Active learning activities

Student with shrubActive learning has been defined as "anything that involves students in doing things and thinking about the things they are doing" (Bonwell & Eison, 1991, p. 2). It has also been defined as "anything course-related that all students in a class session are called upon to do other than simply watching, listening, and taking notes" (Felder & Brent, 2009, p. 2).

Active learning is based on a learning theory called constructivism, which asserts that learners construct their own understanding of a topic by building upon their prior knowledge. Instructors, therefore, do not simply transmit information to the learners via lectures, but rather create guided tasks, interactions, opportunities, and environments that are conducive to deep learning. A closely related theory—social constructivism—holds that active learning best takes place when the construction of knowledge occurs in collaboration with others. 

Concepts related to active learning include:

  • Student-centred learning, where the diverse learning needs of students, rather than the need to push through content, are at the centre of the learning process. 
  • Problem-based learning, where students are given a problem or scenario that requires to formulate questions, analyse evidence, connect evidence to pre-existing theories, derive conclusions, and reflect on their learning.
  • Experiential learning, where students learn by engaging in authentic learning activities, that is, ones that replicate situations or problems they might encounter in real life or in a work situation. 

Active learning fosters understanding rather than memorization of facts; it encourages students to apply learning to different problems and contexts; it gives students more autonomy over their learning; and it helps students learn how to learn. 

Listed below are numerous active learning activities that can be employed in almost any course. 

Resources

Petty, G. (2002). 25 ways for teaching without talking (DOC). Sutton Coldfield College. 

Prince, M. (2004). Does active learning work? A review of the researchJournal of engineering education93(3), 223-231.

Silberman, M. (1996). Active Learning: 101 Strategies To Teach Any Subject. Prentice-Hall, PO Box 11071, Des Moines, IA.

Teaching College-Level Science and Engineering. (2017). MIT OpenCourseWare. This playlist of brief YouTube videos provides an overview of active learning as well as specific examples of active learning activities. 

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Nine Alternatives to Lecturing

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Implementing Group Work in the Classroom