A Planning Structure for Active Learning

Article excerpt

THEME ARTICLE

Throughout the history of agricultural education, our teaching philosophy has been consistent. Students learn best by doing. We subscribe to hands-on learning and other active learning approaches as a means to involve students in the learning process. Hands-on learning is the hallmark to career and technology education, and agricultural education provides more of these opportunities than anyone else.

In light of this time-proven philosophy that students learn by doing, we in teacher education have strived to teach aspiring agriculture education teachers (preservice teachers) the basis for active learning. Toward this end, we communicate why we embrace the active learning philosophy, when we should use active learning, and how to plan for active learning.

Embracing Active Learning

There exists theory and a plethora of research to support the basis for active learning. Active learning engages students' interest in the learning process. It provides students with opportunities to actively restate or apply key concepts and skills. The more frequent the opportunities for learners to apply new concepts and skills in different situations, the better they will be able to remember and use them. While there are a myriad of means to promote active learning, in agricultural education it is best promoted by allowing students to participate in hands-on learning experiences.

When to Use Active Learning

According to Davis (1993), active leaming includes doing, discussing, writing, or taking action. When students are provided opportunities to test out what they have learned and how well they have learned it, they are more likely to experience success and elevate their motivation to learn.

Because of its flexibility and basic structure, we, at New Mexico State University, promote the use of the four-step approach to teaching. The four steps include preparation, presentation, application, and evaluation. The preparation step focuses the learner's attention on the subject matter to be learned and creates a felt need-to-know in learners. The presentation step provides instruction in a manner that learners learn best. The application step allows learners to put into action the knowledge or skills learned in the presentation step. And, of course, during the evaluation step, learners' knowledge and skills are appraised.

We believe these steps to be the four pillars of lesson delivery. The approach allows for flexibility in teaching style and can incorporate a variety of teaching methods and techniques, while providing a basic structure to teach lessons. While active learning can occur in any of the four steps to teaching, the most suitable is in the application step.

Planning for Active Learning

The application step requires effective planning, as do the other three steps (preparation, presentation, and evaluation). Learning is most effective when there is immediate practice of what is taught. Therefore, no lesson is complete without allowing learners to apply knowledge and skills. …