Lights! Camera! Action! – an #activelearning design model

sebastian-kanczok-lights camera action-unsplash

Photo by Sebastian Kanczok on Unsplash

It’s a bit early to share this but I’d be interested in hearing if you think it has any value as a framework for designing active learning. Please comment or tweet @andrewmid.

I think one of the key challenges to the adoption of an active learning philosophy for academic staff is the perception that reworking their materials will present an insurmountable task – “I’ve already got enough to do, besides it’s taken me my whole career to get my lecture materials into good shape.”

Well, I’d quite like to talk about that, but not now. However, I am interested in anything that makes designing active learning easier. The following is really simple and risks being too formulaic, but it was useful to me last week as I thought about the way I was structuring my active learning session and, it occurred to me, it does map onto other sessions I have designed.


Begin your session design with some illumination. Make sure everything is well lit, everything is clear and in focus for your students from the start of the session. Participants can see their fellow ‘actors’ and everyone knows their role and all are ready and happy to execute the plot or the next scene!


You need to establish the conceit by viewing the scene through a lens. Frame it nicely (conceptually) through a nice establishing shot to first situate the action with a strong background and structure. Make it real for them and make sure its relevance to the overall outcomes of the production is clear. Consider the role of off-stage voices or ‘extras’ to help you establish the scene. Who else will bring credibility or alternative character plots and perspectives to support your direction?!


Everything’s ready. People feel confident. They know their role, they’re in character and they get the full picture. The conversation, collaboration, authenticity and tone seem to flow well.

You should be able to observe how the timing of interactions is better and the dialogue is more convincing with every take.


It’s time to reflect on the performance, check the rushes and listen to each other. “What worked well? How did we perform? Can we improve? How?”

In summary

The four stages outlined above may provide a useful framework to check that everything is in place for an Oscar-winning performance: recognition of your teaching and the success of your cast of students is inevitable!

About Andrew Middleton

NTF, PFHEA, committed to active learning, co-operative pedagogies, media-enhanced teaching and learning, authentic learning, postdigital learning spaces. Key publication: Middleton, A. (2018). Reimagining Spaces for Learning in Higher Education. Palgrave.
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