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Making the Most out of Live Sessions

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Making the Most Out of Live Sessions

Many online courses meet virtually through a web-based platform like Zoom. Facilitating these virtual meetings, or Live Sessions, may be a novel experience for instructors who are used to teaching in a traditional face-to-face classroom. How should you structure your Live Sessions so students can get the most out of them?

Planning Live Sessions as part of your overall course design

The most common misconceptions about online learning are…

1.     Content = Learning

2.     Online learning is not as rigorous as traditional classroom learning

Misconception 1: Content = Learning

If students learned solely through reading and watching lectures, there would be little need for them to enroll in our courses. They could simply search the internet instead. As course designers and instructors, it is our job to identify the knowledge, skills, behaviors, and attitudes we’d like students to gain as a result of our instruction. These objectives need to be identified at the course, module and activity level. Students should get plenty of practice and feedback, and a chance to refine their performance and demonstrate mastery over the stated objectives. When designing your course or module, think about how and when students are going to get practice, receive feedback or demonstrate mastery. Will that happen before, during or after your Live Session? 

Misconception 2: Online learning is not rigorous

Students are not challenged by reading textbooks, watching long lectures and doing basic multiple-choice tests. Sadly, that has been the formula for many online courses. Effective online instruction requires students to use higher-order thinking skills. Bloom’s taxonomy is a framework used to classify learning objectives in categories that range from simple and concrete (at the base) to more complex and abstract (at the peak). Think about the kind of instructional activities and assessments you could provide in your Live Sessions that would push students to apply, analyze, evaluate and create.

Structuring Live Sessions

When designing your course, you may not know the specifics of what you will cover in your Live Sessions, but you can structure the main activities. Here are two different approaches commonly used. In Model A, each Live Session has unique purpose whereas in Model B, each Live Session follows a similar pattern. 

Possible activities for Live Sessions

If you are keen to move beyond traditional lecturing and take your Live Sessions to the next level, consider including some of these activities.

  • Student-led summary
  • In-class summary of discussion board themes
  • Q&A/Muddiest Point
  • Error correction and Feedback
  • Discussion
  • Debate
  • Problem-Solving
  • Demonstrations and Modelling
  • Peer Review
  • Critique
  • Interview Guest Speaker
  • Panel Discussion
  • Simulation and Role play
  • Case study
  • Group Work and Pair Work
  • Student Presentation
  • Elaboration
  • Survey
  • Test prep and/or Study group
  • Assessment or Demonstrated Mastery


Connecting Live Session activities to other course elements

When designing your course and Live Session, plan what students are expected to know or do beforeduring and after your virtual meeting. Make explicit connections between activities on the LMS (Canvas) and the activities in your Live Session. Here are some real-life examples from the field.

·      In a Law course, before the Live Session, the instructor requires all students to read a set of cases and assigns each group a different case to brief. During the Live Session, each group leads a discussion of their particular case, with the instructor adding additional questions and comments. 

·      In a Finance course, the instructor tells students that they will work in groups during the Live Session to solve a problem that is similar to one of the problems presented in the pre-recorded lecture. Then, during the Live Session, the instructor puts groups of students into breakout rooms to work on the problem. The instructor monitors the groups while they are working. After 15-20 minutes, the groups compare their results and the instructor clarifies, corrects and elaborates.

·      In a Negotiation course, the instructor divides the class into Group A, B (buyers) and Group C, D (sellers). Before the Live Session, groups are given role cards with the terms and conditions they should fight for. Students work with others in their group to plan a strategy. During the Live Session, a buyer and seller are paired in a breakout room where they role play the negotiation. Then, the class compares results and the instructor provides feedback. After the Live Session, students submit a formal evaluation of their negotiation performance.

To fully engage students, Live Sessions need to be interactive and well-integrated into the overall course design. You should make explicit ties between activities in the Live Session and activities on the LMS (Canvas). To challenge students, Live Sessions should require learners apply, analyze, evaluate and create.

Live Sessions are NOT…

  • Office hours. Office hours are open-ended. Your virtual class should have a purpose, structure and intentional activities to support the stated learning objective(s). 
  • Instructor-led lectures that recap other instructional materials. Activities in a Live Session should add value to the assigned materials by clarifying, elaborating, applying, practicing, debating, analyzing, etc. If you are concerned students won’t read the assigned texts or watch pre-recorded videos, there are other ways you can hold them accountable. Ask students to create summaries, gist quizzes, outlines, concept maps, and study guides to name a few.
  • Planned just in time. Some instructors plan their face-to-face classes the week or day before class. Your Live Sessions should be roughly planned before the course launches as part of the overall course design.
  • One-to-many broadcasts. Traditional lectures can be delivered through short, modular pre-recorded videos. Live Sessions should be interactive, with students actively participating through polls, breakout rooms, Q&A, student-led presentations, discussions, etc.


  • Anderson, L.W., & Krathwohl (Eds.). (2011). A Taxonomy for Learning, Teaching, and Assessing: A Revision of Bloom’s Taxonomy of Educational Objectives. New York: Longman.
  • Mayer, R.E., & Ambrose, S.A. (2010). How learning works: Seven research-based principles for smart teaching. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.