Why Active Learning

Active learning requires students to do something more than passively absorb information. "On the simplest level, active learning is introducing student activity into the traditional lecture" (Prince, 2004, p.3). Case studies, real world problem solving, pausing for questions and reflection, and class discussion are all examples of more active forms of learning.

Why bother with active learning? Joi Ito, Director of the MIT Media Lab sums up the reality of many students well; they are not required to use their critical thinking skills in class. Ito cites the image below as humorous evidence of his point. The spikes in the image below are associated with "emotion, cognition, and attention." He notes that student's "electrodermal activity nearly flatlined during class". (Click on image to enlarge)

graph depicting the ebbs and flows of student brain activity throughout the day
Weeks worth of electrodermal activity

Active learning strategies can vary from the very simple (pausing lecture for two minutes of clarification), to more complex (turning an entire course into a game) with many steps and variations between. Some active learning strategies are best when instructors are able to take full advantage of the the active learning classroom.

Active learning classrooms are equipped so that students can be easily grouped into small teams. They have movable furniture and plenty of whiteboard wall space for students to move around and flesh out their ideas. Some active learning classrooms come equipped with multiple display outputs, computers and monitors for students to share their screens with their classmates. While some teaching strategies work best in classrooms designed with active learning in mind, it is still possible to include more time for student involvement in even the largest, inflexible lecture classroom. Pausing and asking students to reflect, question, challenge or expand on a topic can be done, even in a classroom where the chairs and tables are bolted down to the floor. Active learning strategies are aimed at getting students to become active participants in knowledge creation. Hopefully you will find this resource helpful in thinking of ways to increase student involvement in your courses.

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