What is Active Learning?
Active learning is a student-centered approach in which an instructor uses instructional strategies that engage students as active participants throughout the learning process. Within this approach, students fully participate in their learning by thinking, creating, discussing and investigating. According to Bonwell and Eison (1991), students in an active learning environment participate in meaningful instructional activities and think about what they are doing. Prince (2004) notes that active learning is any class activity that engages students in the learning process.
Role of the Instructor
The role of the instructor is very important in an active learning environment. Instructors have a more passive role. The role of the instructor is to:
- Guide students in the learning process
- Create a welcoming and supportive learning environment
- Design meaningful course activities
- Encourage students to take academic risks
- Facilitate reflections
- Provide constructive feedback
- Use assessment data to create new learning experiences
Benefits of Active Learning
Active learning stems from a constructivist learning framework. This theoretical perspective emphasizes the need for students to construct knowledge and meaning from experiences. Learning occurs when students are actively involved in their learning instead of passively absorbing information. Active learning approaches enable students to move from lower order thinking skills (remembering and understanding) to higher-order thinking skills (analyzing, evaluating and creating). The constructivist strategies also create more inclusive learning environments (Lorenzo, Crouch, & Mazur, 2006; Eddy & Hogan, 2014).
Active learning can:
- Provide insight into students’ prior knowledge
- Help students gauge their own understanding of course concepts
- Increase student motivation and engagement
- Promote the application of problem-solving skills
- Improve critical thinking skills
- Re-energize and refocus a lesson
- Assist students with creating personal connections
- Create a sense of community in the learning environment
- Promote student-student and student-instructor interactions
- Bonwell, C.C., & Eisen, J.A. (1991). Active Learning: Creating Excitement in the Classroom. School of Education and Human Development, George Washington University: Washington, DC.
- Center for Integrative and Experiential Learning’s ideas for In-class Activities
- Eddy, S.L., & Hogan, K.A. (2014). Getting under the hood: How and for whom does increasing course structure work. CBE Life Sciences Education, 13(3), 453-468.
- EduCause Learning Initiative’s 7 Things You Should Know About Flipped Classroom [pdf]
- In-class learning activity examples in Univ. of Maryland Teaching Resource Guide [pdf] Effective Classroom Strategies on p. 17
- Moore, A. H., Fowler, S. B. & Watson, C. E. (2007). "Active Learning and Technology: Designing Change for Faculty, Students, and Institutions." EDUCAUSE Review, 42(5), 42-61.
- Prince, M. (2004). Does Active Learning Work? A Review of the Research. Journal of Engineering Education, 93(3), 223-231.