient to choose from – like a choose your own adventure.
AssessmentAlmost any of the other activities in this column can form the basis of assessment. Quizzes.Multiple choice questions.

Now choose your next section.

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End-of-course survey

If you have finished exploring the different sections of this course, please do the end-of-course survey  before you leave the course.

This survey gives you the opportunity to tell us about your experience of studying Take your training online and what you plan to do with your learning.

The survey should take no more than 5 minutes to complete.

References

Rienties, B. and Toetenel, L. (2016) ‘The impact of learning design on student behaviour, satisfaction and performance: a cross-institutional comparison across 151 modules’, Computers in Human Behavior, vol. 60, pp. 333–341 [Online]. Available at https://doi.org/ 10.1016/ j.chb.2016.02.074 (Accessed 16 March 2021)