eCoaching Tip 37 Pausing, Reflecting and Pruning Strategies

Feb 23 2007 (Refreshed July 6 2012; checked Nov 20  2019 )

eCoaching Tip 37:  Pausing, Reflecting and Pruning Strategies

Expectations of learning increase rapidly with the passage of just a few weeks into a course. Learners often begin feeling overwhelmed and lost amidst the flood of content and increasing complexity of the ideas. What teaching and learning strategies can help at this stage of a course? Pausing, reflecting and pruning strategies can increase learning and reduce stress.

As a way of getting started, let’s model a pausing strategy and return for a moment to the recent tip on cognitive presence (Tip 36- Cognitive Presence in Online Courses -Are your doing it? ) As you will recall, cognitive presence means that you and your students explicitly and publicly construct and confirm meaning through sustained discourse.  If you have not had time to use that concept or build it into your course,  for now, just take forward the  phrase “constructing and confirming meaning.”

This tip on pausing, reflecting and pruning strategies reminds us that while the process of learning requires constructing and confirming meaning, that learning also includes the processes of reflecting and pruning. Our brains and memories are simply not designed for remembering everything in great detail (Schacter, 2001).  We naturally retain information that is particularly significant or emotional that we connect to existing information in our brains, but do not retain information that we do not use.

Many of our new technologies, such as smart phones, tablets, digital assistants and smart speakers and GPS trackers  and a host of apps are going beyond capturing key life moments to supporting “life-logging,” a term used to describe systems that document every conversation, movement, etc.  A 2007 interview with Emily Nussbaum, a contributing editor of the New York magazine, on NPR’s Talk of the Nation explores the issues inherent in life-logging and the shifts in privacy perspective that appear to be occurring. The new almost inescapable phenomenon of one’s timeline being public on Facebook is even starting to do this life-logging for us.

Just as we cringe, at least, I do, at the thought of every moment of my life being captured and recorded, we may well cringe at every moment of our teaching and learning processes being recorded as well.  Yet, there is a silver lining here.  The journaling and blogging tools that are now almost ubiquitous can be very effective tools to log our learning and make those all important connections.  We can start with what we don’t know and record our paths to learning core concepts.  Blogs and journals can be public or private or a mix.

Learning, as well as life, is generally messy.  When my children were young, I left the kitchen to them as they baked or cooked; I couldn’t bear to watch. Yet they learned and did just fine and the kitchen could be cleaned up.

Similarly, in the online environment, where so much is being captured, discussed and presented, it is a good thing to watch some of the time, but not all the time.

Here are some pausing, reflecting and pruning strategies to design into your courses.

Pause and Reflect Strategies

  • Design your course with explicit  pausing and reflecting — and summarizing— times. One technique that is very useful for this is the “discussion-wrapping” tip that was described in Tip 25 – A Useful “Cognitive Pattern” or “Collection of Discrete Thought Threads?  As you will recall discussion wrapping is something that you can do, individual students can do or  teams of 2 can do.  Essentially, it is a summary of key ideas from the discussion forum weaving in insights and observations by  learners.
  • Hold question and answer and concept mapping sessions using a live classroom synchronous tool. This is a very effective way of hearing in real time what your students are thinking about the course content as well as any confusions or misunderstandings. Faculty who have started using this technology report that it is their and their students’ favorite way of gathering and thinking together.
  • Set up a “Pausing and Reflecting” forum. Ask your students to focus on what questions they have at any difficult time in the course. Have them share what is confusing or most helpful to them. The tip (36) on cognitive presence suggests that higher level phases of developing useful knowledge include integration and resolution. Integration includes “ reaching some group or team convergences by connecting ideas, identifying relationships and patterns, and proposing solutions. Resolution is when “the group or larger community applies and tests solutions in the real world scenarios.” Encourage learners to think and describe their learning in these terms.


Boettcher, J. V. (2007, 2012). eCoaching Tip 36: Cognitive Presence in Online Courses — Are You Doing It? Retrieved from

Nussbaum, E. (2007). Life-Logging and the Generation Gap over Privacy. Retrieved from

Schacter, D. L. (2001). The Seven sins of memory: How the mind forgets and remembers. New York: Houghton-Mifflin. A concise summary is at

Note: These eCoaching tips were initially developed for faculty in the School of Leadership & Professional Advancement at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, PA. This library of tips has been organized, expanded and updated  in the second edition of the  book, The Online Teaching Survival Guide: Simple and Practical Pedagogical Tips (2016) coauthored with Rita- Marie Conrad. Judith can be reached judith followed by

Copyright Judith V. Boettcher, 2006 – 2019