Learning Activities

In addition to providing learning content in an online course, instructors must also create spaces and opportunities for learners to provide their input and collaborate with each other. This helps the learner become more involved with the lesson content instead of being a passive observer. Instructors also need to show that they are actively present in the course to foster a lively learning environment. By deliberately cultivating more interaction — between you and your students and among the students themselves — you will build a sense of community and foster social learning in your online course. 

Common Activities

Class Discussions

  • Weekly discussion forums in Blackboard can be used as a means for informally gauging whether students are grasping key concepts and allowing students to make connections that lead to learning. The discussion boards can also be used to encourage and foster a sense of community among students in the course and as a place for students to ask questions, get clarification on assignments, and share resources.
  • Blogging provides a personal writing space for each student that is shared with the class; others can view and comment. An alternative way to engage students in discussions and knowledge sharing. Blogging can be done using the Blogs tool in Blackboard and the UMass Boston Blog Network using WordPress.


  • Web Conferencing is a good way to meet live online with your learners, as well as for learners in an online course to connect and collaborate with each other and practice their presentation skills. Review the Web Conferencing resources on our eLearning page for more in-depth information of its benefits and ideas for using it.
  • Use VoiceThread for interactive conversations, and student presentations.

Written Assignments

Students can submit written work (such as essays, research papers, literature reviews, reflection papers) using Blackboard's Assignments tool. Blackboard Assignments are also integrated with SafeAssign  -- one of the plagiarism prevention tools available at UMass Boston that helps educate students about proper citing practices.

  • Journaling: Students can express their thoughts, questions, and concerns with the instructor privately. Students can also use journals as a self-reflective tool. They can post their opinions, ideas, and concerns about the course, or discuss and analyze course-related materials.
  • Collaborative Writing/Editing: Students can contribute, create and modify one or more pages of course materials and track changes, which allows for effective collaboration between multiple writers. Can be done using Google Docs and Wikis in Blackboard.

Working in Groups

Group work can provide another way for students to interact online. Breaking students into smaller groups for projects can be beneficial for both the students and instructors. Students can connect and work with one another and have their voices heard without feeling overwhelmed in a larger class setting, while instructors may find it easier to facilitate the smaller groups. The Groups tool in Blackboard provides spaces and tools for students to collaborate with each other. 

Tips & Tricks


Social Learning

Involves learning by interacting with other people. Those people may be classmates, peers or others in the same profession; or they may be experts, such as a teacher or outside authority. An expert is anybody who can answer a difficult question or offer assistance. With social learning, teachers can manage larger classes, especially ones containing headstrong learners. The group counterbalances strong personalities and can deliver strong feedback and have it accepted. (Horton, W., 2012).

All Glossary Terms