Active Learning Strategies

Active Learning Strategies (Furniture by Steelcase, Trium, Montreal)

Active Learning Strategies (Furniture by Steelcase, Trium, Montreal)

A Google search returns nearly two hundred million references for Active Learning. While there are still many questions about Active Learning, teachers at all levels, K-12, college, and university, are now thinking about whether they want to have an Active Learning classroom.

An Active Learning classroom can be a special space designed to support Active Learning activities but more importantly it is a place where students are active learners. The Active Learning strategies are the key to improved learning experiences for your students. The Active Learning classroom supports the collaborative activities you have designed for them.

Why Active Learning?

The studies of Bonwell and Eison show that students prefer Active Learning  strategies to traditional lectures and that Active Learning strategies are superior to lectures in promoting the development of students’ thinking and writing skills. In addition, there are indications that, for a significant number of students, pedagogical techniques other than lecturing work better. Active Learners experience deeper and longer-lasting understanding because they cognitively engage with whatever they are studying: they learn by doing and thinking about what they are doing.

Active Learners are offered a wider range of cognitive experiences. In lectures students are challenged to remember and to understand. Active Learners, on the other hand, can attempt to apply, analyze, evaluate, and create, moving to the higher levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy. Becoming an Active Learning teacher is therefore one of the main challenges facing educators at all levels and in all types of education.

The Shift

In the traditional view teaching is the transmission of information. The teacher is like a radio transmitter beaming out data to be received by any student whose receiver is tuned to the right frequency. Information, correctly or incorrectly received, is recorded by the student receiver so that it can be transmitted back later as proof of reception. This model is so well engrained that becoming an Active Learning teacher often requires some effort. It requires both a shift in philosophy and in practice.

All teachers are designers of learning activities. The traditional teacher, however, has been designing the same activity (the lecture) over and over, perhaps for an entire career. Teachers who make the transition to Active Learning are often looking for the creative license that Active Learning gives in allowing them to design an infinite variety of activities.

In Active Learning: Creating Excitement in the Classroom (Bonwell, 2000) Bonwell describes some of the reasons why teachers may find the transition difficult.

  • more time is needed to cover course content
  • additional pre-class preparation is required
  • it is not easy to use Active Learning strategies in large classes
  • instructors tend to think of themselves as good lecturers
  • there are insufficient sample lessons and materials available
  • students may resist changing from traditional methods

In addition, teachers often fear losing control of the class in the seemingly chaotic activities of groups of Active Learners. All of these concerns are real but yield readily when the teacher decides to become an Active Learning activity designer and to apply the kinds of creative energy we always hope to see in students. The secret to making the transition is to do it in small steps. There is no requirement to re-vamp an entire curriculum in one shot. There is much to be learned from each success and failure along the way.

To make the change a teacher must stop asking the question, “How can I explain this to my students?” and start asking, “How can I get my students to discover this?”. In order for Active Learning to work, teacher and students must come together around the challenge of trying to understand something important.

The posts on this site will help you understand how to implement Active Learning strategies and how to design an Active Learning classroom where the learning environment supports your learning goals.

Here are some suggested posts to get started:

Designing Active Learning Activities

Active Learning Classroom Designs    Send article as PDF