Teaching in an Active Learning Classroom (ALC)

Active learning classrooms (ALCs) are student-centered, technology-rich classrooms. They are easily identified with their large student tables and moveable seating designed to facilitate and promote active learning.

Typically, each table is accompanied by a whiteboard and flat screen monitor to display student work and larger rooms frequently have microphones at each table. ALCs also have a teaching station that allows the instructor to select and project and highlight student work from any particular table. 

Why Active Learning Classrooms?

Since 2007, the research and evaluation team at CEI has collaborated with the Office of Classroom Management (OCM) and other central units to conduct an ongoing research on new learning spaces.

These projects attempt to determine to what extent ALCs affect student learning outcomes, student and instructor perceptions, and teaching and learning practices. Several publications resulting from this research are listed in the Research and Resources page.

Key Findings

Learning outcomes

In one Biology class, a section was taught in an ALC while another section was taught in a traditional classroom. Students in the active learning space had significantly lower ACT scores than students in the traditional setting, predicting that the course grades they could expect to earn would be lower as well. However, students in the ALC outperformed expectations, earning the same grades as students in the traditional classroom, suggesting strongly that features of the room contributed significantly to their learning. Students’ answers to free-response survey questions confirmed this result by describing ways in which the ALC helped them in their learning tasks. These findings were replicated in a second study.

Instructor behavior

Data gathered using a classroom observation protocol in two sections of a Biology class indicated that despite the professor’s explicit attempt to conduct the same learning activities in both sections, in fact he behaved quite differently in the different classrooms, lecturing significantly more in the traditional room and conducting discussion significantly more in the ALC.

Pedagogy and space

Two sections of a Family Social Science course taught in an ALC one year apart were compared to isolate the effects of a change in pedagogy. Data suggest that students performed better on assessments in an ALC when the pedagogy was transformed from a traditional model (teacher-centered, lecture-based) to a collaborative and active learning model. We concluded that lecturing in an ALC is not nearly as effective as engaging students in active learning tasks as measured by on-task behavior and student learning outcomes.

Flipping and blending

We compared a large Chemistry course (300+ students) taught in a traditional theatre-style classroom that met 3 times a week to the same course taught by the same instructor that met in a smaller ALC working on problem solving one time a week and watching recorded lectures. The students who met just one time a week in the ALC performed as well or better on the same standardized exam as the students who spent three times as much time in the larger traditional lecture classroom. This meant that the impact of an ALC classroom can be multiplied at least threefold because instead of being used three times a week to achieve a learning outcome, it need only be used once a week to achieve the same effect.

How space interacts with classroom social behavior

Although we have understood that the ALCs promote good outcomes, we haven’t been certain how these good effects have come about. We developed and validated an instrument, the Social Context And Learning Environments (SCALE) survey, to measure social interactions in the classroom.

Recently, we’ve conducted analyses that a) compare the relative levels of each social context dimension present in traditional classrooms and ALCs, and b) predict learning outcome related to some of these dimensions. The findings are pending, but a preliminary discussion can be found in Chapter 3 of A Guide to Teaching in the Active Learning Classroom: History, Research and Practice (Stylus, 2016).