A “poisoned chalice” or “cup of opportunity”: 5 strategies for active teaching and learning in post-pandemic world

Our experience on the way we enhanced students learning experience in times of crisis, using an Active Learning Approach.*

By Reza Kachouie, Director of Teaching and Lecture at Department of Information Systems and Business Analytics, Deakin University, Melbourne.

The third pedagogical workshop co-organised by the ESSEC Dean for Pedagogy and the K-lab took place on November 23rd. During the workshop, Reza Kachouie dealt with active learning. Pr. Kachouie is ESSEC professor Ali Shamsollahi’s co-author. Around 30 persons attended the workshop (ESSEC permanent Faculty, lecturers, professors of management practice). This article sums up Pr. Kahouie’s research which was presented and discussed on November 23rd.

We all, students and non-students alike, had to manage our way through a pandemic, forcing us to go online. When classes moved online, not only students’ engagement and satisfaction declined dramatically, but also their mental wellbeing became a major concern for families, universities, and public. In this article, we share 5 strategies that takes the adaptation of our teaching approach to new circumstances. Our case study is the Deakin Business School’s (DBS) first year Business Analytics unit. With about 2,000 students annually, it is the DBS’s largest data analytics offering.

Following consultations with learning design specialists, we adopted an Active Learning Approach (Bonwell & Eison, 1991) which resulted in a substantial and measurable improvement in student performance, student retention, and student satisfaction. Our approach was also informed by the Cognitive Load Theory (Chandler & Sweller, 1991) and Community of Inquiry model (Garrison et al., 2010). The resulting model (see the diagram below) was communicated to students as a “growth-and-nurture” approach which used a garden as a metaphor for students’ learning experience being compared with organic growth; learning begins outside classroom; students actively participate in the learning process; we nurture it in lectures and seminars and provide support throughout the process.  Students’ active engagement is through threaded case studies, interactive lectures activities such as ‘think-pair-share’ exercises, and group discussions.  

Our innovative model included authentic threaded case studies, designing a course around a case where each week’s analysis, discussions, and the assessment tasks progressively build on an ongoing case study. Threaded case studies enable students to become immersed in the data, move to greater depths with their analysis, and support optimal student learning by minimizing extraneous cognitive load (Chandler & Sweller, 1991). Applying different analytical techniques on the same case enables students to appreciate how different analyses provide distinct insights from a static dataset, maximizing cognitive presence while minimizing cognitive load (Sezgin, 2021).

Embracing Transition Pedagogy (Kift, 2015) and to foster a sense of belonging, we embedded student support and welfare into the curriculum activities. In this way, we created opportunities for active and collaborative learning by fostering a safe learning community (Cooper & Scriven, 2017). Putting an emphasis on mental health to support academic learning, we built trust between the teaching team and students (Den Exter et al., 2012). Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown, we offered students simple mental health exercises every week such as “R U OK? check-in questions” and provided links to the university welfare services.

This article encourages reflection, innovation, and knowledge-sharing in relation to best practice teaching and learning at universities. These are the five strategies supported the transformation:

  • Adopting an Active Learning Approach and abandoning traditional passive teaching models
  • Bringing in familiar examples from students’ everyday experiences to the topic and making topics relevant
  • Investing in building rapport with students and adopting empathy-guided philosophy in responding to students’ requests
  • Redesigning topics with industry partners support to improve students’ job readiness
  • Investing in leading-edge online engagement tools


Bonwell, C. C., & Eison, J. A. (1991). Active learning: Creating excitement in the classroom. 1991 ASHE-ERIC higher education reports: ERIC.

Chandler, P., & Sweller, J. (1991). Cognitive Load Theory and the Format of Instruction. Cognition and Instruction, 8(4), 293-332. doi:10.1207/s1532690xci0804_2

Cooper, T., & Scriven, R. (2017). Communities of inquiry in curriculum approach to online learning: Strengths and limitations in context. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, 33(4). 

Den Exter, K., Rowe, S., Boyd, W., & Lloyd, D. (2012). Using Web 2.0 technologies for collaborative learning in distance education—Case studies from an Australian university. Future Internet, 4(1), 216-237. 

Garrison, D. R., Anderson, T., & Archer, W. (2010). The first decade of the community of inquiry framework: A retrospective. The internet and higher education, 13(1-2), 5-9. 

Kift, S. (2015). A decade of transition pedagogy: A quantum leap in conceptualising the first year experience. HERDSA Review of Higher Education, 2(1), 51-86. 

Sezgin, S. (2021). Cognitive relations in online learning: Change of cognitive presence and participation in online discussions based on cognitive style. Participatory Educational Research, 8(1), 344-361.