Active learning is the adoption of instructional practices that engage students in the learning process (Prince, 2004). The instructor’s role is as expert guide through activities and situations in which the student must engage in thinking about the content toward the desired learning outcomes (Mayer, 2004). Active learning includes single-class and multiple-class activities to target specific instructional goals, yet it also includes pedagogical approaches and accompanying curriculum that integrates multiple instructional goals achieved through the design of the course.
What is it not?
Active learning is NOT just about students being physically active and moving around in the classroom. It’s about activity in the brain—providing opportunities during (and sometimes before and after) class for students to start thinking about the material, discussing their thinking with others, testing out ideas and strategies—before the final exam.
Active learning is NOT something you can only do in certain spaces. Active learning can be incorporated into traditional large lecture halls. See the “Muddiest Point” example below from Gary Green to see how a large lecture hall can become an active learning space for 10 minutes. It is true, however, that flexible learning environments are less constraining than traditional lecture halls.
Active learning does NOT make the instructor irrelevant. Quite the contrary! The instructor becomes MORE important in an active learning classroom because their expertise is needed to design meaningful activities, guide students as they process information, and provide feedback and closure to the activities. It also gives you formative assessment data so you can help clear up misconceptions or misunderstandings before summative assessments.
Why do it?
Active learning promotes improved student attitudes, as well as better writing and critical thinking skills
(Baepler, Walker, & Driessen, 2014; Bernstein & Greenhoot, 2014; Bonwell & Eison, 1991; Freeman et al., 2014), higher examination performance (Freeman et al., 2014; Gingerich et al., 2014; Ruhl, Hughes, & Schloss, 1987), lower failure rates (Baepler et al., 2014; Reinholz, 2015), improved conceptual understanding of basic concepts and surfacing of misconceptions in the hard sciences (Hake, 1998; Redish, Saul, & Steinberg, 1997).