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Active Learning

What is Active Learning?

Active learning is a strategy that intentionally engages student participation during class, moving beyond a static lecture experience where faculty "delivers" and the student passively "receives" information. Instead, students are provided the opportunity to use their disciplinary knowledge in a more active manner.  Active learning can be infused as short periods of engagement throughout class all the way to an embodied, authentic assessment. You are likely already using some Active Learning Strategies (Word) during your class, but carefully considering new ways to have students actively engage with course content can deepen the experiential learning for the student.

Why is it beneficial?

In using various active learning strategies, students are able to process and reflect on course content, then apply their understanding of it in real time.  In the classroom, this can allow for student interaction not only with the disciplinary material, but also with their peers.  Instructor supervision of this process allows real-time feedback and redirection if necessary to help students more fully understand if they are comprehending and applying their knowledge of the material correctly. 

As the instructor, you can address common points of confusion for all students at once, in real time. This allows students to build skills and think critically through experiences with clearer understanding of disciplinary meaning.

What are the challenges?

For faculty who are most comfortable lecturing, integrating active learning opportunities can feel disruptive to the course space; however, strategically planning active learning experiences actually increases the structure and success of the learning activity.  And the more practice you have leading active learning opportunities, the easier it will become to plan and facilitate!

It may be also difficult deciding where to start with what types of active learning to add to the classroom or deciding how frequently you include them.  Faculty interested in implementing active learning strategies should start at the beginning of the semester with one active learning technique and be consistent in using it, so students come to expect it as a regular part of the course and learning process. And remember, you always have your Instructional Designer liaison to help you plan these activities!

How can this be implemented?

Active learning can be implemented at varying levels of complexity.  Low complexity techniques involve building time into existing lectures using techniques such as think/pair/share, concept mapping, or concept-check polls during class.  Medium complexity techniques build on the idea of including reflection and processing time using techniques such as reflective journaling and problem solving.  High complexity techniques often stand in for more traditional lecture and evaluation models, such as group work, peer reviewing, or case studies.  The high complexity techniques might extend over multiple class periods and/or into out-of-class activities.    

Knowing your classroom and the affordances of the technology and space in your teaching environment can help you consider how you can strategically use active learning opportunities.  Additional active learning strategies you might want to try include: Q&A sessions, problem-solving, comparing preconceptions with newly learned material, discussions, debates, quick (1-2 minute) reflective writing assignments, in class polls, investigative research, and other strategies previously mentioned. 

It might be difficult to decide where to begin.  You can start by identifying active learning strategies you are already using or might want to use by completing this Active Learning Strategies Worksheet (Word).

Additional Resources

We always encourage you to reach out to your academic unit's Instructional Designer liaison for further discussion and collaboration about active learning for your class.

You can also read more about active learning strategies from the Cornell University Center for Teaching Innovation.