As you approach the beginning of a new year, and likely the start of a new term, we’d like to revisit an article from an early edition of the Cengage Learning eNewsletter that addresses some best practices that you can keep in mind as you think about creating student-centered activities. Do you have a “success story” about how you have re-shaped assignments so that they are more student centered? Share it in the comments section below!

Guest Contributor Jason Lancaster, M.Ed.

Regardless of the model you use, designing a meaningful educational program requires careful analysis, thoughtful development, and thorough assessment. Here, Instructional Designer Jason Lancaster shares valuable insight on current best practices for the creation of successful activities.


Increasingly, instructors are asked to create activities and learning experiences that are student centered. Learning activities can occur throughout the learning process as prerequisite, pre-instructional, instructional, post-instructional and remedial. Here are a few tips to think about when designing your student-centered activities:

  • Create pre-instructional activities. If your activity is pre-instructional, it can help students in several ways. It can motivate students, assist in activating prior knowledge, and inform the students about what they will learn. One activity can serve all three purposes concurrently. Be creative, because these types of activities set the tone for the rest of the learning event.
  • Provide regular guidance. Guidance should be helpful, timely, relative to the skill level, and considerate of learning preferences. It should be clear to students how and where to seek remediation, and to whom they should ask questions. Sufficient guidance is particularly important to novices as it can help foster good learning habits.
  • Provide immediate feedback. Whether the activity is in a physical class, or served up digitally, feedback allows students to track their understanding and self-regulate their learning. Immediate feedback allows quick remediation so students can adjust during the relevant block of instruction, not weeks later. Explain why their performance meets, or does not meet, the expected criteria. Avoid simply informing them the answers are correct or incorrect.
  • Create activities that correctly align with outcomes. While this might seem obvious, many times a student activity is designed to demonstrate something drastically different from what the objective intends to elicit from students. This not only causes confusion, but also hinders the learning process, which could lead to issues later in the course. Further, students might become disengaged, passive learners. Keep students actively engaged by always keeping in mind expected outcomes as you design activities.
  • Leverage technology, but avoid distracting students with unnecessary features, irrelevant content, and poor navigation interfaces. Create a contingency plan in case the technology fails. If learning how to use the technology requires significant cognitive effort and time, consider setting up a separate lesson before students dive into learning the lesson material.
  • Maximize relevancy. Giving students activities relative to how the knowledge or skill will be used in the future will increase the likelihood they will be able to transfer their knowledge to other contexts. Don’t assume students will make these important connections to the material on their own. Subsequently, try doing a quick self-critique of your learning activity by simply asking: “Would this activity help me to learn the material if I had to do it again?”

Jason Lancaster, M.Ed., is an Instructional Designer of digital content at Cengage Learning.

Interested in seeing how Cengage Learning is impacting student learning and academic outcomes with a new approach to online learning? Download a whitepaper that details how MindTap – a personalized learning experience – impacts student engagement, learning outcomes, and the instructor experience.

Post Author: Heather Mooney.