Active Learning 

Introduction 

Bonwell and Eison describe active learning strategies as those that involve "students in doing things and [thinking] about the things they are doing" (Bonwell and Eison, 1991, p. iii). In other words, active learning refers to strategies in which students are engaged in doing something, rather than simply listening to a lecture or passively receiving information. They are discussing, writing, debating, creating, discovering, processing, and involved in higher-order thinking (for example, analysis, synthesis). Active learning is not only an effective strategy in the traditional classroom environment, it is effective and even crucial in the hybrid environment, where students are being asked to take a more responsible and active role in learning.

 

Instructors are faced with the challenge of designing activities that support learning objectives and of structuring them to work online or face-to-face. The challenge is particularly apparent when realizing that many active learning techniques rely heavily on significant and extended interaction (for example, question and answer, sharing ideas, group work, role-plays). However, the hybrid or online environment can be a favorable learning environment for students. Students working online can all have equal opportunity to participate, share thoughts, and develop ideas over longer periods of time, giving them the opportunity to think critically about their participation. The online environment offers certain freedoms whereby students' expressions are not limited by class size or by a 1- to 3-hour block of limited time in which to participate. Recent developments in technology also provide unique tools and expanded opportunities for implementing collaborative and active learning strategies, both online and face-to-face. For example, online collaboration tools enable students to work in groups both synchronously and asynchronously (at the same time or at differing times), while student-response systems (clickers) allow for instant polling of students in face-to-face meetings to determine opinions, level of understanding, or to conduct formative assessment.

Active learning can also serve to accommodate different learning styles and enhance learner motivation. And as noted above, active learning empowers students to take primary responsibility for their education. At the same time, it requires faculty to relinquish some control to the student–not always a bad thing, as many students will happily inform you if given half a chance.     

SOME ADVANTAGES AND DISADVANTAGES OF ACTIVE LEARNING ACTIVITIES

Type

Examples

Advantages

Disadvantages

Active (Individual)
  • Simulations

 

  • Games & Puzzles

  • Research or creative projects

  • Case studies and other problem-solving activities
    • Provides the context that helps students recognize the relevance of the learning

    • Promotes better retention of learning

    • Deepens understanding and enhances students' ability to transfer knowledge to "real-life" situations

    • Engages the student more, and is thus usually more enjoyable

    • May address a greater variety of learning styles
    • Often require more time for the instructor to prepare well

    • Less efficient than didactic learning for presenting foundational knowledge

    • May be frustrating for students who are not prepared to participate