We’ve been hearing a lot about active learning these days, but what, exactly, does active learning mean? Neal (2010) defines active learning as “educational methods in which students are involved in higher-order thinking (analysis, synthesis, evaluation). The term therefore primarily reflects what is going on in a student’s mind, whether or not the body (or the mouth) is physically active.” Studies show that active learning can increase students’ attention in class, as well as their retention of ideas, leading to more effective, gratifying, and memorable learning outcomes. In fact, most people learn better from actively engaging with material than they do from passively listening to a speaker or reading from a textbook. Active learning strategies have students “doing” things—analyzing, creating, role playing, experiencing, reflecting, etc.
According to the Center for Teaching & Learning at the University of Minnesota, the four Basic Active Learning Activities are the same elements you are probably already using in your class:
- Talking and listening – Students actively process information when they ask or answer questions, comment, present, and explain. When students go beyond passive listening to relate, analyze, and use what they are hearing, they are engaged in active learning. Discussions and Interactive Lectures are useful strategies.
- Writing – Students can actively process information by putting it in their own words; this can help students organize their thoughts and reflections and prepare them for discussion. Check out these suggestions for Informal Writing Activities from the University of Minnesota.
- Reading – Instructors often expect students to learn through reading. It’s easy for students to read passively in order “to get it done.” Providing questions, summary exercises, opportunities for posts or reflection, etc., can transform it into an active process. Students can often benefit from instruction on Active Reading.
- Reflecting – Class periods are often packed with information. Students sometimes need time to process the material and connect it to what they’ve already learned. Reflecting on the applications and implications of new knowledge can help develop higher-order thinking skills and Metacognition.
Visit Active Learning Strategies for an explanation of several individual, paired, and small- and large-group active learning activities.