Teaching with Active Learning

Introduction

Active learning is any instructional approach in which all students are fully engaging in the learning process. Examples of active learning techniques include think-pair-share, case-based learning, minute papers, concept maps, peer instruction, debates, and any activity with retrieval practice. Activities with active learning may be uncomfortable for some students at first because it pushes them out of their comfort zone and requires them to approach learning material in a new way. Research shows that despite the fact that students tend to prefer passive learning strategies, such as lectures, they tend to learn more and ultimately perform better with active learning strategies. Teaching with active learning is important because this type of learning helps students learn more effectively and allows them to develop higher order thinking skills and often collaborate with their peers!

Resources

There are many resources available online for teaching students with active learning. The collection of resources below will help guide you through the process of implementing active learning techniques into your classroom.

Lesson Plans

  1. Getting Started with Active Learning Techniques: The Center for Teaching Innovation at Cornell University offers an article on getting started with active learning techniques. First, that article explains five active learning techniques teachers can modify for use in their own classrooms, including think-pair-share, minute paper, stump your partner, catch-up, and problem solving or case study. Then, it gives some suggestions on how to incorporate active learning into the curriculum and lastly discusses how classroom polling (iClickers), videos and multimedia, and smart mobile devices or laptops. For educators who are seeking active learning techniques they can integrate into their curriculum, this resource will be very helpful!
  2. Active Learning Techniques for the Classroom: Duke Learning Innovation has put together a resource that suggests five different active learning techniques teachers can use in the classroom: think-pair share, one minute paper/muddiest point paper, peer instruction, group work, and case studies. There are also additional resources at the bottom of the page for teachers who are interested in learning further about how they can use active learning to better their students’ learning!

Articles

  1. Students Think Lectures Are Best, But Research Suggests They’re Wrong: edutopia has published a brief article discussing a study revealing that though students tend to prefer low-effort learning strategies, like listening to lectures, they do better with active learning. After describing the study, the article gives a few tips that benefit students of all ages, including highlighting the benefits of active learning, encouraging students to see struggle as productive, and helping students develop metacognitive skills.
  2. Implementing Active Learning in Your Classroom: The Center for Research on Learning & Teaching at University of Michigan offers an article on implementing active learning in the classroom. This article discusses things teachers should keep in mind when implementing an active learning framework into classrooms, some useful techniques that may help integrate active learning into teaching, and a few common barriers to active learning (and ways to get around them). For educators who are considering implementing active learning into their classrooms and are also unsure of how to do so most effectively, this article does a good job of laying out the process!
  3. Study Shows Students in ‘Active Learning’ Classrooms Learn More Than They Think: The Harvard Gazette provides an article explaining a new Harvard study showing that students in ‘active learning’ classrooms learn more than they think. The article emphasizes the importance of letting students know that despite the fact that they think that they learn more from traditional lectures, they truly learn more through the initially frustrating process of active learning.
  4. Best Practices – Active Learning: New York University (NYU) has a collection of articles for teachers on active learning, including Active Learning Demystified, Techniques, Steps to Creating an Active Learning Environment, and Evaluation & Assessment of Active Learning. Each one of these articles provides teachers with valuable information on active learning and how to implement these techniques into learning in the classroom.
  5. Inclusive Teaching Through Active Learning: The Harriet W. Sheridan Center for Teaching and Learning at Brown University offers an article on inclusive teaching through active learning. The article explains what active learning is and why it is an important component of inclusive teaching. It also breaks down how teachers can use an active learning approach in online and hybrid environments (organized by in-class time commitment) and what teachers need to do to teach well with active learning techniques. Lastly, the article discusses how teachers can best design active learning to be inclusive teaching.

Informational Sites

  1. Active Learning | Center for Teaching Innovation: The Center for Teaching Innovation at Cornell University provides information on why active learning should be used, considerations for using active learning methods, and getting started with active learning.
  2. Active Learning – Teaching Guide: The Center for Teaching & Learning at Boston University (BU) has created a teaching guide for active learning. This teaching guide contains information about the benefits of active learning, the best practices (learning objectives, student participation, and feedback/reflection), examples of active learning, and quick tips for getting started with active learning.
  3. Active Learning | Center for Teaching | Vanderbilt University: The Center for Teaching at Vanderbilt University provides an abundance of valuable information on active learning, including what active learning is, what its theoretical basis is, whether there is any evidence that it works, why active learning is important, what techniques can be used in place of lectures, and how teachers should get started. In addition, there is a cheat sheet to help teachers through the process of implementing active learning into their classrooms!
  4. Teaching and Learning in Higher Education – Active Learning: Teaching and Learning in Higher Education has created a module that explains the benefits of active learning, provides active learning strategies, and suggests ways teachers can evaluate the effectiveness of different active learning activities. The sections of this module include What is Active Learning?, Evidence that Active Learning Works, Examples of Active Learning Activities, How Do I Implement Active Learning in My Classroom?, and finally Thinking More About Active Learning. 
  5. Active Learning | Center for Educational Innovation | University of Minnesota: The Center for Educational Innovation at University of Minnesota offers much information on what active learning is, why it should be used, how to implement it successfully, addressing its challenges, and related research and resources.

Conclusion

Teaching with active learning is an important task because it changes the way students learn in the classroom and ultimately helps them learn more effectively. When implementing active learning into the classroom, educators should emphasize that practice makes perfect. At first, students may face discomfort because they have to put more effort into their learning, but it is essential that they know this is a normal part of the process. The resources above will help you to successfully implement active learning into your classroom!

Additional Resources

  1. Active Learning for Your Online Classroom – Five Strategies Using Zoom: The Center for Teaching and Learning at Columbia University suggests five active learning strategies teachers can use over Zoom. This article explains what active learning is and provides Columbia supported online tools for active learning, active learning strategies, and final tips!

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