Some recent thoughts about interactive learning

Here is a selection of recent editorials I have written for Interactive Learning Environments – all available online in recent issues (Volume 26 to date).

Methodological choices for research into interactive learning in Issue 2

Stop daydreaming, pay attention in Issue 3

Reframing innovative teaching in Issue 4

Research limitations: the need for honesty and common sense in Issue 5

and in Issue 6 Student disengagement: is technology the problem or the solution?

If the links don’t work, go to the journal page for Interactive Learning Environments.

These are all editorials, my own thoughts and arguments based on my reading of a huge number of submitted papers and linked to the papers in each issue. This is one of the most focussed e-learning journals where papers must be related to interactive learning and must have a technology contribution. If you have something to say in this field, aim for a rigorous literature review and/or a longitudinal study or one which takes account of a broad range of learning situations or learners. We regularly reject single case studies of tutor’s successful personal innovations if they applied in just one case and do not add to the readers’ sense of what contributes to debate in this field.

Oh, and….try reading the author guidelines for the journal – I would love it if everyone did before submitting!!


Third edition available: Introduction to Business Research Methods

How to make sense of research methodology in business studies – a simple ebook, free to download here (its business model based on inserted advertising by This third edition is the fruit of a number of online conversations and updating research activities across the Atlantic between Dr Joe Martelli and myself to make sure it is relevant and up to date for audiences across the US and Europe.

This book does not pretend to be anything other than a first step for students encountering business research methodology for the first time. It is full of references to more learned books and articles on the subject. We both teach research methodology at undergraduate level, and supervise research students at all levels, so in the book we try to anticipate the main confusions and questions.

As shown in the last post it seems to be popular, let’s hope it is a helpful resource to many more.



68, 293

The number of downloads of the second edition of Introduction to Business Research Methods from in the last calendar year 2017. Joe and I are blown away by the popularity of this free ebook for students. But no resting on laurels – the next updated Third edition has just been signed off today and should be available online very soon.

ELearning excellence awards at ECEL 2017

The 16th European Conference on e-Learning (ECEL 2017) which is being held at ISCAP, Portugal, 26-27 October.


There is an extended submission deadline for competition entries to the 3rd e-Learning Excellence Awards until the 6th June.  Details about the competition and to submit an entry can be found here:

Keep up with the latest ECEL 2017 news at LinkedIn Facebook and Twitter

PS on lectures

In the last post we talked about the good, the bad and the ugly of lectures. Today there’s a useful Sussex blog post on that subject with an overview of ideas to deal better with large group teaching – most will be familiar but worth reminding ourselves- find it at 

And if you’re Brighton based, the growing BBS blog on Learning and Teaching hosted by Julie Fowlie and Pete McCullen at is core reading.

Talking about teaching – a staff discussion at BBS

Talking about teaching


Where do you start? A big topic but the discussion in this staff seminar (8th Feb 17) proved there is nothing so good as making explicit to other teachers how you teach. Asher and Sue ran through some key issues we wanted to share and discuss, especially as institutionally the cascade is starting to lay down some patterns and priorities such as increasing contact with students in early levels and setting up skills for more independent learning at higher levels. Asher pointed out that it is only in the last hundred years that research has become a part of what we expect university students to do. Now it has become the norm at least at level 6.


We got very practical – can we problematise what happens between the production and offering of learning materials, activities and references from the perspective of the teacher and the output of a version of that material into assessment by the student? We know that interactive sessions are much more useful for learning than boring lectures. But this begs a question – what is it that we expect the students to do in the session, and when they are reading material outside the session? Sue wondered whether students were increasingly “outsourcing” memory, by accumulating information in devices rather than trying to attend, rehearse and remember within their own brains (more ideas on this at ).


Sue’s expectations had grown from her experience of learning and teaching and involve some form of note-taking. Lately she has become worried that note-taking is no longer cool or acceptable for students, no matter how much they are encouraged to use familiar digital devices and software in class. Asher pointed out that he continues to give much handout material in printed form to students, but students neither owned nor brought pens and therefore were unlikely to write notes, and phones tended to replace laptops in class, but were used for images, not words and notes. At best we were able to encourage students to take images of discussions on a smart board.


We had quite a discussion about lectures and their value started by George who considered them sub-optimal. While there was a strong feeling that they were not the best way of sharing information at uni, there were advocates for a shared time and space in which ideas could become a focus – whether for interaction, problem-based learning, diagnostics, inspiration – all of which were likely to be facilitated by flat room spaces rather than tiered ones. Jenny from PABS also raised the issue of pace – too slow for interest if a suitable pace for note-taking?


We agreed on the huge value of interaction in learning, and Sushil was concerned that some over zealous students wrote down too much, missing out on meaning and focussing on words at a superficial level. When they interact, how do they retain information which might be useful later for their assessments? Without taking at least basic notes, or voice recording and then taking summaries, how does the student take the learning to a level which allows reflection, review, further reading and analysis?


We discussed brain-compatible learning (van Niekerk & Webb 2016 at, which is showing increasing evidence of the basics we believe to involve good practice: finding out where the student’s knowledge level and experience is and building on that, rather than starting from the lecturer’s standpoint, promoting attention, rehearsal to get stuff moved from short-term to longer term memory (especially episodic memory which emphasises the other sensory inputs around the content learned). Jela noted that physically writing can help rehearsal – some have great keyboard skills but writing by hand was powerful. Julie and others agreed this could be encouraged by simple means such as handouts with space for notes, short learning summaries on blogs, learning journals as part of the learning design.


We also shared ideas on more structured approaches to enable, particularly level 4, students to learn how to read for academic purposes. Wallace and Wray’s five critical synopsis questions (see ) and Shon’s use of reading codes for annotation when reading articles were some examples. Shon’s work can be found here: and Sue’s review of the book can be found here: .


Asher stressed the need to physically demonstrate and role model the use of note-taking, and devices. This including thinking seriously about the note-form which is encouraged by PowerPoint, meaning that students rarely get directly introduced by teachers to well-formed sentences and logical argument except verbally in class –making it unsurprising if they were unable to produce arguments in assessment. Designing their own assessment questions and arguing what was being assessed in them was another option.


We discussed using Evernote (note-taking with cloud backup and multi-platform ubiquity), Zotero (research collecting, citing, organising), mind-mapping etc to enable expectations of recording and retrieving information as the norm. We finally shared ideas based on work by Tom Bourner and Phil Race (How to Win as a Part-Time Student 2nd ed. 1995) originally produced for mature part-time learners which focussed on the activities learners were expected to do – all involved activity, and much involved note-taking. One of the well-favoured ideas for note-taking during and after sessions was to encourage blogging by students or as Alison pointed out – simply asking for notes to be handed in from time to time. This could be done privately or shared where needed with tutors or students.


We shared the same issues, and there is no reason to believe we can’t solve them. The seminar excited discussion – let’s have more of this.

Management Learning Book Review Award 2016

The above took me completely by surprise, a lovely start to 2017.

I didn’t even know there were sumanagement-learning-book-award-2016ch things as awards for book reviews in this journal. Reviewing a useful text is one of the more pleasurable academic activities, heartily to be recommended. We all have to read or skim new books as they appear, and make decisions about whether to recommend or not to our students or colleagues. Why not do the job properly and write a serious review?

This particular book was interesting because it tried to tackle a big gap in current degree study, trying to encourage students to read journal articles. The author’s approach is detailed and highly justified, though not always feasible. Read the review in Management Learning to find out more. Better still, read the book for yourself.

The book in question is:

How to read journal articles in the social sciences: A very practical guide for students (2nd Edition) by Phillip Chong Ho Shon – University of Ontario Institute of Technology

published by SAGE in the SAGE Study Skills Series.