By the end of this module, you will be able to: 

  1. Identify methods to enhance learning through cognitive engagement and learning strategies
  2. Design instructional events with suggestions of possible learning strategies to enhance students’ retention
  3. Use strategies to engage students at a cognitive level
  4. Evaluate the design of your task in order to improve it if found necessary.


Good teaching includes showing students how to learn, remember, think, and motivate themselves. Learning strategies, also known as cognitive strategies, mark the difference between using educational technology as a delivery mechanism (teacher-centred approach), and using educational technology as a cognitive tool for students to manipulate content and create their own interpretations (Valanides & Angel, 2005). Learning strategies can be defined as behaviours and thoughts in which a learner engages and which are intended to influence the learner’s encoding process (Weinstein & Mayer, 1983). As such, they are “mental operations or procedures that the student may use to acquire, retain and retrieve different kinds of knowledge and performance” (Jonassen, 1988, p. 155).  Considering learning strategies as part of your design is important for they are likely to promote cognitive engagement which in turn enhances learning. Cognitive engagement emphasizes broad notions such as thoughtfulness and willingness to exert the necessary effort to succeed and master complex skills. In this section, cognitive engagement and learning strategies will be explored as methods to support the way in which a learner interacts with the learning material.

Here is a video to give you an idea of the type of suggestions you could give your students to help them study:


Providing suggestions to your students as to how to learn better may result in the following benefits:

Psychological Affective Cognitive
Fuels well being Motivation to learn Facilitates deep problem solving by broadening scope of attention and cognition
Enhances self-esteem, sense of responsibility, competence and social relations Fosters Social competences Activates creative thinking and promotes academic achievement

Implementation Tips

The use of learning strategies in an online subject is often overseen, as the approach is situational and considered difficult in its implementation (Jonassen, 1988).  There proposal is to entice learners’ cognitive engagement  by including suggestions as to how to process the material more effectively in the instructions of the task. Avoid being too specific to leave room for creativity.  Here are a couple of scenarios to  exemplify:                  

  1. You need to plan a pre-recorded or face-to-face lecture that covers really abstract, difficult or relevant topics.  You want to make sure your learners absorb as much as possible for their understanding is essential to the success of subsequent material.  Most learners will passively listen to the lecture or watch the video.  After stating the objectives of the lecture you could add a suggestion as to how to process the content.  A suggestion for low level cognitive engagement would be to instruct your learners to take verbatim notes, and highlight sentences or key concepts in their notes, however, this approach may lead to shallow understanding of the lecture. To increase their level of engagement, you could ask them to self explain the lesson by writing a reflection journal, record an audio of their reflection, create a concept map, or draw a table to compare and contrast terms or topics in the lecture.  If appropriate to your context, and to maximise cognitive engagement, you could ask them to discuss what they learned with their peers, take collaborative notes using an online notepad or collaborate in the creation of a concept map.                                                                                
  2. Another suggestion is to provide students with an electronic notebook as a cognitive tool for them to record and keep track of their reflections.  Cognitive tools refer to technologies that enhance the cognitive capacity during thinking, problem solving, and learning (Wang, Hsu, Reeves, & Coster, 2014).  For instance, after stating the objectives you could  say something like, “after having read the chapter and watched the video sample of the experiment, create a mind map of the topic using and include the finished product in your electronic notebook”. To provide weight and relevance to the creation of an organised electronic notebook, it can be given a percentage in the final grade, or it could be considered as part of an electronic portfolio.                                             

The trick to cognitive engagement is creating opportunities for students to manipulate content to create their own interpretations of knowledge.  The more they reflect on, generate, defend, or retrieve that knowledge, the more they will learn.  Now, think of a topic in your curriculum.  Use the following chart to help you brainstorm and appropriate strategy for your topic.  Notice how each learning strategy includes  instructional activities you could suggest, along with a link to cognitive tools you could provide your students to help them record their interpretations of the content.

Learning Strategy Instructional Activities Possible range of Cognitive Tools
Recall: repetition, rehearsal, review, mnemonic techniques
  • Repeat processing, such as re-reading a text passage.
  • Repetitive practice in recalling information without re-organisation.
  • Underlining or copying parts of a lesson.
Pre-recorded lectures, videos, online flashcards, collaborative online note taking.
Integration: Paraphrasing, metaphors, exemplifying, covert and overt practice
  • Restate information in your own words.
  • Generate additional examples of an event, object or, idea.
  • Mentally practice learning behaviours.
  • Complete exercises or practice activities.
Discussion boards, blogs, wikis, journals, forums, e-magazines.
Organisation: Analysis of key ideas, categorisation, outlining, networking, pattern noting, cognitive mapping
  • Identify key concepts, develop definitions, and compare with other concepts.
  • Classify concepts according to taxonomy or class scheme.
  • Develop hierarchical list of concepts found in materials.
  • Identify nodes, classify links, diagram, and link ideas on a mental map.
  • Pairwise comparison strength of relationships, and statistical scaling in a mental map.
Journals, wikis, forums, online flashcards, database software such as excel, concept mapping software.
Elaboration: Imaging, analogies, synthesis, sentence elaboration, implications, drawing inferences.
  • Create mental images or drawings that describe content
  • Complete analogies or generate own
  • Add descriptive information to make material more meaningful
  • State implications
  • Infer causes for outcomes and events.
Voice recordings, blogs, wikis, journals, e-magazines, or online collaborative note taking software.
Planning: selecting, preparing, gauging, estimating
  • Identifying learning goals,
  • Determining difficulty or depth of the task
  • Breaking down roles and sections of collaborative project.
Syllabus, assessment rubric, discussion forums, chats or video conferencing software.
Attending: focusing, searching, contrasting, validating
  • Investigate a topic.
  • Comparing and contrasting different elements.
  • Peer review, and feedback
World wide web, online encyclopaedias, forums, blogs, wikis.
Encoding: elaborating, qualitatively relating.
  • Paraphrasing, summarising.
  • Create an analogy between two elements.
  • Linking and contrasting elements
Cognitive mapping software, collaborative note taking, journal, wikis, blogs.
Affective: concentration or relaxation strategies
  • Time and concentration management by reducing distractions
  • Goal setting
  • Relaxation techniques such as sports or meditation.
Taking short breaks in between study sessions, calendar, journal.


Here are a couple of tips to help you enhance the likelihood of cognitive engagement in the design of your task:                                        

  • Create the optimal challenge fit to student’s skills. Don’t overcomplicate or oversimplify.
  • Communicate your high expectations to students, but be careful not to scare your students away. The suggestion is to ensure that they know you believe in their capacity to achieve the learning outcomes.
  • If possible, use a real world scenario or problem to support the importance of the activity
  • Use ill-defined problems, project or case studies that involve the use of supportive materials
  • Be open, and willing to listen to your students.  This will help you establish positive teacher student relations
  • Write clear objectives to your task.  If possible include an assessment rubric to explicitly communicate your expectations
  • Allow enough time to monitor and provide timely feedback. Have a systematic method to using the communication channels available to you
  • Leave room for students to use their creativity in the details of the task. This will give your students a sense of control or autonomy over their learning
  • Use authentic scenarios to increase situational interest 

Now, here is another video of useful learning strategies, you could suggest to your students:

Supportive Materials

Now, you can work on designing your tasks, resources and support. Click on the following link to access guides to support your design process:



  1. Jonassen, D. H. (1988). Integrating Learning Strategies into Courseware to Facilitate Deeper Processing  In D. H. Jonassen (Ed.), Instructional designs for microcomputer courseware: Hillsdale, N.J. : L. Erlbaum Associates, 1988             
  2. Weinstein, C. E., & Mayer, R. E. (1983). The Teaching of Learning Strategies (Vol. 5): Innovation Abstracts.                                              
  3. Shernoff, D. J. (2012). Engagement and positive youth development: Creating optimal learning environments. In K. R. Harris, S. Graham, T. Urdan, S. Graham, J. M. Royer, M. Zeidner, K. R. Harris, S. Graham, T. Urdan, S. Graham, J. M. Royer, & M. Zeidner (Eds.), APA educational psychology handbook, Vol 2: Individual differences and cultural and contextual factors. (pp. 195-220). Washington, DC, US: American Psychological Association.  
  4. Chi, M. T. H., & Wylie, R. (2014). The ICAP Framework: Linking Cognitive Engagement to Active Learning Outcomes. Educational Psychologist, 49(4), 219-243. doi:10.1080/00461520.2014.965823