e-Learning Instructional Strategies to Teach to the Whole Person

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Teaching to the whole person is more important than ever.  But how can we do this in an online learning environment?  I work at a Jesuit and Catholic college where I’ve been learning about Jesuit education and Ignatian pedagogy. The principles of Ignatian pedagogy include context, experience, reflection, action, and evaluation (Korth, 1993).  To address these in distance education, I’m developing an instructional design (ID) model that is a combination of learner-centered, experience-centered, activity-centered, and content-centered to fully address the whole person in online courses. Ragan, Smith, and Curda (2008) stated that a combination ID model is possible.  Not only is it possible, to include research-based best practices, it is absolutely necessary to provide diverse and rich experiences in online environments.  Otherwise, a single-mode of learning will become monotonous and decrease student motivation to learn.

Table 1 provides instructional strategies for the online environment that engender higher-order thinking (cognitive presence) for each approach.  This chart represents an initial listing to assist educators with strategy selection depending on various affordances and constraints such as time, resources, et cetera. For example, an activity-centered lesson is based on an interactive task and requires collaborative tools and student groupings. Content-centered lessons are passive tasks where the student generally only interacts with the content; the exception being discussions of content. Experience-centered-activities require a hands-on approach to developing something or serving/working with others. The learner-centered activity provides the learner with more autonomy over their pursuit of knowledge and includes metacognitive actions for self-regulation of learning; the affordances and constraints for this type of activity are highly dependent on the task.

Table 1

Cognitive Online Instructional Strategies to Teach to the Whole Person

Activity-Centered Content-Centered Experience-Centered Learner-Centered
· Analysis of case studies

· Critically review an article

· HyperInquiry team project

· Academic controversy assignment

· Develop a book trailer on topic

· WebQuest

· Pretest/Posttest

· Write a literature review

· Complete modules on topic in computer-adapted lab/program

· Write essay

· Make a presentation

· Discuss content with peers and instructor


  • Develop questionnaires

·Develop a personal model of topic

·Participate in a simulation

·Develop a workshop

·Develop a wiki on topic

· Develop a podcast on topic or narrated PowerPoint

· Develop a how-to guide or video tutorial on procedure

· Write a blog post on topic

· Serve others as a mentor, tutor, or volunteer on topic

· Virtual fieldtrip

· Peer-review of papers or projects

· Students create m/c questions for review

· Design a project

· Evaluate a program

· Write an autobiography of your interaction with topic

· Complete self-evaluation

· Develop a personal learning network

· Capture reflections in journal, audio, or video

· Curate digital books and articles on topic for lifelong learning

Note. I linked some of these activities to sources of my own and others. Check back soon for an update!


Korth, S. J. (1993). Precis of Ignatian pedagogy: A practical approach.  International Center for Jesuit Education, Rome, Italy.

Ragan, T. J., Smith, P. L., & Curda, L. K. (2008). Outcome referenced, conditions-based theories and models. In J.M. Spector, M. D. Merrill, J. van Merriënboer, & M. P. Driscoll (Eds.), Handbook of research on educational communications and technology (3rd ed.) (pp. 383- 399). New York, NY: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates/Taylor and Francis Group.

5 Important Instructional Strategies

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An instructional strategy is something that an instructional designer (or educator) uses as a vehicle to deliver information.  Some instructional strategies require the Internet like WebQuests, HyperInquiry, and well-designed educational videogames, while others are used within the mind metacognitively like mnemonics for memory.  However, the vast majority are used to present instruction in multimodal formats.  Other strategies include academic controversy, advance organizers, chunking of information, imagery, and spatial strategies (i.e., Frames Type I and II matrix, concept mapping). The best ones are based on cognitive science and learning theory.  Instructional strategies differ from learning strategies in that the latter are for the learner to use for encoding information (also known as a cognitive strategy).  Here are some useful cognitive strategies for enhancing learning and retention: making it meaningful, organize the information, visualize it, and elaborate on it.  In my opinion, learning strategies should be embedded within instruction and modeled by the teacher to increase use.

Instructional strategies are based on the goals and learning objectives identified during the analysis phase in the instructional design process.  The instructional strategies must match the intended end behaviors, condition, and criteria of the objectives.  For example, if you’re developing an online course, it would be important to include an advance organizer (AO) for each unit to build a bridge between the information learned and the new content.  This bridging strategy is based on Ausubel’s subsumption theory  because it taps into your prior knowledge and adds new information in a structured way to build schema on the topic (West, Farmer, & Wolff, 1991).  AOs are written like an abstract with all the key information but brief.  They have seven different features that are critical to making this more than simply an introduction to a unit; for example, AOs must encourage students to tap into their prior knowledge on the topic.

Concept mapping is the most commonly used spatial strategy.  It makes a graphical depiction of the content in a connected frame.  There are different types of concept maps based on the type of information you need to teach: spider maps for different categories (typologies), chain map for linear processes, hierarchy map for complex topics and their interrelationships of the system, subsystem, and parts (West, Farmer, & Wolff, 1991).  This is related to the instructional strategy of chunking information into meaningful units.  You need to chunk the information before you map it.

Chunking and concept mapping are based on some of the same learning theories such as Sweller’s cognitive load theory, Miller’s seven-plus-or-minus-two principle, and Baddeley’s working memory model. All of these theories describe a limited capacity of working memory.  Cognitive load theory proposes several conditions to optimize learning such as reducing the amount of “noise” (extraneous elements in the broad sense) during a learning event.  For example, long lectures need to be reduced to five minutes or less due to the human brain’s inability to pay attention, process, and store lengthy amounts of information.

Other types of spatial strategies are frames, type one and two. Frames, type I is described by Reigeluth (1983) as a combination of ‘big picture and telescoping’.  Instructional designers use frames, type I as a way to unpack and emphasize the big ideas of a unit of information into a meaningful structure to build on existing schema.  Frames, type II is a rule-bound matrix and requires higher-order thinking skills to complete, whereas frames, type one, is for simple recall, comprehension, and application (West, Farmer, & Wolff, 1991).  Usually, the information for both types of frames is presented in a 2-D matrix. These instructional strategies are also based on the theory of cognitive load in that the structure and relationships of the information will reduce extraneous thought processing and instead focus on the intrinsic and germane elements.  It’s also based on schema theory, which was first posited by Piaget.  Frames, type I and II, provide the structure to build on existing schema.  Of all the instructional strategies, these five are the ones that I rely on the most as an instructional designer.


Reigeluth, C. M. (1983).  The elaboration theory of instruction. In C. M. Reigeluth (Ed.) Instructional-design theories and models: An overview of their current status (pp. ).  Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Publishers.

West, C. K., Farmer, J. A., & Wolff, P. M. (1991). Instructional design: Implications from cognitive science. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Ideas for Teaching Problem-Solving, Critical Thinking and Reasoning

Note: Last semester, I took a graduate school course on advanced theories of learning.  One of our tasks was to apply the information we learned to describe how we might develop a curriculum for teaching problem-solving, critical thinking, and reasoning.  What follows are my musings on the topic.

If I were to teach problem solving, critical thinking, and reasoning, I’d embed it into the content already being taught (e.g., math or science class). The selection of instructional strategies would depend upon the nature of the subject matter, as different content requires different ways of thinking. Bruning, Schraw, and Norby (2011) refer to this as thinking frames such as how one would think about scientific inquiry and the use of research methods.

PROBLEM SOLVING. I’d determine the thinking frame that corresponds with the content. Possibilities include scientific inquiry methods for science, engineering method of systems approach for information technology and machinery, or the use of cause and effect when writing analytical essays.  As for instructional strategies, I’d use Dewey’s 5-step problem-solving model, which solves different types of problems.  I’d consider various instructional models: team-based learning, problem-based learning, and tools for discovering the root cause of a problem (e.g., Ishikawa’s Fishbone Diagram and Toyoda’s Why-Tree).  Bruning et al., encourage educators to teach how to evaluate solutions, products, and processes.  They found that most of the time when an improvement has been made from problem solving it is because there was some type of evaluation or reflection of it.  The means-ends analysis could help learners evaluate each step in the process of problem solving.   Here are some options for problem-solving formats: Web quests, gaming, report writing, brainstorming, natural frequency formatted problems (Gigerenzer, 2002), worked problems for case studies, and real world problems.

CRITICAL THINKING. I’d include information on functional fixedness and divergent and creative thinking.  Functional fixedness is the inability to view common objects in a new way, which inhibits critical thinking about things.  Divergent and creative thinking are skills that can be taught to students, so that they think outside the box.  Second, it’d be important to include information about groupthink (conforming to group consensus instead of individual concerns), overgeneralizations, and prejudice when dealing with people and ideas.  I suggest the following instructional strategies to teach critical thinking: advance organizers, imagery, concept maps, Frames Type 2(there’s a rule involved with the matrix), jigsaw group work, reciprocal teaching, and metacognitive strategies (e.g. self-regulation of understanding).  Appropriate formats include debates, HyperInquiry, mock trails, writing, simulations, gaming, cooperative group discussions, journals, think-alouds, case studies, and apps that teach critical thinking.

REASONING. I’d create measurable objectives that address verbal and written reasoning skills on the topic, or mathematical reasoning if warranted.  I’d include logic models and frames to analyze and evaluate.  In my opinion, educators should explicitly teach how to make inferences (inductive and deductive reasoning). Inductive reasoning is a bottom-up approach to exploratory research, while deductive reasoning is a top-down approach to comparative research.  I’d include the Bayesian model (a logic model), so that students could understand probability errors and other probability theories.  I suggest the following instructional strategies to teach reasoning: metaphors, analogies, Venn Diagrams, case studies, cognitive apprenticeships, and metacognitive strategies.  Appropriate formats include persuasive essays, debates, HyperInquiry, mock trails (persuasive arguments), simulations, and gaming.


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Sandra Rogers