Questions in Support of Active Learning Tasks

To incorporate the principles that foster active learning, ask yourself these questions:

Real-world relevance

  • Does the task mirror the kind of task performed in real world applications?
  • How is this content useful or applied in the world?
  • Does this content represent the worldview of the learner?
  • What would be an example of this knowledge applied in the world?

Ill-defined problem

  • Are students required to make decisions about how to complete the task?
  • How can the goals for learning be framed around an existing problem that the learner investigates?
  • How can this learning goal be framed around an investigation?
  • Does this learning goal lend itself for inquiry?

Sustained investigation

  • Do students work on the task for weeks rather than minutes or hours?
  • Is the task presented as an overarching complex problem or as a series of small sub-steps?
  • Is this subject matter complex and would benefit from a sustained investigation?
  • What are the goals for learning and how can inquiry be used to reach that goal?
  • What will be the product of this investigation be?
  • What diagnostic and formative activities will scaffold and sustain the investigation?

Interdisciplinary perspective 

  • Are tasks and strategies relevant to other disciplines and broader knowledge?
  • How does this outcome relate to other topics across disciplines?
  • Are there any 21st Century themes: global awareness, environmental literacy, civic literacy, etc that this outcome can support and connect to?
  • Would the lens of another discipline aid the understanding of this outcome?
  • Does this subject matter / problem lend itself to be investigated across disciplines?

Collaborative construction of knowledge

  • Are students able to collaborate rather than simply cooperate on tasks?
  • Are grades given for group effort rather than individual effort?
  • Do the learning outcomes lend themselves to collaboration?
  • Does this outcome require that soft skills are fostered?
  • Are more knowledgeable students able to assist with coaching?
  • Does the learning environment allow access to other learners at various stages of expertise?
  • Would this learning outcome benefit from working with others and hearing diverse perspectives?
  • Are more knowledgeable students able to assist with coaching?

Reflection / self-assessment

  • How can learners connect what they already know with what they are learning?
  • How can learners self assess their understanding?
  • How can learners track their growing understanding?
  • Can students compare their thoughts and ideas to experts, teachers, guides, and to other students?
  • Do learners work in collaborative groups that enable discussion and social reflection?
  • How can learner communicate his / her understanding?
  • What stereotypes, misconceptions might exist around this subject that need to be dispelled through reflection?


  • Does the task require students to discuss and articulate beliefs and growing understanding?
  • Does the task enable presentation and defense of arguments?

Integrated assessment 

  • Is the assessment of learning consistent with the learning goals?
  • What type of project would allow the learner to investigate this subject matter?
  • Can smaller (diagnostic and formative) learning activities be scaffolded into this larger assessment?
  • Does the assessment go beyond an academic task and have value in its own right?

Polished products 

  • Are products or performances polished and refined rather than incomplete or rushed drafts?
  • What product can the learner create that demonstrates his understanding of this outcome?
  • Can developing a product around this outcome help the learner deepen her understanding around this topic?
  • Are students assessed on the product of the investigation, rather than by separate testing?

Multiple interpretations and outcomes 

  • Does this outcome encourage choice and application of unique approaches and diverse solutions?
  • Does this outcome benefit from being explored from multiple perspectives?
  • Are there multiple assessment measures rather than a single measure?

Multiple sources and perspectives

  • Are students able to choose information from a variety of inputs, including relevant and irrelevant sources?
  • Are students able to explore issues from different points of view?
  • Are students able to use the learning resources and materials for multiple purposes?
  • What primary/secondary resources exist that the learner can use to investigate this content?
  • Who are my students? What perspectives do they bring?
  • What perspectives does the content expose my students to?
  • What perspectives are worth exploring?

Learner relevance

  • Who is being taught?
  • Why should the learner care about this?
  • What does the learner already know about this subject?
  • How do the learning goals relate to what the learner knows?
  • How does the learning goals resonate with the learner's culture? 
  • What learning tasks would make these learning goals relevant to the learner?
  • How can I assess the learners prior knowledge and skills to scaffold understanding?
  • How might learning tasks need to change for students with differing sets of prior skills and knowledge?


Darling-Hammond, L., Barron, B., Pearson, P. D., Schoenfeld, A. H., Stage, E. K., Zimmerman, T. D., ... & Tilson, J. L. (2015). Powerful learning: What we know about teaching for understanding. John Wiley & Sons.

Herrington, J., Reeves, T. C., & Oliver, R. (2010). A practical guide to authentic e-learning. Routledge.Lombardi, M. , Oblinger, D. (2007) Authentic Learning for the 21st Century: An Overview.

Reilly, C., & Reeves, T. C. (2022). Refining active learning design principles through design-based research. Active Learning in Higher Education, 14697874221096140.