Implement Active Learning Strategies

"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"

Active learning is a broad term for student-centered approaches to teaching and learning in which the responsibility for learning is placed upon the student, often working in collaboration with classmates. In active learning environments, teachers are facilitators rather than one-way providers of information. The presentation of facts, so often introduced through straight lecture, is de-emphasized in favor of interactive class discussion, problem solving, cooperative learning, and writing exercises (graded and ungraded). There are many different active learning teaching methods, also called "engaged pedagogies," more than fifty of which are described in depth on the Pedagogies in Action (PIA) website.

Each engaged teaching strategy is designed to achieve specific goals, and although they are all appropriate for different contexts, they share some common themes. As a group, active learning pedagogies:

  • are purposeful, meaningful, and congruent with practices in the discipline (good "approximation of practice")
  • are aligned with goals, outcomes, and assessment
  • promote student-student and instructor-student interactions
  • respect diverse talents and ways of learning

Why Use Active Learning?

The data from education research studies are clear that:

  • student engagement increases with student-centered learning techniques.
  • engaged students are more successful and fail less often.
  • active learning promotes learning competencies and habits of mind which are often more valuable to employers than simple content knowledge.

The PIA website has a nice breakdown of what the research has to say about why active learning (or "engaged pedagogies") are important for helping students be successful in our courses.

PIA: Why Use Engaged Pedagogies? »


How to Use Active Learning Strategies?

Figuring out which active learning technique to use depends on a number of factors. One approach is to start with what you want students to be able to do and how you want to measure their progress and then design the experience from there.

How to Use Active Learning Strategies »


Selected References

Chickering, A.W and Gamson, Z.F. (1987). Seven Principles for Good Practice, AAHE Bulletin 39: 3-7, March 1987

Freeman, Scott; Eddy, Sarah L.; McDonough, Miles; Smith, Michelle K.; Okoroafor, Nnadozie; Jordt, Hannah; Wenderoth, Mary Pat (2014). Active learning increases student performance in science, engineering, and mathematics, Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci., v. 111, n. 23, p. 8410–8415.

McConnell. D.A, Chapman, L., Czajka, C.D., Jones, J.P., Ryker, K.D., and Wiggen, J. (2017). Instructional Utility and Learning Efficacy of Common Active Learning Strategies, Journal of Geoscience Education, 65:4, 604-625, DOI: 10.5408/17-249.1

National Research Council. 2015. Reaching Students: What Research Says About Effective Instruction in Undergraduate Science and Engineering. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.

Smith, K.A., Sheppard, S.D., Johnson, D.W., and Johnson, R.T. (2013). Pedagogies of Engagement: Classroom-Based Practices. Journal of Engineering Education, v 94, 87-101

Teasdale, R., Viskupic, K., Bartley, J.K., McConnell, D., Manduca, C.A., Bruckner, M., Farthing, D., and Iverson, E. (2017). A multidimensional assessment of reformed teaching practice in geoscience classrooms. Geosphere (2017) 13 (2): 608-627.


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