Three Strategies to Ensure Student Success and Engagement


Research suggests that effective teaching and learning environments: 1) facilitate a deep approach to learning where students are actively involved and seek further meaning and understanding through experience, application, practice and reflection; 2) provide organization and structure through clearly defined goals, learning objectives and standards for performance; 3) provide opportunities for students to receive frequent feedback; 4) provide authentic learning experiences that establish personal and real-world relevance; and, 5) provide opportunities for independence and choice (Entwistle and Tait, 1990; Trigwell and Prosser, 1991; deWinstanley and Bjork, 2002; Lizzio et al., 2002; Newmaster et al., 2006;  Weiman, 2007;  Kember and Hong, 2008; Revell and Wainwright, 2009).

The following 3 strategies translate these fundamental concepts into action:

1) Establish organization and structure

  • Establish and communicate clear learning objectives throughout the course
  • Establish and communicate clear standards for performance (e.g. rubrics and grading guidelines)
  • Give clear and useful explanations
  • Vary and structure learning activities (~20 min.) to focus attention
  • Focus each lesson/session on a few main concepts
  • Repeat and space key information within and between lectures/labs/seminar

2) Keep Learners Intrinsically Motivated

  • Establish personal and real-world relevance
  • Provide opportunities for independence and choice in learning content and process
  • Provide opportunities to receive frequent feedback and to scaffold learning

3) Involve the Learner

  • Provide opportunities for peer interaction and discussion
  • Provide opportunities for independent interpretation, elaboration and meta-cognition
  • Use activities that promote practice and problem-solving to facilitate synthesis, integration and application
  • Ask questions and demonstrate an interest in students’ opinion, and their challenges with the subject matter
  • Promote a sense of reciprocal learning and interaction by demonstrating a sense of enthusiasm, trust, approachability, honesty and humility


deWinstanley, P.A. and Bjork, R.A .2002.Successful lecturing: presenting information in ways that engage effective processing.  New Directions for Teaching and Learning 89:19-32.

Entwistle, N. and Tait, H. 1990.  Approaches to learning, evaluations of teaching, and preferences for contrasting academic environments.  Higher Education 19: 169-194.

Kember, D., Ho, A., and Hong, C. 2008. The importance of establishing relevance in motivating student learning. Active Learning in Higher Education 9(3): 249-263.

Lizzio, A., Wilson, K., and Simons R. 2002.  University students’ perceptions of the learning environment and academic outcomes: implications for theory and practice.  Studies in Higher Education 27(1):27-52.

Newmaster, S., Lacroix, C.A., and Rossenboon, C. 2006. Authentic learning as a mechanism for learner centredness. International Journal of Learning 13 (6): 103-112.

Revell, A. and Wainwright, E. 2009.  What makes lectures ‘unmissable’? Insights into teaching excellence and active learning.  Journal of Geography in Higher Education 33(2): 209-233.

Trigwell, K. And Prosser, M. 1991.  Improving the quality of student learning: the influence of learning context and student approaches to learning on learning outcomes.  Higher Education 22:251-266.

Wieman, C. 2007. Why not try a scientific approach to science education? Change: The Magazine of Higher Learning 39(5): 9-15.