The ICAP Framework: Connecting Learning to Learning Outcomes

Two hands connecting two puzzle pieces. The ICAP Framework: Connecting Learning to Learning Outcomes
Contributed By

Justin Harbin

Coordinator, Instructional Designer, and Asst. Professor for Lancaster Bible College

The ICAP Framework: Connecting Learning to Learning Outcomes

Posted in Pro Tips | September 05, 2017

This is Bloom's Taxonomy (we'll get to the ICAP Framework soon).


"Blooms Taxonomy" Image from Wikimedia Commons

Originally conceived in 1956 (and later revised in 2001), Dr. Benjamin Bloom’s Taxonomy maintains a central role in conversations about promoting higher order thinking skills in students. This taxonomy presents an easily digestible framework for understanding how deeper levels of thinking build on foundations of more simplified forms of thinking.

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Unfortunately given the intended role of the taxonomy to clarify the process of writing student outcomes, its usage has shifted to more of a roadmap for sequencing activities, implying a restricted and linear “how-to” path for structuring a course (Case, 2013). Well-intentioned efforts to promote depth of thought potentially result in attempts to summarize all of learning in static snapshots.

To bridge this gap, a number of frameworks seek to address the process of learning—in other words, what does it look like for a student to move through the process of “active” learning?

The ICAP Framework: From Passive to Engaged Learning

One such framework seeking to depict the process of engaged learning is Chi and Wylie’s (2014) ICAP Hypothesis. Rather than focusing solely on the outcomes of activities, the teacher seeks to measure whether students actively engage in the learning process along the way. The authors hold that as students engage in class activities and assignments, their actions or thinking can be categorized into four levels: “…interactive, constructive, active, or passive” (Chi & Wylie, 2014, p. 220).

These categories present teachers with the opportunity to consider whether their activities truly lead students toward the desired outcomes, and whether those students are engaging in active learning throughout the process. So, what does “I-C-A-P” mean for educators and the activities they assign?

ICAP = Interactive > Constructive > Active > Passive

#1 The Passive Level

The first level of this framework (the “P” in ICAP) focuses on passive engagement. Discussing the last letter in the acronym first may seem odd, but Chi and Wylie wanted to emphasize the more desired end of the taxonomy by placing “Interactive” first in the acronym (Chi & Wylie, 2014, p. 220).

On the passive level, activities promote a transactional notion of education, where students receive information with no expectation of interaction. At this stage, envision students watching a video or receiving a lecture.

#2 The Active Level

The second level of the framework (the “A” in ICAP) focuses on active engagement. Chi and Wylie characterize an activity as “active” if students evidence direct manipulation of instructional materials or activities (Chi & Wylie, 2014). These behaviors certainly appear more active than the first stage, although students have yet to create original thought or wording of concepts in their own terms. At this stage, the teacher would observe students taking verbatim notes, highlighting a text, or perhaps rewinding or pausing a video.

#3 The Constructive Level

The third level of the framework (the “C” in ICAP) focuses on constructive engagement. Rather than regurgitating instructional materials, students create novel ideas informed by personal experience, prior knowledge, and connections to broader areas of study.

Learners become creators in the classroom, generating unique responses from personal reflection on the instruction provided. Students at this stage may take notes in their own wording, create metaphors, compare with outside sources, and integrate previous thinking with current conversation (Chi & Wylie, 2014).

#4 The Interactive Level

The final level of the framework (the “I” in ICAP) centers on interactive engagement. At this final level, students build on their previous “constructive” thinking and emerge as a community of learners. The classroom sees students taking turns as active contributors to the broader understanding, and original thinking builds as multiple members contribute over time. Examples of these activities may include debates, justifying a position in pairs or small groups, or having students gage each other’s understanding through questioning (Chi & Wylie, 2014).

Using the ICAP Framework

So, what would the ICAP framework look like in practice? The following sections identify examples and tips for both the online and traditional classrooms. Note again that while each level of this framework plays some role in our classrooms, the goal remains to draw our students into deeper, more engaged participation in the learning process.

Passive Level: Strategies and Examples

At the passive (receiving) level, a number of traditional classroom activities come to mind—e.g., listening to a lecture, reading an article, or viewing a video. Online, these practices may involve students reading articles, viewing a YouTube video, or listening to an audio lecture or podcast. Of all the levels in the framework, passive represents the easiest to implement (uploading PDF articles or video to a learning management system, lecturing in class, etc.).

Active Level: Strategies and Examples

At the active (manipulating) level, the teacher is challenged to envision deeper interactions than traditional instructional approaches typically afford. In the classroom, the teacher can ask students to underline or highlight portions of an article that they believe are most important to remember. Class discussions revolving mostly around recall of information also play into this level of the framework.

Online, a source in Microsoft Word or Google Doc format could be downloaded by students to “mark-up” via the highlighting and underlining features, and submitted through an online assignment as a formative assessment for the teacher. A crucial piece of setting expectations in activities like this includes the use of descriptive rubrics and example mark-up prior to student submissions of their own attempt at the activity.

Constructive Level: Strategies and Examples

The constructive (generating) level offers a number of wonderful opportunities for learners in the online or traditional classroom. Online, the use of e-portfolios (Schoology’s portfolio tool is an excellent option), blogging, discussion forums, brief analysis papers, or mind-mapping (free tools such as Coggle can export the mind-map as a PDF so students may easily submit to an assignment) represent opportunities for students to provide evidence that they are constructing understanding informed by their unique experiences.

In the traditional classroom, students can create and present their own metaphors for a relationship or concept, draw mind-maps, and engage in reflective writing experiences (journaling, quick-writing, ticket out the door, etc.). In both settings, it is vital to note that the constructive and interactive modes require extensive framing of instructor expectations. Such activities often draw students out of their comfort zone and represent more difficult thinking, so exemplars and clear descriptions prove crucial for success of such activities.

Interactive Level: Strategies and Examples

The interactive (dialoguing) mode builds on the previous levels. Online discussion forums present a prime example of creating opportunities for interactive activities, although prompts and expectations for discussion should be very clear for the forum to play the intended role (the classic “answer the question and respond to two classmates” approach generally will not meet your goals at this level).

One example of framing discussion forum expectations is to ask students to exhibit different types of thinking in their posts and interactions (De Bono’s thinking hats are a personal favorite). Peer review via a clearly defined structure for interaction (facilitated through a Schoology discussion forum where students can share files with each other) is another good example. Forward-thinking platforms such as Schoology also provide a number of multi-media approaches to creating interactive-mode activities.

Group projects or class discussions facilitated using tools such as Big Blue Button (which integrates seamlessly with Schoology) and Media Albums allow students to contribute and dialogue by curating digital content for consideration of their peers. In the traditional classroom, a variety of structured class discussions offer similar opportunities. Quick “elbow-buddy” discussions between students sitting next to each other provide wonderful formative assessment at this interactive level of the framework.

More structured approaches such as a “jigsaw” type discussion see students assigned roles as “experts” in the classroom, meeting together to affirm and construct a common understanding among themselves, and finally taking the role of teaching these concepts to students who were assigned as experts of a different topic. Similarly, peer review and small group projects or discussions serve the interactive mode well.

There is No Silver Bullet in Education

The ICAP framework serves as a reminder that in education, no one tool acts as a “silver bullet” to solve all problems. It remains a vital, ongoing task of the educator to emphasize both the process and outcome of student learning. Here’s to adding another tool in the toolbox as we pursue the best education possible for our students!



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