Teaching for Learning

Teaching for Learning

Content Menu:

Organize Knowledge

Motivation as Driver


Feedback and Practice

Climate of the Course



Why else do educators teach but for learning? Yet, there is often a disconnect between conventional, accepted teaching practices and research evidence about what enables learning. In this module, you will explore how you can ensure learning environments are effective, accessible, intersectional, and equitable. As you extend your knowledge, you will consider strategies for designing significant learning experiences that are grounded in and informed by research principles that foster student learning in specific contexts. This module addresses the ways in which instructors can support their students in the ways that they organize knowledge, motivate learners, address threshold concepts, provide feedback, structure the learning environment and encourage metacognition The activity in the module is designed to help you put theory into practice.

Learning Objectives


You will:

  • gain a deeper understanding of the complexity of designing an online learning environment
  • build your knowledgebase in online learning essentials 


You should be able to:

  • Examine teaching and learning strategies that foster student learning in specific contexts
  • Identify essential elements pertinent to the design and development of online learning environments

Time Commitment: This module will take about 3-4 hours to complete depending on your level of engagement.

Organize Knowledge

The way you present information and how you subsequently categorize new knowledge can make dramatic differences in your students’ learning. You can help learners to make sense of new information by being explicit about how you suggest information fits with prior knowledge (Extend, ecampus Ontario, n.d.). Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is useful for organizing information. UDL acknowledges that there is great variation in how individuals learn. This is why it’s recommended that:

  • Learning should be designed to be accessible to everyone
  • Information should be conveyed in a variety of ways, known as “multiple means of representation.” For example, instead of using just a wall of text, consider adding some visual elements. If you do add an image, you should explain it using the description tag available online. Sometimes a video is the best way to explain something, but if you use video, be sure to always include transcripts and captioning.

Figure 1

Universal Design for Learning (UDL)



When designing a learning environment online, “it’s helpful to build in structures that reassure students that they are on track” (Darby & Lang, 2019, p. 145). Try scaffolding assignments and releasing content incrementally and strategically. How? Break down your large assignments into manageable chunks. Help pace the work and provide meaningful feedback along the way. Provide a checklist or an overview of an entire process (Darby & Lang, 2019). Darby and Lang (2019) suggest that you think carefully about what small and achievable tasks you can create for your students. What activities are likely to lead students to successfully completing them? (p. 146).



Activity #1

Purpose of Task: The purpose of this task is to create a visual concept map of your course syllabus using MindMup or another visual organizer tool.

Task: Create a concept map of your course syllabus.

Technology: MindMup is a free mapping tool designed to make organizing ideas more effective. Note: You can create a free map without signing up.

Example MindMup: Visit two examples. 1  here or 2  here

Allow learners time to process

If you want your students to succeed it is ideal to model successful behaviours that have been shown to be beneficial to learning. It is well known that students who take the time to review their notes do much better than students who do not. With that in mind, use the last 10 minutes of your lecture time to allow students to process what was just covered. Doing so has two main benefits: it encourages you to think about the main learning you hope to cover during your lecture, and it allows students to immediately retrieve, use, discuss, and question what they have just learned.

You can follow this pattern to organize the 10-minute processing time, allowing about two minutes for each step:

  • Ask your students what they think would be a good exam question based on the lecture they just heard.
  • Ask your students to flip their page over and draw a picture that represents a key idea.
  • Have your students turn to a neighbour and share their Cornell notes.
  • Ask them to compare their proposed exam questions and drawings. Can they answer each other’s questions? Do the drawings make sense to each other?
  • Finally, and possibly most importantly, ask the students what questions remain.

You will find that structuring the end of your lecture in this way is more effective than simply asking the students, “Do you have any questions?” Students often interpret that question as a signal that it’s time to pack up their binders and backpacks. In contrast, the summarizing time and activities makes the students’ thinking visible and provides an immediate opportunity for students to confront any misconceptions (Extend, ecampus Ontario, n.d., n.p.).

Motivation as Driver

What drives you to do something? What drives learners? Often, we as educators expect our learners to share our enthusiasm for a topic and they just don’t seem to muster the same level of excitement. Sometimes they don’t even show up. Motivation is a complex topic that has been studied in many contexts and has many variables. However, there are a few things you can do to make stronger connections for students to motivate them to learn (Extend, ecampus Ontario, n.d.).

Intrinsic motivation – “refers to engagement in behaviour that is inherently satisfying or enjoyable” (Legault, 2016, n.p.).

Extrinsic motivation – “refers to performance of behaviour that is fundamentally contingent upon the attainment of an outcome that is separable from the action itself” (Legault, 2016, n.p.).

Motivation can determine, direct, and sustain what students do to learn. Consider the acronym WIIFM (what’s in it for me?). You can use WIIFM as a helpful lens to consider your students. After you have ascertained their prior knowledge, you are better able to frame new learning in the context of their experiences and past learning. Always consider why your learners would be interested in learning something. What is the relevance for them? How will it connect to future activities in this class or beyond? This may mean shifting your understanding of why students are enrolled in your course. They might not be there to learn for learning’s sake, but to further their employability trajectory. Thus, it is important to be mindful of the different motivations for learning and attempt to find creative ways to make learning meaningful for every student (Extend, ecampus Ontario, n.d.). “[A learning] environment optimizes motivation and learning when it is accessible, secure, positive, personalized and empowering” (Yilmaz, Sahin, & Turgut, 2017, p. 112).


One of the most difficult aspects of deconstructing the skills and concepts associated with achieving mastery occurs when dealing with ‘threshold concepts’. These are often essential concepts in the discipline that must be understood in order to achieve mastery but are extremely challenging because once you fully understand them it is almost impossible to conceive of the topic without them. This is often described as an ‘expert blind spot’. If you have an expert blind spot, it’s difficult to break down the concept into its component parts because your thinking has been irrevocably transformed. It’s our role as educators to try and remember what it’s like to be a novice learner (Extend, ecampus Ontario, n.d.). Read a brief summary on Threshold Concepts or visit Threshold Concepts and Transformative Learning to gain a more in-depth explanation. To dive deeper in supporting mastery in the classroom visit: Mastery Learning Objectives and Mastery Thresholds in the Classroom or Lessons of Mastery.


Figure 2

Expert Blind Spot

Feedback and Practice

The principle of goal-directed practice and feedback refers to students needing numerous opportunities to work toward the goals that have been set and to receive explicit feedback. Formative feedback is most effective when it is provided at the right time for the learner. It can be immensely beneficial to you as a teacher in determining if your learners are on track. Formative assessment is even more important for your learners to discover for themselves how well they are doing and how they can improve in particular areas (Extend, ecampus Ontario, n.d.). For example, as students recognize gaps in their learning, learning tasks become more defined for the learner, and he/she becomes self-motivated rather than motivated by an external factor (Simon, 2019). Thus, formative feedback directly affects student motivation. Moreover, “formative assessment can help make the learning more individualized, as there are no two learners that are completely similar” (Simon, 2019, p. 14). Extend, ecampus Ontario (n.d.) proposes the following strategies for implementing formative assessments.

In-class strategies:

  • When the goal is acquisition of factual knowledge, chunk your assessments into smaller, more frequent quizzes to allow students the opportunity of experiencing test-taking in a setting with lower stakes than the typical midterm exam.
  • When creating written assignments, consider designing the assessment to include draft revisions. This could be done by frequent writing activities in discussion board forums, creating an annotated bibliography, using mind maps, or asking for weekly reflections (n.p.).

Yee (2019) offers additional ways of formatively assessing learners.

  • Directed Paraphrasing – Ask students to paraphrase part of or the entire lesson for a specific audience (and a specific purpose).
  • Teacher-Designed Feedback Forms – instructors create evaluation forms tailored for their needs and their classes. These are useful midway through the term. For example, use the “one-minute paper.” Ask your students to write on an index card (or the equivalent online document) what their most significant learning was for a lesson, module, or even a lecture.

Deliberate instruction is the act of always considering your desired outcome and intended learning for your students, and then working backwards in your lesson planning so that students can successfully achieve that goal (Extend, ecampus Ontario, n.d.).

Climate of the Course

The social, emotional, and intellectual climate of the course and the classroom has an impact on learning. You can promote a positive climate in your classroom by:

  • Providing opportunities for small-group learning and interaction
  • Creating a classroom charter
  • Listening carefully
  • Offering opportunities to be heard
  • Providing an environment that makes uncertainty safe
  • Examining your assumptions
  • Being respectful and inclusive
  • Considering cognitive, psychomotor, and affective domains
  • Being an authentic and genuine teacher
  • Co-designing learning goals and classroom expectations

These factors that promote a healthy classroom climate will vary depending on the people involved. It is always best to establish ground rules for your class right from the outset so that the classroom climate standards are co-constructed and meaningful to the group as a whole.

Why build community?

Building community is another important aspect of online learning that contributes to classroom climate. In fact, research suggests it is one of the key drivers in student motivation. This is because a community is a place that fosters inclusion; it is a place where people build relationships by bonding over similar interests or purpose (Byrne, 2018). Research suggests higher levels of belonging are known to lead to increases in academic achievement and motivation (Borkoski, 2019).  By building a community online, an instructor builds in student support. The question you should ask is “How can I better support my students?” You can start by finding out who your students are, what they need to be successful, and how your institutional mission aligns with your practices.

How to build community

  • Let students get to know you (audio, video)
  • Let students get to know each other
  • Allow students to work in small groups
  • Use real-time synchronous delivery for student engagement activities


“Metacognition is, put simply, thinking about one’s thinking.  More precisely, it refers to the processes used to plan, monitor, and assess one’s understanding and performance. Metacognition includes a critical awareness of a) one’s thinking and learning and b) oneself as a thinker and learner” (Vanderbilt University, Center for Teaching, 2021). Students need to assess the demands of the task, evaluate their own knowledge and skills, plan their progress, monitor their progress, and adjust their strategies as needed. Self-directed learning and actively taking the time to reflect on one’s own learning is described as metacognitionDeveloping metacognitive skills through deliberate practice and embedded checkpoints fosters intellectual habits that are valuable across disciplines. These checkpoints should occur at the beginning of the learning where students are encouraged to practice task assessment and planning. Metacognition should continue through the evaluation of the outcomes and adjust approaches accordingly. A very important factor for developing this flexible mindset is rooted in students’ self-efficacy. It is extremely useful for instructors to stress the importance of developmental approaches so that they can fully appreciate that intelligence is not fixed (Extend, ecampus Ontario, n.d.).


Module Checklist
I have completed the following:
  • Created a concept map for my course syllabus using MindMup or another visual tool organizer.
  • Check in: Reach out to the Teaching Centre if I have questions, concerns or ideas.





Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License

Teaching with Technology Copyright © by Kristi Thomas is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

Share This Book