Design for engagement2018-11-27T14:10:46+10:00


The planning phase forms the foundation of the unit design process


The learning experience you design should promote active learning in order to enhance content acquisition, increase content retention and enable students to become deep learners.

Encouraging active learning will help you and your students to achieve these objectives.

Some of the differences between active and passive learning are outlined in fig 1. The purpose of this table is to encourage you to think about how you might incorporate active learning activities into your teaching practice.


Teachers are information providers Teachers talk. Students listen and take notes

= students are mostly passive

Content is the king.

Units are structured around important content.

Typically a linear progression Assessments are contrived and test separate and discrete areas.


Teachers are facilitators Teachers pose questions/problems. Students work out answers/solutions

= students are mostly active

Outcomes are the king.

Units are structured around activities that promote outcomes.

Typically an iterative (spiral) progression Assessments are ‘real-life-like’ and test multiple areas simultaneously.

Some examples of active learning activities:

  • Share an experience, include an image/video.

  • Blog about an area of interest that is relevant to the course.

  • Reflect at the end of each module about what has been learned and how gaps in knowledge might be addressed.

  • Build or model objects/processes, which demonstrate concepts.

  • Demonstrate skills by creating or producing an item; share an image or video and include a reflective piece. Digital Futures offers a range of services to help you achieve this. Consider booking one of our Western One Stop Studios to develop quality video content, fast.


Strategies to promote student engagement are central to the design of effective TEL environments. The following are a list of the features of TEL learning environments that you can adopt as you design your unit.

Set a challenge

Set your students a creation challenge. Get students to create something related to the topic that requires them to think critically, creatively and deeply. They can create and post a video or photo, a piece of writing, an audio recording etc.

Example: This activity can help to facilitate interaction and peer-to- peer teaching. Students first create and post a scenario or challenge related to the topic for other students to complete. They then complete another student’s shared challenge. The student needs to consider the possibilities, outcomes and concepts first when creating the challenge for their peers, and then develop a deeper perspective when they then complete someone else’s. 

Encourage reflection

Provide opportunities for students to reflect on their learning. What did they take away from the learning experience? What was unexpected? What do they want to learn more about? Reflection is a double win – it not only makes the overall learning experience deeper for students, it also informs our practice as teachers. See the Infed article for a synopsis on reflection in learning in which key writers such as Boud and Schon are referred to.

Example: You might ask students to complete a written and visual reflection. In the written part, they share what they took away from the course; in the visual part, they upload an image (with text) that reflects something they’ve learnt about teaching and learning. 


Ensure relevance and authenticity

Ensure activities can be contextualised to the student’s interests and aspirations and enable opportunities for students to see how their work impacts on their community and the world. 

Further reading: For more on authentic learning refer to the work of Herrington & Oliver (2000) 

Provide choice, control and flexible schedules

Provide opportunities for student learning to be deep as well as broad to reflect how they choose to manage their time for study. Enable students the choice to demonstrate their knowledge and skills in ways that reflect their interests, talents and aspirations. 

Example: Adaptive pathways with branching activities that enable students to progress their learning individually rather than enforcing a single learning pathway for all students. 


Use visually-rich content

Consider the content. What is interesting about the content or the concepts of the course that will connect with students? Think about how you convey the information to students and consider:

  • Is experiential learning relevant and possible?
  • What experience is meaningful to the topic?
  • How will students reflect/apply/practice?
  • Is there a logical sequence to the topics?

Video is a great medium to stimulate discussion, convey concepts or to welcome students to a new topic. You can use the one of the many WOS Studios across the Western Sydney University campus network to make great, concise video, that will engage your students.

However video is not the only way to engage students visually. Source images from Creative Commons (CC). These are free to use as long as you credit the photo/image owner (in most cases).

Consider using images to: 

  • to demonstrate or support the concept you are trying to explain 
  • as useful analogies, e.g. an alternative way for communicating ideas 
  • to convey emotion to connect with students 


There are a range of tools available in the LMS to encourage student engagement, including:

Key concept capture Short engagement media pods produced in a Western One-Stop Studio or on your computer using Adobe Presenter, ISpring or Panopto
Open Education Resources Sourced from Creative Commons, Khan Academy, the University Library
Polling Collaborate in vUWS, Poll Everywhere, GoSoapBox
Webinars Zoom
Communities of learners Discussion board, blogs
Review Design Tools
DFT Support


Digital Learning Toolkit

Use this tool to see what recommended tools are available for your TEL activity

Download Digital Learning Toolkit (PDF)

Bloom’s taxonomy

Use this tool to see what recommended tools are available for your TEL activity

Download TEL Bloom’s Taxonomy (PDF)