Online methods for 6 types of learning

With the publication of the University of Sussex’s Online Learning Baseline, a flexible guide designed to establish minimum expectations for all taught modules, we know that staff will be keen to start work on their 20/21 modules. We wanted to provide staff with some prompts and ideas for online activities which are supported by pedagogical theories to help adapt and enhance module content. Below we will take you through the ‘6 learning types’ which are part of Professor Diana Laurillard’s Conversational Framework, a student centred pedagogical theory, followed by some example activities for each type. 

The 6 learning types

  • Acquisition – listening to a lecture or podcast, reading a book or article, watching a video or demo.
  • Inquiry – learning through investigation, requires students to find resources, come up with questions and evaluate what they find.
  • Discussion – asking and answering questions of other learners, questioning other’s arguments and exchanging ideas.
  • Practice – learners respond to a particular task goal, use feedback to adapt their output or action and possibly attempt the task again.
  • Collaboration – working with others to produce a shared output (e.g. a definition, a diagram, a report), students are required to negotiate with others allowing for the opportunity for peer feedback.
  • Production – students produce something to be evaluated by the teacher allowing them to display their learning.

How can we achieve these learning types online?

Many of the activities that you and your students carry out both in the classroom and during self study would fit into these categories. The suggestions below will hopefully help you explore some ideas for activities that you can create and implement in an online setting.


As each module will have an online reading list, you can provide students with access to lots of resources there. Structuring this week by week, or by topic, will help students to navigate through these resources and keep on track of what they should have read. You could also create video or audio recordings for your students using Panopto. Many people will have been doing this routinely anyway, however with the transition to online learning try to be mindful of the length of your recordings by sticking to a duration of 30 minutes or less. This doesn’t mean that you have to limit the amount of content that you are providing to your students, just try to chunk this up to make it more manageable.


Rather than consuming the sources that you present to them, inquiry requires students to find and evaluate their own sources. You could present a particular theme or issue to students and ask them to find their own source relating to this, this could be a journal articles, news articles, videos or a seta of data among other things. You could then ask students to post this in a shared resource bank using Padlet or a Canvas discussion. Students then benefit not just from the act of discovering their own resource but also from the collective bank of resources.


You can run online discussions both synchronously and asynchronously. For a synchronous activity you could use the breakout rooms in Zoom to split the class into smaller groups, perhaps groups of 3-4 or in pairs for a ‘think-pair-share’ activity. These rooms will allow students to participate in smaller groups, making it easier for all students to contribute. Provide them with a series of questions or prompts and time limit, you can then visit each room to check on student progress and prompt further questions and discussions. After the time is up students can then come back together and feed back to the larger group either verbally or by writing a short summary in the Zoom Chat.

Canvas discussions could be used to facilitate an asynchronous discussion. As with the in-person discussions, you could provide students with a series of prompts or questions they should be addressing. You could use text, audio, video or an attached file in the discussion introduction. Students can then respond to the questions by posting a reply in the discussion, again this could be text, audio or video depending on each student’s preference. Specify a time window during which students should interact and bear in mind that some students may be contributing from different time zones so try not to make this too short. Instruct the students to then go back through the discussion and respond to at least 3 other students’ posts, asking questions of them and prompting further discussion to build up the conversation.


A practice activity could build upon the work that students completed in the inquiry activity. Once they have found their resource, or resources, ask students to produce a response to, summary of or evaluation of it. Students could produce this in various ways, for example as a presentation, a poster or diagram, a written piece or an audio or video recording. Once completed, students could share their output either via a Canvas discussion or Padlet wall if you would like this to be visible to all students, or using a formative Canvas assignment if this should only be visible to teaching staff. Provide brief feedback to students individually and consider posting an announcement to provide general feedback to the cohort.


As with discussion activities, collaboration can be achieved both synchronously and asynchronously. Present a shared task to students, this could be the creation of a shared resource such as a presentation, a definition of a term or a diagram, or this could be the completion of an activity (or series of activities) within a collaborative document. This could be achieved synchronously through breakout rooms in Zoom which allow students to share their screens with one another. For an asynchronous approach you could set up Groups within your Canvas module to provide students with their own working space. Within this space they can create their own discussion and set up collaborative Office 365 documents and Google Docs.


This could be a formative or summative assessment which requires students to display the knowledge that they have gained throughout the module. Again, the assignments tool within Canvas, which many will be familiar with, will allow students to submit a piece of work for you to provide feedback on. Consider allowing students to take a flexible approach to this, giving them the opportunity to choose how they will respond to a task. Rather than just a written response students could choose to submit a video, a podcast or a recorded presentation. 

There are many other approaches you could take and tools you could make use of for each of these learning types, please contact if you would like advice and guidance on setting up any of the activities mentioned here or to explore this further.

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Posted in Active learning, Blended learning, Learning Design

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We are the Educational Enhancement team at the University of Sussex. We publish posts each week on using technology to support teaching and learning. Read more about us.

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