Active Learning

Active Learning leads to improved attendance, deeper questioning, higher grades, and greater lasting interest in the subject matter.

Active learning is an important aspect of learning-centered teaching. It is really a simple idea-- and one which many faculty already incorporate into their classrooms. Most basically, active learning refers to “instructional activities involving students in doing things and thinking about what they are doing” (Bonwell and Eison, 1991). Active learning can range from highly developed team-based simulations or problem-based projects to pauses during a lecture so students can ask questions (which promotes active listening). Anything that deviates from the “sage on the stage” model of higher education, in which the professor lectures for the full class period, is basically active learning!

“Teaching is less about what the teacher does than about what the teacher gets the students to do.” — David Perkins, “Teaching for Understanding”

While lectures have a role to play in the college classroom, active learning relies on discussion and problem-solving by students themselves. And active learning can be combined with lectures! Research indicates that attention begins to flag after 10-20 minutes, so adding a few activity learning techniques to lectures can help students better engage with the material.

For more evidence, see Michael Prince, “Does Active Learning Work? A Review of the Research” (2004), or Joel Michael, “Where’s the Evidence that Active Learning Works?” (2006).

Students tend to change the way they prepare, listen and take notes in class when they know these activities or questions are coming.

Think of active learning as a continuum — from simple activities you can insert into even the largest lecture courses to courses built collaboratively with students, simulations, or experiential learning opportunities.

What about content?

Flip the classroom! That is, make sure students receive their first exposure to the material on their own time and then focus on analyzing, synthesizing, and application during the class. This depends on the faculty member thinking of ways to get the students to access the content and prepare for the activities before class. Some faculty record lectures and have students view before class; other requires online quizzes or short daily writing assignments based on the readings to be completed before class.


How do I get started?

Want to try one or two active learning techniques without changing your syllabus? See Getting Started with Active Learning.

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