From ‘Passive Bystanders’ to ‘Active Participants’: How the ICAP Framework can Help Frame Active Learning Using Technology

By Chris Gillies, John Paul Mills and Dr Jim Turner, Learning Technologists, Liverpool John Moores University

Active learning trends are more often defined by what they are not. So, is there a way of thinking about learning activities that helps people define the different levels, or types of activity, they are designing? And how certain types of activity might be conducive to deeper learning? In this post, we consider how the ICAP Framework (Chi and Wylie, 2014) can help support a shared understanding of active learning, and frame educational technology in relation to related practices.


Learning Technologists work in diverse ways to support teaching and learning across various contexts. Since the COVID 19 pandemic and the related disruption to face to face teaching within higher education, there has been a surge of interest in ‘active learning’ with staff keen to find new methods and tools to better engage learners studying remotely, and in hybrid contexts. A second challenge for technologists has emerged in the form of being able to recommend best practice for active learning using digital technologies. This is particularly difficult given the diversity of subject areas, levels of technological expertise and modes of delivery (online only, face to face and hybrid) being practiced across universities. The sudden increase in the number of new technologies teachers adopted to support their delivery during the pandemic, alongside the recent rise in discourse around integrating AI tools in Higher Education, has exacerbated this problem.

In this post, we first explore the ICAP Framework to establish the types of activities that are considered conducive to active learning via the cognitive processes they engage. We then attempt to bridge the gap between active learning pedagogy and practice using digital technologies by mapping ‘active’, ‘constructive’ and ‘interactive’ learning activities to four generic educational technologies: a video platform; an in class polling system; video conferencing software; and an AI chatbot.

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What is the ICAP Framework?

The ICAP Framework is a model which seeks to define terms such as ‘constructivism’ and ‘active learning’ more accurately by offering a taxonomy of four modes of cognitive engagement students can enact when learning (Chi and Wylie, 2014; Henderson, 2019; Lim et al., 2019). To create the framework, Chi and Wylie (2014) conducted a large systematic review to look at the different types of activities deployed in educational settings and learning outcomes from these activities. They found that there was a large variability across approaches to promoting active learning in the contexts studied. They also confirmed their hypothesis that certain activity types had a greater impact on learning and engagement, than others.

Consequently, their framework presents activities or ‘overt behaviours’ that can engage learners in ‘active’ learning to promote actual ‘cognitive engagement’ (Chi and Wylie, 2014). The four behavioural modes in the ICAP framework are defined as ‘Interactive’, ‘Constructive’, ‘Active’ and ‘Passive’, and learners can engage with all, some, or none of these modes during any instructional task. Examples of such overt behaviors include listening to a lecture (passive), writing notes on what is observed during a lecture (active), drawing diagrams to map new concepts (constructive), or conversing constructively with peers to cocreate knowledge (interactive) (Lim et al., 2019; Chi and Wylie, 2014).

From a learning design perspective, the emphasis on ‘overt behaviours’ is significant. The classification of activities is determined by what a teacher can see a student doing, rather than assumptions about what cognitive processes are taking place (Henderson, 2019). A student may appear to be ‘actively’ learning when they make notes on a video presentation, however there is no guarantee that they are constructing new knowledge.

For this reason, the ‘overt behaviours’ of the ICAP framework are based on assumptions about what occurs cognitively when learners engage in them. A summary of this taxonomy is provided below:

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Activity SummaryReceivingManipulatingGeneratingDialoguing
Knowledge Change ProcessesIsolated storing of informationNew information integrated with existing knowledgeNew information integrated with existing knowledge; New knowledge inferred from existing and newly integrated knowledgeNew information integrated with existing knowledge; new knowledge inferred from existing and newly integrated knowledge; new knowledge inferred from the co creation process
Learning OutcomesMinimal comprehensionSuperficial comprehensionIncreased likelihood of transfer to other contextsDeep comprehension and increased likelihood of generation of new ideas
Adapted from Chi and Wylie (2014)

Expanding the range of Passive, Active Constructive and Interactive Learning Activities

Chi and Wylie (2014) concede that the model of activities above operates at a high level. Variability within two activities will likely impact learning outcomes if they differ in the degree of cognitive engagement they support. They helpfully give the example of learners conversing with one another, highlighting that this is merely an ‘active’ exercise unless the learners seek or are prompted to be constructive in their approach i.e. generating new knowledge on top of what is given in the materials by reformulating and building on one another’s ideas.

As useful as this example is, this still leaves a gap in terms of a comprehensive list of activities for teachers against the four modes of learning. In order to develop a wider taxonomy of activities and situate them within the ICAP Framework, we have drawn on work by Conole, Dyke and Seale (2004) and Laurillard (2013) and mapped their activity types to the spectrum of passive to interactive learning:

Activity SummaryReceivingManipulatingGeneratingDialoguing
ActivityWatching a video
Attending a lecture
Observing peers carrying out a task
Reading presentation slides
Listening to a podcast
Reading an article
Taking notes
Highlighting or underlining key concepts
Writing a learning diary
Investigating a question set by facilitator
Concept mind mapping
Creating and delivering a presentation
Evaluating, Analysing, Synthesising
Discussion, Conversation
Co Producing and delivering a presentation
Role playing
Peer reviewing
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Mapping Available Technologies to Learning Activities

The role of a technologist is concerned with identifying appropriate technologies to support the pedagogical aims of teaching staff. However, much like the activities to engage learners in more active, constructive and interactive modes of learning; There is not a clear model for how existing technologies can support these activities and the related cognitive outcomes. Below, we attempt to apply technologies widely used in our institution to the ICAP framework. In this way, we hope to demonstrate how staff may take a technology often used in a passive mode (e.g. lecture capture software) to support more ‘active’, ‘constructive’ or ‘interactive’ learning activities.

(Lecture capture and video streaming platform)
Watching a recorded lecture.Bookmarking moments in the video where key information is given or a difficult concept is presented.Producing their own short explainer video presentation of a concept and sharing with peers.Learners find an article, media exploring the concept further. Learners share and summarise this with peers using video discussion thread feature. Learners read one another’s articles and identify differences, similarities in main arguments or findings.
(Audience response platform)
Viewing a presentation containing results, or data from a previous poll.Making notes and summarising results from poll.Contributing to poll questions, analysing the results of the poll and identifying themes then sharing their analysis within a group.Learners contribute their responses to poll question(s). Then in groups debate/defend their responses to the question(s) and discuss their perspectives on the topic.
Microsoft Teams Meetings
(Video conferencing tool)
Watching and listening to an online lecture in real time.Making notes and, or summarising key points from an online lecture.Preparing and delivering an individual presentation on a lecture topic via Microsoft Teams with PowerPoint Live.Learners use Breakout Rooms to discuss the topic, then participate in a jigsaw activity by swapping group members and discussing differences and new information they have learnt about the topic.
(AI chatbot) 
Asking the chatbot to answer a query, or queries set by a facilitator with no change of wording.Asking the chatbot to rephrase its answer to a query in simplistic language.Using the chatbot to find information on a topic for an assessed piece of work, then writing an individual reflective piece on the experience of using the chatbot to support the research process.Learners work in groups to review generated text in response to a query and assess the veracity and quality of the information provided by carrying out further research.

Summary and limitations

In this post, we have explored how the ICAP Framework can be used to clarify the types of activities that can be classed as promoting active learning. We have also presented a model for how the ICAP Framework can be applied to technologies widely used within our teaching context. As this is an exploratory post, we recognise that the activities suggested are fairly generic and are only intended as examples of how the same technology can be used to promote both lower, and higher order cognitive processes, as per the ICAP Framework. For this reason, when designing training and documentation for using technologies at LJMU, our intention in future is to utilise the ICAP Framework to recommend activity types that move beyond supporting passive, or active learning to those that are considered more constructive, or interactive.


Chi, M.T. and Wylie, R. (2014). ‘The ICAP Framework: Linking Cognitive Engagement to Active Learning Outcomes’, Educational Psychologist, 49(4), pp. 219–243. [Online].  Available at:

Conole, G., Dyke, M., Oliver, M. and Seale, J. (2004). ‘Mapping Pedagogy and Tools for Effective Learning Design’, Computers & Education, 43(1-2), pp. 17–33. [Online]. Available at:

Henderson, J.B. (2019). ‘Beyond “Active Learning”: How the ICAP Framework Permits More Acute Examination of the Popular Peer Instruction Pedagogy’, Harvard Educational Review, 89(4), pp. 611–634. [Online]. Available at:

Laurillard, D. (2013). Teaching as a Design Science: Building Pedagogical Patterns for Learning and Technology. Routledge.

Lim, J., Ko, H., Yang, J.W., Kim, S., Lee, S., Chun, M.S., Ihm, J. and Park, J. (2019). ‘Active Learning Through Discussion: ICAP Framework for Education in Health Professions’, BMC Medical Education, 19(1), pp. 1–8. [Online]. Available at:

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