Topics Map > Hybrid Instruction > Design

Backward Design Step 6: Select Learning Activities For Your Course

Getting started with hybrid instruction

This document is part of a larger collection of documents on hybrid instruction from the Center of Teaching, Learning and Mentoring's Instructional Resources KnowledgeBase. See more hybrid instruction documents.

Home Design Develop Deliver Evaluate What Why

Select Learning Activities for your course

STEP-6: ACTIVITIESIn course design, the identification of activities is contextualized within the online and face-to-face modalities. Instructors have to think about the kinds of activities that support course outcomes and unit objectives and where those activities are best located to facilitate the best outcomes with the smallest investment of time. The following section will guide you through the types of activities to consider and a design framework to situate those activities. William Horton’s Learning By Design model is very helpful for instructors in the design of activities. The model helps instructors design activities with different levels of complexity and purpose.


Types of Learning Activities

Absorb Activities


“Absorb activities inform and inspire. [They] enable motivated learners to obtain crucial, up-to-date information they need to do their jobs or to further their learning. In absorb activities, learners read, listen, and watch. These activities may sound passive, but they can be an active component of learning. Of the three types of activities (absorb, do, and connect), absorb activities are the ones closest to pure information. Absorb activities usually consist of information and learners' actions to extract and comprehend knowledge from that information.” (Horton 67).


“Because absorb activities provide information efficiently, they are ideal when learners need a little information. They are especially helpful when [learners are] just updating current knowledge…Absorb activities are also an efficient way to extend current knowledge and skills. Learners who understand the fundamentals of a field can increase their knowledge by absorbing new details that elaborate a theory, concept, or principle…Additionally, absorb activities are good partners to other kinds of activities. Often, they are used to prepare learners for…do activit[ies]. The absorb part of the partnership orients the learner, sets the context, establishes vocabulary, introduces principles, and supplies instructions needed before the learner can engage in a highly interactive do activity…Absorb activities are best for highly motivated learners. They are not inherently interesting. However, they are highly efficient for individuals who can focus their attention and are motivated enough to expend the effort” (Horton 68).

Do Activities

“If absorb activities are the nouns, then do activities are the verbs of learning. They put people in action. They elevate learning from passive reading and watching to active seeking, selecting, and creating knowledge. Doing begets learning” (Horton 129).

When to use Do activities
  • “Provide safe, encouraging practice to prepare learners to apply learning in the real world.
  • Motivate learners by activating curiosity for material learners might otherwise consider boring.
  • Prepare for absorb activities by showing learners how little they know about the subject and making clear the value of the information they are to absorb.
  • Enable learning by exploration and discovery” (Horton 130).

Connect Activities

Link to prior learning, work, and life 

“Connect activities help learners close the gap between learning and the rest of their lives. They prepare learners to apply learning in situations they encounter at work, later in learning efforts and in their personal lives. If absorb activities are the nouns and do activities the verbs, connect activities are the conjunctions of learning” (Horton 163).

When to use Connect activities 

Connect activities aim squarely at increasing the application of learning. So use connect activities when...

  • APPLICATION IS CRUCIAL– The success of individuals, organizations, or societies depends on learners applying skills and knowledge...
  • APPLICATION IS NOT ADEQUATE – Learning is applied but not in enough depth or by enough people...
  • YOU TEACH A GENERAL SUBJECT – Broad principles and concepts can be applied in varied situations. You cannot include enough examples and custom activities to prepare learners to apply the learning in every possible situation they may encounter...
  • LEARNERS CAN NOT MAKE CONNECTIONS BY THEMSELVES – Sometimes, seeing the connection between abstract subjects and daily life takes extraordinary effort. This in-the-clouds stigma plagues mathematics, science, philosophy, and other subjects. Many learners lack the experience, motivation, or creativity to make connections on their own” (Horton 165).

Types of Learner Interactions

In the article “Designed Learner Interactions in Blended Course Delivery,” Reba-Anna Lee and Brian Dashew define three types of learner interactions that can be used as guides to help develop online activities that engage students in multiple ways to take advantage of the affordances each type of interactivity provides.


Lee and Dashew’s model “includes two key components in considering learner-content interaction. The first is the availability of instructor-generated or instructor-provided content for students. The second is the possibility of a more constructivist model wherein students create content. In other words, effective instructors are competent in the development of both teacher-centered and learner-centered content” (Lee and Dashew 70).


“To facilitate these learning interactions, the instructor must employ the many online communication tools that can bridge the distance and time that separates the instructors from the students…Communication tools might include discussion boards, synchronous chat rooms, course announcements, and course messages. A primary job for an online instructor is to select which communications tool to use and then ‘deploy’ it effectively in the course” (Lee and Dashew 72). Note: Lee and Dashew are talking about online courses specifically, but the interaction type also applies to blended learning. It is important to remember that, unlike online instruction, blended learning allows the instructor to meet with and communicate with students in a face-to-face environment. The goal and challenge of designing learner/instructor interactions is to know when and how to use each format to support a unit's learning objectives.


“The development of a strong learning environment is essential to a successful learning experience for the learner. A key part of this environment is the learner’s interactions with other learners, which help to build a strong learning community. The more effectively a learning environment is created, the better the experience is for the learner and the instructor. The learner puts a large value on the interactions they have with their classmates. In order to benefit from the expectations of their students, the instructor needs to move the course from being teacher-centered to student-centered learning as they move from the face-to-face mode to the hybrid model” (Lee and Dashew 73).


In the article "Active-Constructive-Interactive: A Conceptual Framework for Differentiating Learning Activities," Michelene T. H. Chi provides a taxonomy of activities that facilitate different kinds of student engagement with content in ways that support different cognitive outcomes (Chi 77).

Active— Do something physically.

  • Look, gaze, or fixate
  • Underline or highlight
  • Gesture or point
  • Paraphrase
  • Manipulate objects or tapes

Constructive— Produce outputs that contain ideas beyond the presented information.

  • Explain or elaborate
  • Justify or provide reasons
  • Reflect
  • Predict outcomes>
  • Infer new knowledge
  • Repair misconceptions

Interactive —Dialogue with others on a topic.

Guided Construction

  • Respond to scaffolding
  • Revise errors from feedback


  • Argue, defend
  • Build on partner’s contributions


  • Create content incorporating both partner's contributions

Other Elements of Activity Design

The following are other elements to consider in designing an activity in support of course outcomes and/or unit objectives.

Student time on task 

When considering an activity, estimate the amount of time it will take a student to complete it. This includes the knowledge they will need and mastery of the content upon which the activity is based. Considering the total time a student spends on all activities in a given day is equally important. The following resources can guide requirements and ways of estimating workload.
VIEW COURSE WORKLOAD ESTIMATOR (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site.

Instructor time to facilitate 

Another important element to consider when thinking about an activity is the time it will take you to facilitate it. This includes the time to interact with students to facilitate the desired outcomes in an activity and the time it may take to process the results of an activity and provide feedback on student performance. Factor the support staff and/or teaching assistants' role in facilitating these tasks.

Level of instructor presence 

Instructor presence involves students seeing you in their learning. In teaching a blended course, your ability to remain present directly impacts your students’ satisfaction and performance. In the article "Creating a Sense of Instructor Presence in the Online Classroom," Rob Kelly identifies three components of instructor presence to consider:

  • PERSONA — consists of the instructor's personality, teaching style, and interests — all the characteristics that go into the student's impression of the instructor.
  • SOCIAL — the connections instructors make with the student and those that students make with each other to build a learning community.
  • INSTRUCTIONAL — the role the instructor plays in guiding students through the learning process (Kelly 2014).

Keywordslearning activities, assignments, absorb, do, connect, learner, content, instructor, active, constructive, interactive, Chi, Horton, Lee, Dashew, backward designDoc ID104664
OwnerTimmo D.GroupInstructional Resources
Created2020-08-05 10:53 CSTUpdated2023-12-01 15:15 CST
SitesCenter for Teaching, Learning & Mentoring
Feedback  0   0