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design learning, deep learning

Active Learning Online:
Five Principles that Make Online Courses Come Alive

Stephen M. Kosslyn

The massive disruption of the Covid pandemic offers limitless possibilities to improve education, and Stephen M. Kosslyn, President and Chief Learning Officer, Foundry College; John Lindsley Professor of Psychology Emeritus, Harvard University, provides an excellent guide to show us how.

Active Learning Online clearly explains the science behind the benefits of active learning theory and provides concrete examples of how to re-design learning activities to stimulate, engage, and motivate students in online environments.


We’ve been reading the research for decades about how lectures and rote learning are not as effective as active engagement. We know we can lose children academically when they aren’t interested in a particular subject or area of study. In this easy to read book, Kosslyn describes the five key principles to make whatever you are teaching better and more meaningful for your learners.


​This book is a must-read for anyone teaching at any level and for parents to understand how their children learn best.  

Listen to Dr. Kosslyn discuss Future-Proofed Education

​Read an interview with Dr. Kosslyn about Active Learning Online​

​Dr. Kosslyn's interview on the Trending in Education podcast

Access Dr. Kosslyn's recent webinar on Active Learning

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  • ​Preface

  • ​About the Author

  • ​Chapter 1. What is Active Learning and Why is it Important? (Preview)

  • ​Chapter 2. The Science of Learning

  • ​Chapter 3. Deep Processing

  • ​Chapter 4. Chunking

  • ​Chapter 5. Building Associations

  • ​Chapter 6. Dual Coding

  • ​Chapter 7. Deliberate Practice

  • ​Chapter 8. Combining Principles

  • ​Chapter 9. Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation

  • Chapter 10. Exercises and Activities



About the Author


Stephen M. Kosslyn is currently the Founder, President and Chief Academic Officer of Foundry College and is Founder and President of Active Learning Sciences. Prior to that, he was Founding Dean and Chief Academic Officer of the Minerva Schools at the Keck Graduate Institute. He previously served as Director of the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University after having been chair of the Department of Psychology, Dean of Social Science, and the John Lindsley Professor of Psychology at Harvard University. While at Harvard, he was also co-director of the Mind of the Market Lab at Harvard Business School and a member of the Department of Neurology at the Mass. General Hospital. He received a B.A. from UCLA and a Ph.D. from Stanford University, both in psychology. Kosslyn's research has focused on the nature of visual cognition, visual communication, and the science of learning; he has authored or co-authored 14 books and over 300 papers on these topics. Kosslyn has received numerous honors, including the National Academy of Sciences Initiatives in Research Award, a Guggenheim Fellowship, three honorary Doctorates (University of Caen, University of Paris Descartes, Bern University), and election to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Additional Resources

active learning resources

Vanderbilt University's Center for Teaching

Active Learning Resources

active learning resources

University of Michigan's Center for Research on Learning and Teaching

Active Learning Resources

online teaching

Northwestern University's

Digital Learning Resources


​“Every parent and student who were already online learners or who have been pushed by the pandemic into the online world should read this book. Professor Kosslyn has dedicated his academic life to the study of how human beings learn and has developed extremely valuable lessons in how to thrive in a virtual classroom.”


Bob Kerrey

Former U.S. Senator; President Emeritus, The New School

​"This book is an essential resource for any teacher about optimizing their approach to online instruction.  Dr. Kosslyn strikes the perfect balance between outlining key pedagogical principles and dispensing practical teaching advice."

Stephen Bailey

Founder and CEO, ExecOnline, Inc.

​"How do we ensure online learning lives up to its promise and potential? In Active Learning Online, Stephen Kosslyn equips educators everywhere by delivering fresh perspectives on the science of learning along with practical ways they can be applied in real life courses. For all the years I’ve been involved in adult learning and active learning, this book still surprised me with brilliant insights and made me think about how to implement his ideas.”

Mary Hawkins

President, Bellevue University

​"This is a phenomenally readable, concise and efficient summary of the current science of active learning and how it can improve your teaching. It is full of useful examples and clear explanations. While most of illuminating suggestions are applied to online teaching, the practical advice here will also easily be applied to any teaching situation. There is no better overview of this exploding field and there could not be a better time for this book. Read it in a morning and have your teaching transformed by the afternoon."

Jose Bowen

President Emeritus, Goucher College

​“Stephen Kosslyn, one of the world's leading researchers on the science of learning, provides practical, easy-to-use methods that help students learn more effectively -- especially online, synchronously and asynchronously, and at scale. This book is an invaluable tool for all educators, and an enlightening resource for anyone interested in improving current education practices.”

Jeff Maggioncalda, CEO, Coursera

"This small book contains big ideas about active learning, both online and in-person. Kosslyn bridges his knowledge of cognitive science with his experience in two education technology start-ups to provide a pedagogical handbook of sorts. Using engaging research studies, Kosslyn begins with an overview of basic cognitive functions, specifically how we organize, store and access information in memory. From here, he presents his own taxonomy of five learning principles: deep processing, chunking, associations, dual coding and deliberate practice. Then comes the lesson for instructors, as we come to appreciate exercises grounded in these principles. After reading this book, you will abandon the lecture for a brief lecture followed by active learning exercises, for example asking students to teach another student, to take the perspective or others through role playing or debate, to create content like a podcast and more. If your goal is to teach to make material stick with your students, and it should be, this book will be your guide."

Kathleen McCartney

President, Smith College

​"At last--a book that summarizes principles from the learning sciences that is at once both accessible and actionable! Any educator at any skill level will be able to derive value from Kosslyn's valuable contribution to improve the experience they offer students."

Michael B. Horn

Coauthor of Choosing College and Co-Founder of the Clayton Christensen Institute

​“Active learning is a good idea that's rarely implemented. Stephen Kosslyn makes here a persuasive case for its adoption and gives a straightforward plan to create more engaging and effective courses. That's no surprise, because he effortlessly combines enormous insight and experience into creative solutions.”

John Katzman

Founder and CEO of Noodle, and Founder and Former CEO of 2U and Princeton Review

​“Drawing skillfully on a lifetime of teaching, conducting research, and leading educational institutions, cognitive psychologist Stephen Kosslyn distills the key components of effective education—online, as well as in the “live” classroom. This book is timely and should be useful for any instructor.”

Howard Gardner

Hobbs Research Professor of Cognition and Education, Harvard Graduate School of Education

“Active Learning Online is an extraordinary work that will revolutionize the way you think about education, and will shape both educational practice and conversations about effective education for many years and decades to come.”

Daniel J. Levitin 

Author of bestsellers This Is Your Brain on Music, The Organized Mind, and Successful Aging

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