Planning Active Learning Possibilities for Professionals (Updated)

"In a few days," shared a friend, "I'm going to have to encourage a team of professional development experts to figure out their vision for professional development. The problem is, I'm not sure what the best approach is. I suspect no one will agree and I'll be stuck refereeing a disagreement of epic proportions."

A few years ago, I recall being in a similar spot as my friend. I had come up with the best plan imaginable, taking advantage of my advanced, technology-based experience. Upon presentation, all found a way to criticize the plan proposed.

Just as chaos was about to occur, I had a flash of insight. I invited them to draw a picture of their ideal solution. The room grew silent except for pencils and pens scratching at blank sheets of paper. When each dyad or triad shared their vision, an astonishing reality became known. 

Not one vision had elements common to all. Each held a vital piece of the puzzle in their hand. We moved forward to collaborative planning with various pieces of the puzzle, each representing a particular stakeholder group. This enabled us to put together a plan and solution that worked for all. This experience transformed my approach to groups, effectively turning me from sage on a stage to guide on the side.

In their free book, The Joy of Professional Learning, the authors, who happen to be  Apple Distinguis hed Educators (ADE), outline various recipes for professional learning. These recipes promote active learning, which research has shown students perform better with than when they sit through a lecture. While these approaches are mostly intended for use face to face, some or all include technology or can be adapted to include it. In the final column, I have added my spin on the approach, describing what I would do. Of course, you may have another idea that would be fun. I encourage you to read Joy versions in their entirety. Unfortunately, they are only available in Ibooks format:

Finally, I have also added Problem-based or Project-based Learning (PrBL/PBL) to the list of recipes since it is one of my favorite approaches.

At the end of the chart, you will also find a Professional Learning Planner (PLP) to help you better construct your professional learning experience. Remember that all professional learning must kindle the interest, and occurs with the consent, of the learner. Fail to obtain either, and your professional learning may be doomed.

Technology Adaptation
Learners are engaged in a problem-solving approach that relies on ingenuity and creativity. Learners experience teamwork and collaboration. Usually involves a kit.
Participants gather at this social event to discuss important topics. Conversation starter cards, coffee and pastries are made available.
Setup online shared documents, padlet and invite participants to gather in groups to respond to the conversation prompt. This can also be done as audio (e.g. Voxer) or video (e.g. Flipgrid) social event. Technology makes capturing the discussion easier.
Challenge based Learning
Learners brainstorm big ideas relevant to a pre-selected topic, then discuss and develop an essential question. They convert the question into a challenge statement that "creates urgency and spurs action." When each team has a challenge statement, rotate the teams so problem-solving can begin.
Create an online shared document for each team. In that document, they list brainstorming, questions, essential question and challenge statement. They submit the link to their document via a Form, accessible by other teams. Each team adds their thoughts to the online document in a different color.
Learners collect items (magazine articles, links, photos, videos) relevant to a particular topic and create a shareable document.
Use a web site like PinterestPadlet or AnswerGarden to have students collect audio, images, photos, video with their mobile device then share it via the padlet. Participants could also rely on tools like Diigo Social Bookmarking, Twitter/Instagram hashtags, a Facebook Group.

Another approach involves creating interactive infographics using tools like PiktoChart,Easel.lyInfog.ram,
or Canva and then dropping that creation into Thinglink. Combining an infographic creation tool with Thinglink makes your infographic interactive, extending the reach and usability of your new creation.

Also characterized as an "unconference," this enables learners to identify topics of interest to them. Topics are grouped and organized according to available space and time. Learners then meet in the available spaces at agreed upon times to discuss a topic of interest. The law of two feet applies (participants can leave at any time) and there is no designated presenter or lecturer.
Have participants submit topics of interest via an online Form. The organizer arranges topics and create rooms using appropriate tool (e.g. Appear.inVoxer) and then publishes links to the virtual spaces. Participants join rooms and offer their contributions. A facilitator to handle technical issues may be designated. One example is EdCampVoxerconference that occurs every December.
Game board
Create a game board that involves dice, movement of pieces, and drawing a card that suggests a potential action.
Gamifying learning is made easier with tools like Minecraft: Education Edition that allow for creating a virtual learning space.
Genius Hour
Learners explore a topic of interest and 60 minutes is set aside to support learners' pursuit of that topic. Learners develop a driving question that must involve research and the project needs to be shared with the world.
A wide variety of technologies can be used to support Genius Hour.
Live Stream
In this recipe, participants use Periscope to broadcast from their mobile device, discussing a particular topic. They share their thoughts then publish the link.
Video reflection tools like and make the use of non-education focused apps like Periscope or YouTube Captureunnecessary. Simply create topics, share the code with each team, then they can respond to it. What's more, other teams can respond to the initial topic discussion by another team.
Mobile Learning
Learners use their mobile devices to interact with their surroundings as they walk around campus. Each station on the walk may include a QR code or AR trigger. Learners keep notes on their device, submitting it at the end of their walk.
Learners can take a learning walk and add learning (e.g. anchor chart examples) to a Pinterest wall, submit via Google Forms (which is later made available for viewing by the whole group), or use to create video reflections for various topics.
Online Course
Create an online course in your favorite learning management system (LMS) and then facilitate learners as they navigate various modules and activities.
Vary your approach from using traditional LMSs (e.g. Canvas, Moodle, Classroom), and try using tools like Slack, Voxer, and WhatsApp, which are mobile and allow for more mobile learning.
Design hands-on activities that correspond to a particular topic arranged in Centers. Participants work in teams to complete activities then rotate to the next station.
Create digital spaces that allow for teams to complete and submit activities online.
Podcast participants determine a guiding question or topic, then record the audio of their conversation. When complete, they publish it via a blog or a platform with an RSS feed.
Podcasts are easy to record using Skype, or Voxer. Each of these allow for conversations. Voxer works great for back-n-forth conversations. Afterwards, you can combine each vox using Audacity sound editing software.
Learners are introduced to a real life problem or simulation that requires them to identify what they know, what they need to know, strategies for solving the information problem, and a reflection component. They must identify guesses about the situation, what they know for certain, what questions they need answers to, and stakeholder perspectives embedded in problem. Then they divide up into groups to develop a solution from their perspective that prioritizes and groups questions. Each group has a different perspective and set of questions to respond to. Their solution may be a project, a presentation, identification of next steps.
Throughout the PBL process, technology can be used. For example, virtual simulations can introduce a problem, clarify the problem, or test a solution. Technology can also be used to communicate and collaborate with others engaged in parallel problem-solving or with different expertise (or in the field with relevant data).
Technology can be used to document as well as share solutions with others. Real life applications make PBL the best approach for integrated use of technology tools.
Contact individuals ahead of an event, inviting them to submit slides ahead of time. Combine all the slides into one slide deck then provide each person time to share about their showcase topic.
Ask individuals to create a timed video, place that video on Youtube, then create a playlist for all the videos. Share the playlist with others so they can watch it. Use a Padlet or online form (e.g. Google or Microsoft) to capture insights and take-aways.
Speed Dating
Learners are paired in two parallel rows and pose questions related to organizational goals. They each share their experience and then rotate.
Employ to setup virtual conversations rooms with remote experts (in another school, state, or country). Each device represents an expert that is remotely connected. Have learners rotate from device to device.
Twitterchats are organized around a particular hashtag (e.g. #tceachat) and enable anyone following the hashtag to join in. They can involve guest hosts along with a regular host that facilitates the technical elements of the chat.
Some ways to enhance twitterchats include using tools like Tweetdeck,, or to track chats and publicize them to others. You can also use

Professional Learning Planner (PLP)
Note: This is a rough draft of my PLP. I am actually working on a much better looking one but think of this as my rough draft. I'll probably share the nicer one later this week. After all, who wants to carry around this tome of a blog entry when putting together PD/PL?
When crafting professional learning, I often ask myself these questions:
  1. How do I engage participants from the get-go, encouraging movement?
  2. How do I setup the learning environment so they are moving from the start?
  3. How do I enable them to take the stage to share their insights and learning?
  4. What's the easiest way to capture that and share that with the world?
  5. How can I blend a check for understanding or assessment component that holds learners accountable and pushes them to engage in reflection?

The PLP is only one of many graphic organizers to help me make sense of learning. It is based on these general concepts shown below.

Concept Type
Engaging Activities/Icebreakers
(Question #1)
    1. Emoji Puzzle (template): As learners enter the classroom, hand them an emoji puzzle piece that will match one other student in the class. After all the learners are in the class, have them walk around the classroom and try to find the other student that has the matching emoji puzzle piece. (via  @diben)
    2. QR Code (template): Print QR codes and cut them into four pieces. Give each participant one of the four pieces of the code. Next, have learners find their group based on their category. Once in their group, have your learners scan the QR code to reveal if their category word is correct. (via� @diben and @preimers)
    3. Conversation Starter Stones (template): Use inexpensive clear stones with a glued on task to get kids moving and engaged. (via  < href="">@diben)
    4. Padlet: Have students create a slide about themselves in Powerpoint, use MS Snip to record audio annotation, then copy-n-paste the link to the Snip into a Padlet with the picture.
    5. Sway: Have students create a MS Sway presentation about themselves.
    6. Four Corners: Organize participants into four equal sized groups then have them discuss a question, sharing their responses via some online venue (e.g., Twitter with a hashtag, Padlet).
    7. Kahoot/Quizizz: Participants complete an online activity, sharing their knowledge (or lack of) about a topic.
Encourage Movement
(Question #2)
    1. Act Out Stories: Have students create a story about the information they are working with. Each learner in the group acts out different aspects of the story. Record each portrayal, then publish the videos via the campus blog or web site.
    2. Go Noodle: This web site has tons of activities that facilitate movement in class.
Taking the Stage and Sharing
(Question #3 & #4)
Employ one of the recipes shown above with a technology adaptation. Each technology adaptation makes it easy to share student creations with others.
Check for Understanding
(Question #5)

Updated 02/23/17

Update: Note the PLP is now available online with explanation.

Page 1 of 2 | Get the PDF version

Page 2 of 2 | Get the PDF version

Thanks for sticking with me through to the end. As you might imagine, there are MANY more ways to engage learners. What are some ways that you would like to see mentioned here? Or, what are some ways you would adapt those approaches to reflect ubiquitous technologies many learners have access to?

Everything posted on Miguel Guhlin's blogs/wikis are his personal opinion and do not necessarily represent the views of his employer(s) or its clients. Read Full Disclosure


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