Active learning is an instructional approach in which students actively participate in the learning process, as opposed to sitting quietly and listening. Active learning builds on constructivist learning theory, which posits that people learn by connecting new ideas and experiences to what they already know. Active learning is any educational method in which all students are asked to engage in the learning process while in the classroom, rather than passively receiving information.
There are many ways to incorporate active learning into your teaching. Common strategies include, but are not limited to, question-and-answer sessions, discussion, interactive lecture (in which students respond to or ask questions), quick writing assignments, hands-on activities, and experiential learning. As you think of integrating active learning strategies into your course, consider ways to set clear expectations, design effective evaluation strategies, and provide helpful feedback.
Ideas for Using Active Learning
- In-class poll questions. Use practice quiz questions to help students check their understanding or open-ended questions to gather ideas or examples from students. Consider having students discuss how they responded with each other before you show the answer, then allow them re-vote after discussion. This is often helpful for trickier concepts; students can sometimes teach each other on the spot!
- Minute paper. Have students spend one minute writing about what they know about a topic or what was confusing or difficult for them. Use this feedback to modify your next class session.
- Think-pair-share. Have learners think and/or write for a minute about a question. After a minute, have them pair up with a classmate to discuss their answers. Then have the pairs share out to the whole class.
- End-of-class wrapper/Exit ticket. In the last few minutes of a class session, have students write one thing they learned and one thing they are still confused about. Use this feedback to modify your next class session.
- Post-exam reflection. Have students reflect on how they studied for an exam (this can be multiple-choice from a list of common techniques, or free response), how they felt about their performance, and what they might do differently next time.
- Student discussion leader. Have students write discussion questions based on the class reading, then meet in small groups to debate their questions. Group members are roles (leader, timekeeper, note-taker, devil's advocate). The goal is to produce one discussion question to contribute to the whole-class discussion. One could randomly choose two of the day's discussion leaders to facilitate whole-class discussion.
- Whole-class debate. Have students choose a side of the room based on their response to some topic that doesn't have a correct/incorrect answer. Ask students to explain why they hold their belief or opinion. Consider writing ideas generated from debate on the board.
- Jigsaw method. In this method, each student in a pre-assigned group contributes one specific thing to the group's overall task. They might read a particular part of a chapter or a particular article or research a particular aspect of a topic. The class begins with all students who learned the same material getting together to review the basic facts and check their understanding. Then students get back into their pre-assigned groups in which each member has focused on a different aspect of the topic and they take turns teaching the other members about what they have learned.