Active Learning

Summary of reform: The implementation of Active Learning usually involves pedagogical reform by the individual faculty member on a class-by-class basis, but also involves a change in student culture. Faculty utilize techniques such as "the one minute paper," short, in-class exercises, and asking students to develop questions related to the lecture material being reviewed. These and other techniques serve to move the student learning experience away from memorization of facts toward active engagement with curricular material, and using and applying knowledge. In the sciences it has involved more laboratory and project work. Physics has been traditionally taught primarily in a lecture format but many are suggesting that laboratory or workshop activities are more effective for teaching students. Active learning is also often complemented by a problem-based curriculum.

Level of institutionalization: Active Learning requires little institutionalization. Individual faculty can initiate independent efforts in their respective classrooms, though some forms of Active Learning require institutional support if they use technology, labs or other equipment that require resources.

Outcomes: Improved learning outcomes such as critical thinking, as well as content knowledge; improved student motivation for learning; improves learning in upper division courses (outcome in the sciences); increased problem solving abilities; easier transition to work.

Description of assessment: Several studies have explored the positive outcomes for students as a result of active learning. David Kolb and other cognitive psychologist have produced these types of studies. However, little assessment has been done outside of these experimental studies at for instance the institutional or department level within a college campus.

Resistance: Faculty may be resistant to implementation as there are generally no rewards for changing their pedagogy and course content to include active learning. Faculty must invest the additional effort required in devising and deploying new activities, and taking on the new role as facilitator rather than solely that of a lecturer. Students may be resistant to giving up their traditional, passive role as audience member in exchange for participating in new, in-class activities.

Evolution/History: Active Learning has a long tradition, first emerging from Deweyian educational philosophy at the turn of the century: "learning by doing." Active learning is part of a whole series of techniques for engaging students in experiential learning.

Link to suggested readings: Articles on Active Learning

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