Developing Online Learning Activities for Blended Courses

Active learning can increase student engagement and promote learning both in the classroom and online. Blended courses integrate online and in-class learning by creating clear "back and forth" connections between what students are doing in both environments. Introducing an online activity before class as pre-work, and then providing feedback to the activity in class can help close the loop of learning for students. For more on blended course design see CTE Teaching Tip: Best Practices for Designing Blended Courses

Effective online learning activities have a clear purpose, connect to intended learning outcomes, and promote meaningful engagement. This is true whether they are relatively short and straightforward or more in-depth, collaborative, and complex.  

Online learning activities are varied and can include synchronous and asynchronous discussions, self-assessments, blogs, wikis, virtual field trips, virtual labs, case studies, simulations, problem solving, concept mapping, and interactive learning objects. Interactive learning objects include elements that students can interact with directly in the online portion of their course, such as multiple-choice questions in their LMS or an interactive map. Learning objects can be found in repositories or created. H5P is an open-source online learning authoring tool that creates interactive learning objects. See H5P Studio Quick Start Guide.  

Ten key questions to design your online learning activity: 

  1. What is the objective or intended learning outcome of this activity? 

Start with defining the purpose of your learning activity. Course outlines have a set of course objectives or intended learning outcomes for a course. Articulate a specific objective or intended learning outcome for the activity that aligns with the overarching course learning outcomes.  See CTE Teaching Tips: Writing Learning Outcomes and Aligning Outcomes, Assessments, and Instruction

  1. What will students do to demonstrate their learning? 

Now that the activity’s purpose is known, consider what you want students to do to demonstrate their learning. What type of activity is best suited for this? For example, if the objective is to recognize the key elements of a process, you may ask students to label a diagram. If the objective is to articulate the most effective interventions to tackle a complex problem, you may choose an online discussion.  See this resource on online discussion-based courses for tips on designing different types of online discussions.  

  1. Will the activity be individual, collaborative or both? 

Although we tend to imagine students working alone at their computers, student often tackle their online activities in pairs or trios; two or three heads can be better than one! Peer-to-peer interactions and dialogue about challenging concepts and problem solving can increase their engagement and support learning. It can be helpful to design activities with collaboration in mind and to encourage students to work together on such activities. 

  1. How long should the learning take? 

The duration of the activity will depend on its learning outcome, the complexity, and whether it is an independent or collaborative activity. The activity time can be short, for example a 5-minute self assessment for students to monitor their understanding of a concept, or longer, such as a series of applied practice problems or virtual simulations that could take an hour or more. 

  1. Which educational technologies should be used? 

Remember to keep it simple! Thoughtfully consider your choice of educational technology. LEARN, our learning management system, provides many tools to support online learning activities (quizzes, discussion forums, surveys). Scaffolded learning opportunities can be created that provide access to a sequence of activities of increasing complexity or difficulty in a controlled timeframe or through a series of learner actions.  

The EdTech Hub is your go-to for UWaterloo supported educational technology. It includes information on features and functionality, how to get started, and where to get support.  

Tools that are not centrally supported may be considered, but privacy, accessibility, costs, and other factors such as stability and longevity need to be reviewed. Using external tools is often more challenging for tracked or graded activities due to the lack of integration with LEARN. 

  1. How will I communicate the activity instructions? 

If you are sharing your activity instructions online asynchronously, aim to make your instructions clear, detailed, yet succinct. Include or link to how-to instructions for any associated edtech. Our learning management system is a good place to include activity instructions. You may want to remind students about any online activities and where to find instructions during in-class time. It may be useful to include audio or video to support your instructions. See the User Experience Design for Learning to find out more about best practices for incorporating multimedia. 

  1. How will I motivate students to participate in the activity?  

If an activity is perceived as valuable to students and properly integrated into a course, students will be more motivated to do the activity.  Participation marks or a small grade allocation for engaging in an online learning activity can also increase students’ motivation. Students are more likely to participate in low stakes activities if they are going to be integrated into their experiences in the classroom, tutorial, or lab. Providing real world, authentic tasks that are relevant to students’ lives or future professional lives that are challenging, but achievable, can also increase motivation. 

  1. How will the learners get feedback on what they have learned? 

“Close the loop” of learning by providing feedback on the activity. Effective feedback can guide a student and help them understand if they have achieved understanding. If providing individual feedback is not feasible, you can use automatic feedback and provide model answers or links to resources. Automatic feedback can also be tailored based on their performance on the activity. Effective feedback to activities can also be given to the whole class during in-class time where the online activity can be a springboard to deeper in-class learning or connected to new concepts. 

  1. How will the learning be assessed? 

Consider whether the activity is a formative or summative assessment. We typically provide summative assessments to students by grading them on tasks and their grade, or mark, reflects how well they have preformed on the task. Formative assessments are generally ungraded and can help students recognize misconceptions, improve their understanding, and support their performance on future assessments. Both formative and summative assessment can be part of a learning activity depending on the objective or intended learning outcome of the activity. 

  1. How will learners communicate and ask questions? 

Provide opportunities for students to ask questions about the learning activity in class or through online discussion boards, such as an Ask Your Instructor board. Also, consider spaces for peer-to-peer conversations in-class or online through discussion boards. These opportunities can help create a supportive environment for learning to take place.  


CTE Teaching Tips 

Additional Resources 


If you would like support applying these tips to your own teaching, CTE staff members are here to help. View the CTE Support page to find the most relevant staff member to contact.  


  • Lovett, M.C., Bridges, M.W., DiPietro, M., C., Ambrose, S.A. and Norma, M.K. (2023) How Learning Works: Eight Research-Based Principles for Smart Teaching. 2nd Ed. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. 
  • Bonwell, C. and Eison, J., (1991). “Active learning: Creating excitement in the classroom.”ASHE-ERIC Higher Education Report No. 1. 
  • Chickering, A. and Gamson, S.C., (1996). Implementing the Seven Principles: Technology as a Lever, AAHE Bulletin, October, pp.3-6. 
  • Fink, L. D. (2003). Creating significant learning experiences: An integrated approach to designing college courses. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. 
  • Meyers, C. and Jones, T.B. (1993).  Promoting active learning: Strategies for the college classroom. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. 
  • Stice, J. E. (1987). “Using Kolb’s Learning Cycle to Improve Student Learning.” Engineering Education, 77(5), 291-296. 
  • Wiggins, G. and McTighe, G., (2005). Understanding by Design. Alexandrai, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development. 
  • Zeni, P., Wilson, Z., & Justice, M. (n.d.). User experience design for learning.  
teaching tips

This Creative Commons license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon our work non-commercially, as long as they credit us and indicate if changes were made. Use this citation format: Developing Online Learning Activities for Blended Courses. Centre for Teaching Excellence, University of Waterloo.