Active learning is a category of instructional approaches used to engage students through numerous types of activities. Typically, active learning involves students in learning through doing or through thinking about what they are doing to learn. Active learning instructional strategies can be completed by students either in class or outside of class, in traditional courses and online courses, and can be either independent or in the form of group projects or assignments.
When selecting active learning instructional approaches for your class, look for activities that will:
- Engage students in thinking critically or creatively.
- Provide opportunities to work with a partner or small group.
- Allow students to explore prior knowledge, attitudes, and values.
- Create opportunities for giving and receiving feedback.
How to Use Active Learning (with Canvas)
The following are some examples of instructional approaches used to engage students through active learning including Canvas tools that can be used for each:
- Clickers, or student response systems
- Guest speakers
- Peer Learning
- Case study
- Collaborative learning
Impact on Learning
According to Prince (2004), active learning strategies can impact instruction through:
- Improving short-term and long-term recall of information.
- Improving student academic performance.
- Increasing conceptual understanding (twice as much as compared to a traditional course).
- Improving retention in academic programs.
- Increasing student attention.
- Promoting student engagement.
- Addressing students’ misconceptions.
- Developing enhanced critical thinking skills.
- Improving students’ self-esteem.
- Improving interpersonal relationships.
- Improving teamwork skills.
Active learning requires students to engage with the content being taught. This often makes active learning a natural fit for formative assessment. Formative assessment allows instructors to quickly determine whether students have grasped the content; it also reveals any weakness in comprehension or application of knowledge. By frequently checking to see whether students got the concept, instructors can easily adjust the scope and sequence to compensate for student progress.
Active learning instructional approaches listed above include information on technology that can be used either in class or in online learning.
For more suggestions, MERLOT offers additional peer-reviewed classroom activities online at http://www.merlot.org/merlot/index.htm (search under active learning).
Things to Consider
In the feature article “Twilight of the Lecture”, Harvard Magazine (2012) shares insights from renowned physics professor Eric Mazur regarding the shift in higher education towards active learning. Mazur offers the following things to consider when implementing active learning pedagogical approaches, as well as recommendations on how to benefit the most from this approach:
- Active learning means having students take new information and apply it, not just take notes about it.
- Using active learning strategies means revamping instruction; it is the opposite of the “transfer of information” model that higher education has been entrenched in for hundreds of years.
- Students resist active learning, often complaining that they are having to do all the work and that the instructor is not “teaching”.
- Lecturers are challenged to consider what they can do during class time that contributes most to student learning.
- Technology plays a large role in contemporary instructional methods, including active learning.
- Classrooms and lecture halls are typically not optimally designed for active learning.
You can find Harvard Magazine’s article “Twilight of the Lecture” online at https://harvardmagazine.com/2012/03/twilight-of-the-lecture.
“Active Learning.” Cornell University, Center for Teaching Excellence. http://www.cte.cornell.edu/teaching-ideas/engaging-students/active-learning.html.
“Active Learning.” Duke Center for Instructional Technology. https://cit.duke.edu/get-ideas/teaching-strategies/active-learning/.
Drake, Eron. “Active Learning Strategies.” Central Michigan University, Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning. Last modified on February 23, 2015. https://www.cmich.edu/office_provost/facit/Pages/Teaching%20and%20Instructional%20Design/active-learning-strategies.aspx.
Drake, Eron and Dina Battaglia. “Teaching and Learning in Active Learning Classrooms.” Central Michigan University. Last modified on March 18, 2014. https://www.cmich.edu/colleges/cst/CEEIRSS/Documents/Teaching%20and%20Learning%20in%20Active%20Learning%20Classrooms%20-%20FaCIT%20CMU%20Research,%20Recommendations,%20and%20Resources.pdf.
Lambert, Craig. “Twilight of the Lecture.” Harvard Magazine, March/April 2012. https://harvardmagazine.com/2012/03/twilight-of-the-lecture
Prince, Michael. “Does Active Learning Work? A Review of the Research.” Journal of Engineering Education 93, no. 3 (2004): 223-231. http://www4.ncsu.edu/unity/lockers/users/f/felder/public/Papers/Prince_AL.pdf.