Active Learning

What is Active Learning?

"Active learning is a process whereby students engage in activities, such as reading, writing, discussion, or problem solving that promote analysis, synthesis, and evaluation of class content. Cooperative learning, problem-based learning, and the use of case methods and simulations are some approaches that promote active learning." --University of Michigan

"Students and their learning needs are at the center of active learning. There are any number of teaching strategies that can be employed to actively engage students in the learning process, including group discussions, problem solving, case studies, role plays, journal writing, and structured learning groups. The benefits to using such activities are many. They include improved critical thinking skills, increased retention and transfer of new information, increased motivation, and improved interpersonal skills.

Using active learning does not mean abandoning the lecture format, but it does take class time. Lecturers who use active learning pause frequently during the period–once every fifteen minutes or so–to give students a few minutes to work with the information they're providing. They may ask students to respond to a question, to summarize important concepts in writing, or compare notes with a partner. For some lecture-based classes, using active learning may be a bit more challenging because of class size or room limitations such as fixed seating. Breaking students into groups under these circumstances may not be possible, but other strategies such as individual writing or paired activities are quite possible and lead to good results." --University of Minnesota

How can you incorporate active learning into the classroom?
There are many ways to use active learning in the classroom. This list of activities (PDF) from the University of Michigan summarizes some simple active learning approaches. It also organizes the activities by complexity and classroom time commitment.

Think-Pair-Share: A great way to get more students engaged in the course material during class is to use Think-Pair-Share when you pose a question to the group. The advantages of this approach, and how to do it, are described in this article by Susan Ledlow which also includes sample prompts to the class to help implement the approach. 

Jigsaw MethodThis article by Susan Ledlow, found on the web site of the UOEEE Center for Teaching & Learning at Arizona State University, describes an often used cooperative learning approach, the Jigsaw Method, giving very specific instructions for implementation. One of the strengths of the jigsaw is that students can collaboratively develop understanding of a piece of complex material and then are placed in the position to explain (teach!) that understanding to others. A synthesis assignment is also often part of the whole process.

The Newsprint Dialogue method is described at Indiana University-Purdue University of Indianapolis website.

Structured Academic Controversy: Roger and David Johnson are internationally known experts on cooperative learning and the Structured Academic Controversy

More general information on strategies for Active Learning can be found through the following resources:

  • Tools for Teaching by Barbara Gross Davis, 1993, Jossey-Bass is available in the Center for Faculty Development Library—many chapters are available on line as well.
  • Indiana University at Bloomington Teaching Handbook.
  • Center for Teaching and Learning at the University of California, Santa Cruz.
  • Center for Teaching and Learning Services at the University of Minnesota: A tutorial on ways to use active learning strategies with PowerPoint presentations (includes 12 active learning strategies).
  • Active Learning resources from the Center for Research on Teaching and Learning at the University of Michigan.