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Active learning implies that students are engaged in their own learning. Active learning strategies have students do something other than taking notes or following directions…they participate in activities…[to] construct new knowledge and build new scientific skills.

Handelsman et al., 2007

What is it?

According to Bonwell and Eison (1991), Active Learning is “anything that involves students in doing things and thinking about the things they are doing”. It requires a shift from an instructor-centered to a more learner-centered approach with a particular focus on student engagement.

Weimer defines of a learner- centered approach as follows:
  1. Engages students actively in learning.
  2. Motivates by sharing some power and control.
  3. Encourages collaboration.
  4. Includes learning skill instruction (and demonstrates thinking and analysis processes).
  5. Makes space for students to learn and practice reflection on how and what they are learning.

Weimer, M. (2013). Learner-centered teaching: Five key changes to practice. San Francisco: John Wiley & Sons, Inc. 

Active Learning Strategies

Below are a few active learning strategies that you can implement in the classroom or online. Some require more planning and preparation, they are organized from simple to more complex.

The instructor pauses and asks students to answer two questions:

  • What was the most important thing you learned during this class?
  • What important question remains unanswered?

The questions can be presented on a PowerPoint slide or on the chat in a virtual session. The strategy can be used at any time in a lecture, but is particularly useful at the end of class to encourage students to summarize the day’s content (U of Minnesota 2008).

Students respond to one or two questions at the end of the class:

  • What was the muddiest point in this class?
  • What did you struggle the most with?

As above, the questions can be presented on a PowerPoint slide or on the chat in a virtual session.

A Think-Pair-Share activity consists of three steps:

  1. The instructor poses a prepared question and asks students to think (or write) about it individually.
  2. In pairs, students share their responses verbally (or write it).
  3. Students discuss the question with the rest of the class.
Note: If conducted online during a synchronous session, this activity could be named “Think-Chat-Share”. Students think about their response individually, then share their answer with a pair in the chat, and discuss it with the rest of the class.

When used at the beginning of a lecture, this active learning technique can help students organize prior knowledge and brainstorm questions.
When used later in the session, the strategy can help students summarize what they’ve learned, apply it to novel situations, and integrate new information with what they already know. The strategy works well with groups of various sizes and can be completed in four or five minutes, making it an ideal active learning strategy for classes in which lecture is the primary instructional method (U. of Minnesota, 2008).

A group of learners who meet to accomplish a specific task within a specific timeframe. In group work, it is assumed that the instructor has explained the task to the learners & has provided them with the instructions required to organize their work (allocated time, restrictions, etc.) The instructor supervises the activity, going around from one group to another to deal with any issues or to provide feedback & encouragement (Chamberland, 1995 pp. 103-104).

This collaborative learning activity is divided in two steps.

STEP 1: Students work in groups on a particular topic (or small problem) and become “experts” of this topic.

STEP 2: Students are then split into different groups with one member assigned to each topic. Each group member needs to teach the others about the topic. This strategy allows you to cover different topics in one activity, and helps students develop their communication and/or problem-solving skills.

Resources

A compendium of resources on Active Learning and Cooperative Learning.

Active Learning

Research on Interactive Learning

Videos

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