What is Active Learning?
Think of active learning as an approach to instruction in which students engage the material they study through reading, writing, talking, listening, and reflecting. Active learning stands in contrast to "standard" modes of instruction in which teachers do most of the talking and students are passive.
Students and their learning needs are at the center of active learning. There are many teaching strategies that can be employed to actively engage students in the learning process, including group discussions, problem solving, case studies, role plays, journal writing, and structured learning groups. The benefits to using such activities are many, including improved critical thinking skills, increased retention and transfer of new information, increased motivation, and improved interpersonal skills.
Using active learning does not mean abandoning the lecture format, but it does take class time. Lecturers who use active learning pause frequently during the period–once every fifteen minutes or so–to give students a few minutes to work with the information they're providing. They may ask students to respond to a question, to summarize important concepts in writing, or compare notes with a partner. For some lecture-based classes, using active learning may be a bit more challenging because of class size or room limitations such as fixed seating. Breaking students into groups under these circumstances may not be possible, but other strategies such as individual writing or paired activities are quite possible and lead to good results.
What follows is a description of some of the basic elements of active learning followed by guidelines for using them in your classroom.