Active learning is "a method of learning in which students are actively or experientially involved in the learning process and where there are different levels of active learning, depending on student involvement." [1] Bonwell & Eison (1991) states that "students participate [in active learning] when they are doing something besides passively listening." In a report from the Association for the Study of Higher Education (ASHE), authors discuss a variety of methodologies for promoting active learning. They cite literature that indicates students must do more than just listen in order to learn. They must read, write, discuss, and be engaged in solving problems. This process relates to the three learning domains referred to as knowledge, skills and attitudes (KSA). This taxonomy of learning behaviors can be thought of as "the goals of the learning process."[2] In particular, students must engage in such higher-order thinking tasks as analysis, synthesis, and evaluation.[3]

Nature of active learning

There are a wide range of alternatives for the term active learning, such as: learning through play, technology-based learning, activity-based learning, group work, project method, etc. The common factors in these are some significant qualities and characteristics of active learning. Active learning is the opposite of passive learning; it is learner-centered, not teacher-centered, and requires more than just listening; the active participation of each and every student is a necessary aspect in active learning. Students must be doing things and simultaneously think about the work done and the purpose behind it so that they can enhance their higher order thinking capabilities.

Many research studies[by whom?] have proven that active learning as a strategy has promoted achievement levels and some others[who?] say that content mastery is possible through active learning strategies. However, some students as well as teachers find it difficult to adapt to the new learning technique.[4]

There is intensive use of scientific and quantitative literacy across the curriculum, and technology-based learning is also in high demand in concern with active learning.[5]

Barnes (1989)[6][7] suggested principles of active learning:

  1. Purposive: the relevance of the task to the students' concerns.
  2. Reflective: students' reflection on the meaning of what is learned.
  3. Negotiated: negotiation of goals and methods of learning between students and teachers.
  4. Critical: students appreciate different ways and means of learning the content.
  5. Complex: students compare learning tasks with complexities existing in real life and making reflective analysis.
  6. Situation-driven: the need of the situation is considered in order to establish learning tasks.
  7. Engaged: real life tasks are reflected in the activities conducted for learning.

Active learning requires appropriate learning environments through the implementation of correct strategy. Characteristics of learning environment are:[8][9]

  1. Aligned with constructivist strategies and evolved from traditional philosophies.
  2. Promoting research based learning through investigation and contains authentic scholarly content.
  3. Encouraging leadership skills of the students through self-development activities.
  4. Creating atmosphere suitable for collaborative learning for building knowledgeable learning communities.
  5. Cultivating a dynamic environment through interdisciplinary learning and generating high-profile activities for a better learning experience.
  6. Integration of prior with new knowledge to incur a rich structure of knowledge among the students.
  7. Task-based performance enhancement by giving the students a realistic practical sense of the subject matter learnt in the classroom.

Constructivist framework

Active learning coordinates with the principles of constructivism which are, cognitive, meta-cognitive, evolving and affective in nature. Studies have shown that immediate results in construction of knowledge is not possible through active learning, the child goes through process of knowledge construction, knowledge recording and knowledge absorption. This process of knowledge construction is dependent on previous knowledge of the learner where the learner is self-aware of the process of cognition and can control and regulate it by themselves.[10] There are several aspects of learning and some of them are:

  1. Learning through meaningful reception, influenced by David Ausubel, who emphasizes the previous knowledge the learner possesses and considers it a key factor in learning.
  2. Learning through discovery, influenced by Jerome Bruner, where students learn through discovery of ideas with the help of situations provided by the teacher.
  3. Conceptual change: misconceptions takes place as students discover knowledge without any guidance; teachers provide knowledge keeping in mind the common misconceptions about the content and keep an evaluatory check on the knowledge constructed by the students.
  4. Constructivism, influenced by researchers such as Lev Vygotsky, suggests collaborative group work within the framework of cognitive strategies like questioning, clarifying, predicting and summarizing.[11]

Science of active learning

Active learning has been shown to be superior to teachings in promoting both comprehension and memory.[12] The reason it is so effective is that it draws on underlying characteristics of how the brain operates during learning. These characteristics have been documented by thousands of empirical studies (e.g., Smith & Kosslyn, 2011) and have been organized into a set of principles. Each of these principles can be drawn on by various active learning exercises. They also offer a framework for designing activities that will promote learning; when used systematically, Stephen Kosslyn (2017) notes these principles enable students to "learn effectively—sometimes without even trying to learn".[13]

The principles of learning

One way to organize the empirical literature on learning and memory specifies 16 distinct principles, which fall under two umbrella "maxims". The first maxim, "Think it Through", includes principles related to paying close attention and thinking deeply about new information. The second, "Make and Use Associations", focuses on techniques for organizing, storing, and retrieving information.

The principles can be summarized as follows.[13]

Maxim I: Think it through

Maxim II: Make and use associations

Active learning typically draws on combinations of these principles. For example, a well-run debate will draw on virtually all, with the exceptions of dual coding, interleaving, and spaced practice. In contrast, passively listening to a lecture rarely draws on any.

Active learning exercises

See also: Cooperative learning § Techniques

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.[15][16][17][18][19][20][21][22] 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 engage in meaning-making inquiry, action, imagination, invention, interaction, hypothesizing and personal reflection (Cranton 2012).

Examples of "active learning" activities include

Use of technology

See also: Technology-enhanced active learning

The use of multimedia and technology tools helps enhance the atmosphere of the classroom, thus enhancing the active learning experience. In this way, each student actively engages in the learning process. Teachers can use movies, videos, games, and other fun activities to enhance the effectiveness of the active learning process. The theoretical foundations of this learning process are :

  1. Flow: Flow is a concept to enhance the focus level of the student as each and every individual becomes aware and completely involved in the learning atmosphere. In accordance with one's own capability and potential, through self-awareness, students perform the task at hand. The first methodology to measure flow was Csikszentmihalyi's Experience Sampling (ESM).
  2. Learning styles: Acquiring knowledge through one's own technique is called learning style. Learning occurs in accordance with potential as every child is different and has particular potential in various areas. It caters to all kinds of learners: visual, kin-aesthetic, cognitive and affective.[dubious ]
  3. Locus of control: Ones with high internal locus of control believe that every situation or event is attributable to their resources and behavior. Ones with high external locus of control believe that nothing is under their control.
  4. Intrinsic motivation: Intrinsic motivation is a factor that deals with self-perception concerning the task at hand. Interest, attitude, and results depend on the self-perception of the given activity.[28]

Research evidence

Numerous studies have shown evidence to support active learning, given adequate prior instruction.

Shimer College Home Economics cooking 1942
Shimer College Home Economics cooking 1942

A meta-analysis of 225 studies comparing traditional lecture to active learning in university math, science, and engineering courses found that active learning reduces failure rates from 32% to 21%, and increases student performance on course assessments and concept inventories by 0.47 standard deviations. Because the findings were so robust with regard to study methodology, extent of controls, and subject matter, the National Academy of Sciences publication suggests that it might be unethical to continue to use traditional lecture approach as a control group in such studies. The largest positive effects were seen in class sizes under 50 students and among students under-represented in STEM fields.[12]

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.[29]

Similarly, Hoellwarth & Moelter (2011)[30] 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.[31]

Michael (2006),[32] 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",[33] 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.

Active learning has been implemented in large lectures and it has been shown that both domestic and International students perceive a wide array of benefits. In a recent study, broad improvements were shown in student engagement and understanding of unit material among international students.±[34]

Active learning approaches have also been shown to reduce the contact between students and faculty by two thirds, while maintaining learning outcomes that were at least as good, and in one case, significantly better, compared to those achieved in traditional classrooms. Additionally, students' perceptions of their learning were improved and active learning classrooms were demonstrated to lead to a more efficient use of physical space.[35]

See also



  1. ^ Bonwell & Eison 1991.
  2. ^ Bloom, B. S., Krathwohl, D. R., & Masia, B. B. (1956). Taxonomy of educational objectives: The classification of educational goals. New York, NY: David McKay Company.
  3. ^ Renkl, A., Atkinson, R. K., Maier, U. H., & Staley, R. (2002). From example study to problem solving: Smooth transitions help learning. Journal of Experimental Education, 70 (4), 293–315.
  4. ^ Bonwell & Eison 1991, p. 3.
  5. ^ Bean, John C. (2011). Engaging Ideas: The Professor's Guide to Integrating Writing, Critical Thinking and Active Learning in the Classroom (2 ed.). John Wiley & Sons. p. 384. ISBN 978-1-118-06233-3.
  6. ^ Barnes, Douglas (1989). Active Learning. Leeds University TVEI Support Project, 1989. p. 19. ISBN 978-1-872364-00-1.
  7. ^ Kyriacou, Chris (1992). "Active Learning in Secondary School Mathematics". British Educational Research Journal. 18 (3): 309–318. doi:10.1080/0141192920180308. JSTOR 1500835.
  8. ^ Grabinger, Scott; Dunlap, Joanna (1995). "Rich environments for active learning: a definition". Research in Learning Technology. 3 (2): 5–34. doi:10.1080/0968776950030202.
  9. ^ Panitz, Theodore (December 1999). Collaborative versus cooperative learning: a comparison of the two concepts which will help us understand the underlying nature of interactive learning (PDF). Eric. Retrieved 25 September 2015.
  10. ^ Anthony, Glenda (1996). "Active Learning in a Constructivist Framework". Educational Studies in Mathematics. 31 (4): 349–369. doi:10.1007/BF00369153. JSTOR 3482969. S2CID 143954768.
  11. ^ Rusbult, Craig. "Constructivism as a Theory of Active Learning". Retrieved 25 September 2015.
  12. ^ a b Freeman, S. et al. (2014). Active learning increases student performance in science, engineering, and mathematics. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 111(23), 8410–8415. https://dx.doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1319030111
  13. ^ a b Kosslyn, Stephen (2017-10-06). Kosslyn, Stephen M.; Nelson, Ben (eds.). Building the Intentional University: Minerva and the Future of Higher Education. The MIT Press. ISBN 9780262037150.
  14. ^ Dorestani, Alireza (January 2005). "Is Interactive/Active Learning Superior to Traditional Lecturing in Economics Courses?". Humanomics. 21 (1): 1–20. doi:10.1108/eb018897. ISSN 0828-8666.
  15. ^ Brant, G., Hooper, E., & Sugrue, B. (1991). Which comes first: The simulation or the lecture? Journal of Educational Computing Research, 7(4), 469-481.
  16. ^ Schwartz, D. L., & Bransford, J. D. (1998). A time for telling. Cognition and instruction, 16(4), 475-5223.
  17. ^ Kapur, M., & Bielaczyc, K. (2011). Classroom-based experiments in productive failure. In Proceedings of the 33rd annual conference of the cognitive science society (pp. 2812-2817).
  18. ^ Kapur, M. (2010). Productive failure in mathematical problem solving. Instructional Science, 38(6), 523-550.
  19. ^ Kapur, M. (2008). Productive failure. Cognition and Instruction, 26(3), 379-424.
  20. ^ Kapur, M. (2012). Productive failure in learning the concept of variance. Instructional Science, 40(4), 651-672.
  21. ^ Kapur, M., & Bielaczyc, K. (2012). Designing for productive failure. Journal of the Learning Sciences, 21(1), 45-83.
  22. ^ Westermann, K., & Rummel, N. (2012). Delaying instruction: evidence from a study in a university relearning setting. Instructional Science, 40(4), 673-689.
  23. ^ McKeachie, W.J., Svinicki,M. (2006). Teaching Tips: Strategies, Research, and Theory for College and University Teachers. Belmont, CA. Wadsworth.
  24. ^ Weimer, Maryellen. "10 benefits of getting students to participate in classroom discussions". Faculty Focus. Faculty Focus. Retrieved 11 March 2015.
  25. ^ Robertson, Kristina (2006). "Increase Student Interaction with "Think-Pair-Shares" and "Circle Chats"". colorincolorado.org. Retrieved 5 March 2015.
  26. ^ a b c d McKinney, Kathleen. (2010). Active Learning. Normal, IL. Center for Teaching, Learning & Technology.
  27. ^ Harmann, Kerstin (2012). "Assessing Student Perceptions of the benefits of discussions in small-group, large-class, and online learning contexts". College Teaching. 60 (2): 65–75. doi:10.1080/87567555.2011.633407. S2CID 143307863. Retrieved 10 March 2015.
  28. ^ Karahocaa; et al. (2010). "Computer assisted active learning system development for critical thinking in history of civilization". Cypriot Journal of Educational Sciences.
  29. ^ Hake, R. R. (1998). Interactive-engagement versus traditional methods: A six-thousand-student survey of mechanics test data for introductory physics courses. American Journal of Physics, 66, 64.
  30. ^ Hoellwarth, C., & Moelter, M. J. (2011). The implications of a robust curriculum in introductory mechanics. American Journal of Physics, 79, 540.
  31. ^ Prince, M. (2004). Does active learning work? A review of the research. Journal of engineering education, 93(3), 223-231.
  32. ^ Michael, J. (2006). Where's the evidence that active learning works?. Advances in Physiology Education, 30(4), 159-167.
  33. ^ 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 whitehouse.gov
  34. ^ Marrone, Mauricio; Taylor, Murray; Hammerle, Mara (2018). "Do International Students Appreciate Active Learning in Lectures?". Australasian Journal of Information Systems. 22. doi:10.3127/ajis.v22i0.1334.
  35. ^ Baepler, Paul; Walker, J.D.; Driessen, Michelle (2014). "It's not about seat time: Blending, flipping, and efficiency in active learning classrooms". Computers & Education. 78: 227–236. doi:10.1016/j.compedu.2014.06.006.

Works cited

Further references

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