Active Learning

What Is Active Learning?

Research has long supported the effectiveness of active learning strategies. What is active learning? It is an umbrella term used to describe classroom techniques in which students must participate in a tangible way in their own learning, as opposed to passively attending to a lecture or other presented material. Sometimes it involves groups of students working together (e.g., think, pair, share); in other cases they work individually to engage with the material (e.g., minute papers).

Overwhelming Evidence Supports Active Learning in the Classroom

You may be very familiar with the idea of active learning, but perhaps you are less well-acquainted with the research that supports its use. As recently noted by Davidson and Katopodis (2022) in Inside Higher Ed, according to “an often-referenced meta-study of more than 225 separate studies, active learning is more effective for every kind of student, in every discipline, than the traditional lecture model or the question-and-answer guided discussion method” (para. 1). Want to review some of the evidence yourself? Freeman et al. (2014) published the meta-analysis just referenced. More recently, Dewsbury and colleagues (2022) reported that active and inclusive learning techniques improved grades and reduced equity gaps in introductory biology courses, supporting previous findings by Theobold, Hill, Tran, and Freeman (2020) with STEM majors. Finally, Deslauriers et al. (2019) offered this interesting study that tackled resistance to active learning. They discovered that students in their research objectively learned more with active strategies but perceived that they learned less. Thus, instructors may wish to explain why they use these teaching approaches and what evidence tells us about the benefits for students.

Practical Implementation of Active Learning across Classes and Disciplines

As with any teaching approach, gradual implementation at a pace comfortable to the instructor and students is often wise. There are dozens and dozens of active learning strategies you can try, so there are opportunities to use these across disciplines and whether your classes are large or small, introductory level or advanced. Using active learning also does not mean abandoning lecture – in fact, it can be interspersed between shorter stretches of lecture that fit better with our typical attention span (e.g., about 10 minutes). What follows are links to practical resources to get you started.