Active learning is an umbrella term that refers to several models of instruction that focus the responsibility of learning on learners. Bonwell and Eison (1991) popularized this approach to instruction (Bonwell & Eison 1991). This buzzword of the 1980s became their 1990s report to the Association for the Study of Higher Education (ASHE). In this report they discuss a variety of methodologies for promoting "active learning". They cite literature which indicates that to learn, students must do more than just listen: They must read, write, discuss, or be engaged in solving problems. It relates to the three learning domains referred to as knowledge, skills and attitudes (KSA), and that this taxonomy of learning behaviours can be thought of as “the goals of the learning process”(Bloom, 1956).In particular, students must engage in such higher-order thinking tasks as analysis, synthesis, and evaluation. Active learning engages students in two aspects – doing things and thinking about the things they are doing (Bonwell and Eison, 1991).
Active learning exercises
Bonwell and Eison (1991) suggested learners work collaboratively, discuss materials while role-playing, debate, engage in case study, take part in cooperative learning, or produce short written exercises, etc. The argument is when should active learning exercises be used during instruction. Numerous studies have shown that introducing active learning activities (such as simulations, games, contrasting cases, labs,..) before, rather than after lectures or readings, results in deeper learning, understanding, and transfer. The degree of instructor guidance students need while being "active" may vary according to the task and its place in a teaching unit. In an active learning environment learners are immersed in experiences within which they are engaged in meaning-making inquiry, action, imagination, invention, interaction, hypothesizing and personal reflection Cranton (2012).
Examples of "active learning" activities include:
- A class discussion may be held in person or in an online environment. Discussions can be conducted with any class size, although it is typically more effective in smaller group settings. This environment allows for instructor guidance of the learning experience. Discussion requires the learners to think critically on the subject matter and use logic to evaluate their and others' positions. As learners are expected to discuss material constructively and intelligently, a discussion is a good follow-up activity given the unit has been sufficiently covered already.
Some of the benefits of using discussion as a method of learning are: it helps students explore a diversity of perspectives, it increases intellectual agility, it shows respect for students’ voices and experiences, it develops habits of collaborative learning, it helps students develop skills of synthesis and integration, it helps students develop skills of synthesis and integration, it leads to transformation (Brookfield 2005).
- A think-pair-share activity is when learners take a minute to ponder the previous lesson, later to discuss it with one or more of their peers, finally to share it with the class as part of a formal discussion. It is during this formal discussion that the instructor should clarify misconceptions. However students need a background in the subject matter to converse in a meaningful way. Therefore a "think-pair-share" exercise is useful in situations where learners can identify and relate what they already know to others. So preparation is key. Prepare learners with sound instruction before expecting them to discuss it on their own.
If properly implemented, it saves instructor time, keeps students prepared, helps students to get more involved in class discussion and participation and provide cumulative assessment of student progress. This is not a good strategy to use in large classes because of time and logistical constraints (Bonwell and Eison, 1991).
Think-pair-share is helpful for the instructor as it enables organizing content and tracking students on where they are relative to the topic being discussed in class, saves time so that he/she can move to other topics, helps to make the class more interactive, provides opportunities for students to interact with each other (Radhakrishna, Ewing, and Chikthimmah, 2012).
- A learning cell is an effective way for a pair of students to study and learn together. The learning cell was developed by Marcel Goldschmid of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne (Goldschmid, 1971). A learning cell is a process of learning where two students alternate asking and answering questions on commonly read materials. To prepare for the assignment, the students will read the assignment and write down questions that they have about the reading. At the next class meeting, the teacher will randomly put the students in pairs. The process begins by designating one student from each group to begin by asking one of their questions to the other. Once the two students discuss the question, the other student will ask a question and they will alternate accordingly. During this time, the teacher is going around the class from group to group giving feedback and answering questions. This system is also referred to as a student dyad.
- A short written exercise that is often used is the "one minute paper." This is a good way to review materials and provide feedback. However a "one minute paper" does not take one minute and for students to concisely summarize it is suggested[who?] that they have at least 10 minutes to work on this exercise. (See also: Quiz#In education.)
- A collaborative learning group is a successful way to learn different material for different classes. It is where you assign students in groups of 3-6 people and they are given an assignment or task to work on together. This assignment could be either to answer a question to present to the entire class or a project. Make sure that the students in the group choose a leader and a note-taker to keep them on track with the process. This is a good example of active learning because it causes the students to review the work that is being required at an earlier time to participate. (McKinney, Kathleen. (2010). Active Learning. Normal, IL. Center for Teaching, Learning & Technology.)
In order to create participation and draw on the wisdom of all the learners the classroom arrangement needs to be flexible seating to allow for the creation of small groups (Bens, 2005).
- A student debate is an active way for students to learn because they allow students the chance to take a position and gather information to support their view and explain it to others. These debates not only give the student a chance to participate in a fun activity but it also lets them gain some experience with giving a verbal presentation. (McKinney, Kathleen. (2010). Active Learning. Normal, IL. Center for Teaching, Learning & Technology.)
- A reaction to a video is also an example of active learning because most students love to watch movies. The video helps the student to understand what they are learning at the time in an alternative presentation mode. Make sure that the video relates to the topic that they are studying at the moment. Try to include a few questions before you start the video so they will pay more attention and notice where to focus at during the video. After the video is complete divide the students either into groups or pairs so that they may discuss what they learned and write a review or reaction to the movie. (McKinney, Kathleen. (2010). Active Learning. Normal, IL. Center for Teaching, Learning & Technology.)
- A class game is also considered an energetic way to learn because it not only helps the students to review the course material before a big exam but it helps them to enjoy learning about a topic. Different games such as jeopardy and crossword puzzles always seem to get the students' minds going. (McKinney, Kathleen. (2010). Active Learning. Normal, IL. Center for Teaching, Learning & Technology.)
- Learning By Teaching is also an example of active learning because students actively research a topic and prepare the information so that they can teach it to the class. This helps students learn their own topic even better and sometimes students learn and communicate better with their peers than their teachers.
Active learning and Policy
Policy may be satisfied by demonstrating the instructional effectiveness of instruction. Educational rubrics are a good way to evaluate "active learning" based instruction. These instructional tools can be used to describe the various qualities of any activity. In addition, if given to the student, they can provide additional guidance (here is an example rubric).
In the past few years outcome-based education policy has begun to limit instructors to only using those techniques that have been shown to be effective. In the United States for instance, the No Child Left Behind Act requires those developing instruction to show evidence of its "effectiveness."
Numerous studies have shown evidence to support active learning.
Richard Hake (1998) reviewed data from over 6000 physics students in 62 introductory physics courses and found that students in classes that utilized active learning and interactive engagement techniques improved 25 percent points, achieving an average gain of 48% on a standard test of physics conceptual knowledge, the Force Concept Inventory, compared to a gain of 23% for students in traditional, lecture-based courses.
Similarly, Hoellwarth & Moelter (2011)  showed that when instructors switched their physics classes from traditional instruction to active learning, student learning improved 38 percent points, from around 12% to over 50%, as measured by the Force Concept Inventory, which has become the standard measure of student learning in physics courses.
In "Does Active Learning Work? A Review of the Research," Prince (2004) found that "there is broad but uneven support for the core elements of active, collaborative, cooperative and problem-based learning" in engineering education.
Michael (2006), in reviewing the applicability of active learning to physiology education, found a "growing body of research within specific scientific teaching communities that supports and validates the new approaches to teaching that have been adopted."
In a 2012 report titled "Engage to Excel," the United States President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) described how improved teaching methods, including engaging students in active learning, will increase student retention and improve performance in STEM courses. One study described in the report found that students in traditional lecture courses were twice as likely to leave engineering and three times as likely to drop out of college entirely compared with students taught using active learning techniques. In another cited study, students in a physics class that used active learning methods learned twice as much as those taught in a traditional class, as measured by test results.
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- Prince, M. (2004). Does active learning work? A review of the research. Journal of engineering education, 93(3), 223-231.
- Michael, J. (2006). Where's the evidence that active learning works?. Advances in Physiology Education, 30(4), 159-167.
- President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology. (2012). Engage to excel: Producing on million additional college graduates with degrees in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Retrieved from http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/microsites/ostp/pcast-engage-to-excel-final_feb.pdf
- Bonwell, C.; Eison, J. (1991). Active Learning: Creating Excitement in the Classroom AEHE-ERIC Higher Education Report No. 1. Washington, D.C.: Jossey-Bass. ISBN 1-878380-08-7.
- Chickering, Arthur W.; Zelda F. Gamson (March 1987). "Seven Principles for Good Practice". AAHE Bulletin 39 (7): 3–7.
- McKinney, K. (2010). Active Learning. Illinois State University. Center for Teaching, Learning & Technology.
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- Radhakrishna R., Ewing J., and Chikthimmah N. (2012) NACTA Journal. 56.3
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- Prince, M. (2004). Does Active Learning Work? A Review of the Research. Journal of Engineering Education, 93(3), 223-232.
- Making Active Learning Work
- New Directions for Cooperative Education. ERIC Digest.
- The Essential Elements of Cooperative Learning in the Classroom. ERIC Digest.
- Active learning section of Geoff Petty's practical guide on improving teaching and learning.
- Active Learning and Library Instruction
- Platform for Active Learning (University of Hull). Includes bank of examples.
- Educational psychology in classroom settings. A developing open-source Wikibook related to learning as discussed in this article.
- Learning by teaching - by Jody Skinner
- Action-oriented learning area teaching at vocational schools - Rainer Gerke, Ph.D. (Weimar University)