What is Active Learning?
Active learning refers to a broad range of teaching strategies that are intentionally designed to engage students as active participants in their learning during face-to-face and/or online sessions or during informal study time. Participation means more than involvement in busy work. It requires learners to deliberately think about ideas, concepts, content and skills that are the focus of meaningful tasks. Typically, these active learning strategies involve students working together but may also involve individual work and/or reflection. An important goal of active learning is to develop students’ capability to learn how they learn.
A student-centred approach to teaching
Active learning is a student-centred approach to teaching, meaning that the focus of the educator is on what the students do before, during and/or after a teaching session. When designing a session less emphasis is placed on directly transmitting content from the educator to the student and more emphasis is given to designing learning activities that will actively engage students in making sense of the content.
Any learning environment or mode of delivery
Active learning can be used in any learning space, including lectures. Simple activities, such as pausing during the lecture to ask a question; to provide time for students to summarise their notes; to check their understanding of the content; to turn to the person next to them to ask a question or share an idea, are all example of active learning.
Simple to complex activities
Activities can range from the short and simple such as structured note taking, solving a simple mathematical problem and paired discussions, to longer, more complex activities or pedagogical approaches like case studies, role plays, and problem-based learning.
Not technology dependent
Numerous activities can be incorporated into a session without the use of technology, although at Griffith we have several digital technologies that support and enhance active learning.
What support do students need?
Explain your rationale to students: We can’t assume that students will readily and willingly engage in active learning. We need to help student understand and value the process of ‘active learning’ and identify themselves as ‘active learners’. Appreciating the rationale and purpose for this approach will help them. At the beginning of the trimester and before you begin your first (few) activities, tell students why you’re having them engaged in activities during class. This is particularly important if active learning is not common in your discipline.
This explanation doesn’t need to be long or complicated. You could simply say ‘In this course, we’re going to be doing activities that are designed to help you understand the content of the course and prepare you for the assessments. Some of these are simple, brief activities that will involve working in pairs, sharing ideas and asking each other questions. Other activities may take longer and are similar to activities that you will encounter when you are in the workplace’.
Course Design Standards
We foster active, authentic and collaborative approaches to learning to build our students’ professional capability and confidence and cultivate their ability to learn effectively in work contexts.
Why is Active Learning Important?
There is a well-established evidence base supporting the use of active learning. The benefits include improved critical thinking skills, increased retention and transfer of new information, increased motivation, improved interpersonal skills, and decreased course failure (Prince, 2004).
Findings from the North American National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) survey show that hands-on, integrative, and collaborative active learning experiences lead to high levels of student achievement and personal development.
One of the most important aspects of active learning is choosing the activities you’re going to use in class. When deciding what to have students do, ask yourself:
- What are the most important things students should learn from this session (learning outcomes)?
- What misconception or difficulty do students commonly have as it relates to this content?
- What kind of practice can students do that will help them prepare for an upcoming assignment or assessment?
Use the answers to these questions to choose activities which will give students opportunities to meaningfully engage with the material.
Where could I learn more?
You can learn more through exploring the following resources:
- Active learning strategies & resources
- Classroom assessment techniques (CATs)
- Authentic learning
- Collaborative learning
To find out more about active learning strategies search using the Active Learning Strategies Tool. Strategies can also be found via ExLNT. To delve deeper into active learning, attend one of the Teaching for Learning Workshops facilitated by Learning Futures.
Prince, M. (2004). Does Active Learning Work? A Review of the Research. Journal of Engineering Education, 93(3), pp. 223-231
Contact: If you have any questions about active learning, please contact Dr. Jude Williams email@example.com