Short courses - staff resources


How to make your course engaging

Use the right teaching approach to make your course engaging for learners. An active approach will inspire your learners and shape your learning design and the activities you create.

It’s important to make your course engaging so learners get the most out of it. How engaging you can make it depends on your teaching approach – the principles and methods that define how your subject can be learned. 

You need to decide what teaching approach is most appropriate for your specific course and group of learners. This will shape your learning design and the activities you develop. 

Start by considering what you want learners to achieve by taking your course. Use a storyboard to do this.

Create storyboards to help define your teaching approach

Storyboards plot the narrative of your course from beginning to end. They include what learners need to know and when during the course, and what they should know or be able to do by the end. 

  1. Start with what you want students to achieve at the end of the course – your course goals.
  2. Work backwards to build the learning activities that will help your learners achieve their aims.
  3. Include the tools that will create an engaging environment along the way.

Use examples to create storyboards

Use an active teaching approach

Using an active teaching approach will encourage your learners to:

  • stay motivated
  • get more out of what you’re teaching them
  • engage in thinking or problem-solving related to their professional lives

Active learning approaches include:

  • experiential learning
  • collaborative or peer-assisted learning
  • scenario or case-based learning
  • problem-based learning
  • object-based learning

Using experiential learning

You can use experiential learning to give learners experiences they can reflect on and learn from. This can include:

  • practising language pronunciation, reflecting and improving by playing back audio recordings or using feedback from a teacher or peer
  • conducting a laboratory experiment, reflecting on the results and refining hypotheses before doing another experiment
  • going on a field trip, for example a visit to an archaeological monument, and writing about or discussing their experience

In online learning, this might be a simulated experience, such as a virtual laboratory or virtual field trip. This is known as vicarious or observational learning and can also include:

  • videos
  • visits
  • doing field work locally
  • sharing experiences online to enrich learning

Using collaborative or peer-assisted learning

Collaborative learning allows learners to work together. For example, set a group of learners a task and get them to work in small groups to complete it. 

Peer-assisted learning means learners teach each other within their groups and provide feedback.

Peers who have just grasped new concepts:

  • are often better at explaining them than tutors
  • can discuss challenging topics and ask questions they might not want to put to tutors

Using scenario or case-based learning

Giving learners realistic scenarios or cases makes learning materials relevant and transferable to practice. For example, learners can:

  • bring their own (anonymised) cases to learning sessions
  • upload them to the online learning environment
  • use the cases to suggest alternative approaches or consider possible future developments or solutions

Using problem-based learning

In problem-based learning you support small groups of learners but they do the work, including:

  • defining learning outcomes
  • identifying and allocating tasks for members of the group
  • searching for the knowledge they need as a group to solve the relevant problem

You can get learners to report regularly on their progress. Learning will be intense and potentially more rewarding because learners feel they are the ones solving the problem.

Using inquiry-based learning 

Inquiry-based learning is an inspiring teaching approach, as the learner is the discoverer of knowledge and may do their own research. It's particularly well suited to a research-intensive environment like UCL and can include research and other projects. 

Learners can:

  • write up their small-scale research for assessment
  • work in groups or individually
  • present posters online or at a poster exhibition
  • record oral or video presentations of their work if live sessions are not possible

You can also set up a course journal online to share the results of the research.

Using object-based learning

Using objects in teaching can develop core skills including:

  • teamwork
  • evidence-based learning and communication
  • key research skills such as data collection and analysis
  • practical observation and drawing skills
  • literature review techniques and subject-specific knowledge

Objects can also trigger innovative dissertation topics. Find out more about object-based learning at UCL.

Attend a learning design workshop to engage your learners

To make your learners independent, innovative and critical thinkers you should attend a workshop about planning and designing a course using the ABC (Arena Blended Connected) method

Find out more by watching a YouTube video on ABC Curriculum Design for UCL Epidemiology.

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