Charles Sturt University
Charles Sturt University

Facilitating Student Learning

Biggs and Tang (2007) identify the following principles for effective teaching based on research about student learning:

  1. Create an appropriate motivational context, which includes meaningful activities, clear expectations about what is required of them and how they will be assessed, and a supportive learning environment in which students are able to explore and fail.
  2. Build a well structured knowledge base by engaging students' prior knowledge so that they can assimilate new information in an organised way that relates to their existing knowledge.
  3. Encourage active learning that includes communication and social interaction. Students should be encouraged to share, question, reflect on and challenge ideas to develop and advance their understanding.
  4. Students learn better when they are aware of their own learning processes, the strategies they use, and continually monitor and reflect on their understanding.

Strategies for facilitating active student learning in different teaching contexts are explored below.

Active learning in lectures

Lectures do not need to be designed as a one way transmission of content from the teacher to students, which is known to be an ineffective method for learning. Lectures can include active learning and teacher-student, student-student interactions, which help to engage students and provide feedback to teachers on student understandings of subject content and concepts.

This CADAD resource identifies 26 strategies that can be used in lectures for encouraging students to participate, think and explore their conceptual understandings.

A common strategy is Think-Pair–Share where each student is asked to consider the topic or a specific question and write down some ideas/answers. S/he joins with a neighbour for discussion, which provides a good basis for wider discussion with the whole group.


Peer Instruction is another peer learning approach demonstrated by Eric Mazur, who has shown it has a significant impact on engaging students in developing their conceptual understandings and changing misconceptions.

In this approach lectures are used to engage students in reviewing and testing their conceptual understandings and not for the presentation of subject content. Students prepare for lectures by engaging with subject content and texts. The lecture is presented as a series of topics where the lecturer provides a brief introduction or demonstration of the concept and then poses a question that focuses on conceptual understanding, rather than equations or derivations. Students are given one minute to think about the question and respond to the multiple choice options provided. This process may involve clickers for recording answers, or a show of hands. Students are then asked to turn to a partner and discuss their answers. They have one minute to convince their partner of their logic. The question is re-posed and students may revise their answers. Mazur shows that the 'convince your neighbour' arguments systematically increase both the percentage of correct responses and students' confidence.

click on the image to view more information on Flipped Classrooms
image from University of Queensland

flipped Classrooms

The Flipped classroom or flipped teaching also inverts the traditional approach to teaching by engaging students with course materials and content outside of the classroom; for example online readings, presentations or videos. Classroom interactions are used for facilitating their learning by focusing on concept exploration, meaning making, problem-solving and application of knowledge.

Quizzes or surveys may be used to gather information from students about their understandings or misconceptions of the subject content prior to classroom interactions so that the teacher can target his/her teaching to students' needs.

Tutorials and small group teaching

Small group teaching refers to tutorials, seminars, practical classes, demonstrations and clinical settings where students are taught in groups of ten to thirty.

Many teachers think that tutorials and other small group classes are where student learning happens because there is more opportunity for students to discuss and share their views, explore the relevance of knowledge to their own experiences, apply knowledge, role play and solve problems. Small group classes are also important because they provide greater opportunities for students to establish relationships with academic staff, with their peers, to build confidence and have fun.

Successful small group teaching involves similar principles to those identified by Biggs and Tang (2007), which are a motivational and supportive learning environment, active participation, social interaction and developing a structured knowledge base. Newble and Cannon (2000) emphasise that successful tutorials need to be purposeful; therefore planning your session, what you want students to achieve and making this clear to them are important elements.

A tutor's guide to teaching and learning at UQ provides helpful advice and guidelines about forming groups, group facilitation and dealing with challenging situations.

Some common challenges in tutorials and other small groups are getting student to participate in discussion and to come along prepared by doing the required readings.

Some suggestions are: Having ground rules about participation and preparation, especially if these are generated with students. Like all learning behaviours, they are more likely to be enacted when linked to assessment and marks.

Providing structure and a supportive environment for participation – helpful strategies include posing specific questions for students to answer and using buzz groups or other strategies where students collaboratively explore answers before exposing them to the larger group.

Online teaching and learning

Destination 2020: A Road Map for CSU's Online Future outlines a strategic vision for CSU to develop a distinctive model of online learning with student engagement, connectedness and workplace learning at the core.

All CSU teaching includes varying levels of online learning and pedagogy ranging from face to face subjects through blended learning to fully online delivery, accentuating the fact that all teaching and learning in today's HE sector is designed with digital learning applications and approaches, including the independent study model of delivery.

The CSU Online Learning and Teaching Model has seven elements that support the different forms of engagement and connectedness identified above and are intended to foster a holistic student experience, including achievement of discipline specific graduate outcomes as well as broader social and emotional development.

Features of this model are:

  • Small group support
  • Teacher presence
  • Interaction with workplaces
  • Interaction between students
  • Personalised support
  • Interactive resources
  • e-assessment'

Experienced academics discuss strategies for engaging and motivating students and creating teacher presence.

Developing social and personalised aspects of learning are very important for online teaching and subjects as they lack the physical presence of face-to-face classes which can help to create a community and make learning enjoyable and interesting. Developing an online teaching presence lets your students know that you are involved in the learning environment and has been shown to have a positive impact on their learning and motivation. Teacher presence has three main elements, which are:

  • Designing, preparing and planning the learning environment;
  • Being visible and accessible – establishing a social presence and online persona; and
  • Being involved in the learning process – acting as a guide, teacher or facilitator.

CSU Interact2 forms the core and serves as a portal to the dynamic online learning environment that also includes a range of Learning Technologies to enhance the student experience. Find out more about the affordance of CSU supported Learning Technologies for the following learning and teaching activities:

  • Communication
  • Enriching resources provide information and personalise presentation
  • Collaboration and assessment, and
  • Reflection