Description: This is not a specific type of active learning activity, but rather a way of structuring a synchronous (remote or in-person course). First, you begin the class with a short lecture, providing the new information that will be the focus of the day and/or framing the issue/problem to be considered. Second, you do a small group active learning exercise which can be one of any number of approaches (jigsaw, think/pair/share, debate, etc.); this portion should take up the majority of the time allotted to the topic. Third and finally, each group reports back on their results/decisions/outcomes, and the instructor offers feedback on those results. The core idea is that the bulk of the time is spent with the students actively engaging with each other and with an idea/concept, but that group work is “sandwiched” between the instructor providing appropriate context and framing on the front end, and then “lecturing” briefly again at the end (about the results of the group work), ensuring that concepts are properly understood and contextualized at the end.
Applicable scenarios: This is really a class-day-structure strategy, so can be applied to just about any topic where the instructor can also devise a small group activity. Thus it can be productively employed in just about any discipline for all sorts of topics, anything from learning a new mathematical formula to analyzing a work of art to building a business plan. The only real restriction (which is a feature, not a bug), is that it doesn’t work in a situation where the instructor wants to just lecture for the entire class period – but the point of the learning sandwich is precisely that simply lecturing the entire length of the class is not usually the most effective pedagogical strategy. Though it is designed for synchronous use, a modified version of the “learning sandwich” could be employed (though not in as elegant a fashion) in an asynchronous course, with the instructor providing a pre-recorded lecture/video at the beginning of a module, an asynchronous group assignment related to the topic following, and then the instructor recording a follow-up lecture after reviewing the group work turned in.
Scheduling: This strategy obviously requires pre-planning how a particular class day is going to go, but beyond that can be utilized at any time. It does not require integration into course grading, other than to whatever extent the small group work is graded as its own category or assignment.
Example: When my video production students are first learning lighting, I give a brief lecture on lighting strategies and the equipment they’ll be using, then put them into small groups to try to achieve specified lighting looks. Near the end of the class I’ll stop the groups and we’ll go around to look at the lighting setups each group created, where I can explain what they did well, what’s not working, and what they might have done differently to achieve their objectives better. I have found this “sandwich” style more pedagogically effective than either me just lecturing and demonstrating what to do, or having them do lighting assignments in small groups and talking with each group but never bringing the whole class back together for a wrap-up analysis. (Mark Kerins)