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Online learning tutorials for essential college skills.

Active Listening

iStudy would like to acknowledge Stephanie Flanagan for revising the content of this module.



Young kudu (deer) with big ears. Active listening is a communication skill that you can use to improve your ability to understand and comprehend verbal information. This skill will also help you to communicate your ideas and knowledge more effectively. In this tutorial, you will learn about effective active listening skills. You will understand how the communication process actively involves a sender and a receiver.  

Whether our roles are as students, friends, workers, or family members we spend a lot of time communicating. To communicate well, we have to listen well. We often just hear words and don't really listen carefully or critically. Active and careful listening shows our sensitivity to others. It is a critical part of paying attention to other people and being mindful of life's basic and substantive issues.


Goals and Objectives

The overall goal of this tutorial is to help you to become an active listener. Upon completion of this tutorial, you will be able to:



Read the materials about active listening, and complete the activities.

 Note: All external links in this tutorial will open in a new window or tab.




Instructor's Guide

Information about Active Listening

Defining Active Listening

The concept of active listening used in this tutorial can be described as a communication skill that involves both the sender and the receiver in the communication process. Some people would say that communication doesn't exist without the involvement of at least one active sender and one active receiver. Once a message is "sent," it may pass through "noise" that distorts the message. A receiver tries to understand what the sender's message or expression of feelings means. After receiving a message, an active receiver puts his or her understanding of the message into his or her own words (paraphrases) and returns it as feedback for the sender's verification.


Listening model. Speaker encodes message which goes through noise. Listener attempts to decode then encodes another message to first speaker through noise.

Shannon-Weaver Communication Model


General Guidelines

 Activity 1: What is Active Listening?

Take the short quiz below to see if you understand about active listening so far.


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Feedback in Active Listening

Definition of Feedback

Feedback is a key component of active listening. Feedback can be a corrective mechanism for helping an individual learn how well his or her behavior matches the original intention. It can also be a means of establishing one's identity.

Feedback helps another person to consider changing behavior or altering a message. It is communication with a person (group) that gives that person information about how he or she affects others. Feedback helps an individual stay "on target" and thus better achieve a goal or purpose.

An active listener must be solicited for a response by the sender and must refrain from imposing uninvited responses. Feedback is most useful when the sender asks for response by formulating a question that a listener can answer.


Tips for Providing Feedback

Here are some "tips" that will help you respond appropriately during active listening. In general, you should use language that:


Other ways of responding appropriately relate to the verbs you choose in your response. For example:

Activity 2: Ways of Responses

Take the short quiz below to check if you understand what different kinds of statements sound like.


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Cue Words and Running Interferences

Cue words will help you to categorize and understand the content of what you are hearing. Hearing these types of words, after some practice in listening for them, will help trigger the process that allows you to sort out the content. The cue words to look for can be broken down into several general areas.


Cue Word Trigger Words


Running Interference(s)

Do you occasionally find you are so concerned with formulating a response that you aren't really listening to the the person who is speaking? Some of us get so eager, or so anxious, about preparing a reply or anticipating a change in the focus of attention toward ourselves that we lose the message and completely forget that someone else is speaking.

Mental and physical circumstances can also interfere with active listening. These may include items such as the following:


Woman with brain hilighted.

Personal thought processes:

These can block reception of the total content of the message being sent.


Woman with heart hilighted.

Emotional involvement with the topic:

These can make you filter what you hear and block reception of the total content of the message being sent.


Woman with stomach hilighted.

Physical needs:

If possible, try to choose a room for group meetings where white noise or background noise is kept to a minimum. Also, look for a room that fits the size of the group, where the chairs are comfortable, and where everyone can maintain eye contact.





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Image Credits




Active listening involves communication between two or more people. There is a sender and a receiver in all communication. Active listeners should focus on the content of the message, not on reactions to the message. The receiver should use feedback to verify that the message is understood correctly. As you finish this tutorial, here is a summary of the responsibilities and benefits of listening actively. When active listening skills are used the listener:

As a result:


Active Listening Tips

Active Listening uses:


Tips for Responding During Active Listening


Making Effective Statements

Instructor's Guide

Quizzes, Reflective Questions, and Activities

The following are the assignments embedded in the Active Listening tutorial:

Relationship to Other iStudy Tutorials

This tutorial is related to other iStudy tutorials on personal effectiveness, including note-taking, active reading, interview skills, conflict management, and peer tutoring. Therefore, it is recommended that instructors introduce this tutorial to students in conjunction with other personal effectiveness tutorials.


Suggested In-class Methods of Presentation



Have students reflect in pairs about their listening skills. Plan an activity in which students take turns talking about themselves (an introduction, or perhaps their best and worst communication experiences). After the activity, ask students to recall as much as possible about what the other person said. Use this activity to make the following point:

Note: This is an excellent opportunity to utilize and reinforce the cooperative learning techniques found in the iStudy Cooperative Learning tutorial.

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Key Points

These points are covered in the iStudy tutorial, but should be emphasized in any discussions.

Feedback is a key component of active listening. The instructor may want to stress the following:

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Assessment Criteria

Through observing both the group's and the individual's activities, the instructor may assess student performance. Assessment criteria are as follows (instructors supply the percentage weights):


Assessment Criteria





iStudy Tutorial


The student can define active listening by using and referring to its components.


iStudy Tutorial


The student can describe active listening skills by relating its components to communication.




The student can engage in active listening by participating in (group) discussion as listener and speaker.


iStudy Tutorial


The student can model active listening by giving examples or experiences (as well as by creating new problem situation and solution related to active listening.)