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Active Learning

"Learning is not a spectator sport. Students do not learn much just by sitting in class listening to teachers, memorizing prepackaged assignments, and spitting out answers. They must talk about what they are learning, write about it, relate it to past experiences, apply it to their daily lives. They must make what they learn part of themselves."

–Arthur W. Chickering and Zelda F. Gamson, "Seven Principles for Good Practice," AAHE Bulletin 39: 3-7, March 1987

What Is Active Learning?

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Active learning is a student centered approach in which the responsibility for learning is placed upon the student, often working in collaboration with classmates. In active learning teachers are facilitators rather than one way providers of information. The presentation of facts, so often introduced through straight lecture, is deemphasized in favor of class discussion, problem solving, cooperative learning, and writing exercises (graded and ungraded). Other examples of active learning techniques include role-playing, case studies, group projects, think-pair-share, peer teaching, debates, Just-in-Time Teaching, and short demonstrations followed by class discussion.


There are two easy ways to promote active learning through the discussion. The first method is the mini lecture format in which the instructor talks ten to twenty minutes about a particular topic and then pauses for students to consolidate their notes, find gaps, and work with classmates to fill in gaps. The second technique is an active listening lecture where students just listen to a lecture without writing notes and then, after ten to twenty minutes, the student works with a classmate or small group to recall, clarify, and elaborate on the lecture's content.

In the section below, click on the links to find examples of active learning strategies described in SERC's Teach the Earth web site.

Examples of Active Learning Techniques


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