Active Learning

Active learning is a process where a learner takes a dynamic and energetic role in his or her education. An active learner, unlike a passive learner, is not dependent on a teacher. In active learning, the student is a partner in the process, while passive learning requires little personal involvement from a student. Active learning commonly makes teachers act as guides to the learning process, motivators for further endeavors for students. As a result of the learner's participation, such learning is self-reinforcing, which should add to the retention of what is learned.

Typically, active learning is enjoyable, motivational and effective in getting tasks done, while passive learning has a reputation for becoming dull very quickly. Active learning tends to boost the learner's ego, as key steps are achieved in the learning process. Active learning usually stimulates a learner's pride, increases confidence and imparts credibility in the eyes of teachers. It may also stimulate a thirst for deeper and broad understanding in future academic endeavors. Passive learners, by contrast, tend to become disinterested and unmotivated. What is learned passively is usually not effectively or enthusiastically applied.

An active learner often asks questions of clarification, example, nomenclature, category, reason, status or rationale. Such questions are aimed at enhancing learning and they tend to stimulate further learning. An active learner often challenges ideas, procedures, content relationships, and priorities but does not attack people or their character. Active students frequently follow up learning sessions with personal extensions. Such extensions include added reading, group discussions about what was learned, applications of learning, and experimentation. These activities validate learner interest in what was learned.

In active learning, a student connects new material with what was previously learned. An active learner attaches what is learned with skill development. The connection of knowledge and skill is an advanced learning dynamic. An active learner discusses what he or she knows with others. Thus one validates the ability to clearly and thoroughly articulate what he or she knows. Such discussions increase a learner's credibility for others and at the same time boost his or her own confidence.

Instructors, classmates and people outside school more often seek active learners for opinions, assistance and insight than passive students. Active learners also share research findings, exchange views, and debate topics among themselves. Such exchanges add considerably to what is learned. In addition, active learners usually have an open mind, possess better reasoning skills, and make fewer snap judgments. Instructing active learners is easier and more successful for teachers than teaching passive learners, partly because an active learner tends to realize when presented material or readings are unusually difficult or confusing. They ask relevant questions in order to clear up confusion and avoid small problems from turning into big difficulties. Active learners also provide relevant examples when appropriate and offer answers to questions and problems, thus helping the instructors by adding to the dialogic flow in the classroom.

Active learners' work tends to be done on time, completely and neatly. Active learners tend to be more creative, while also being more likely to accept and adopt suggestions offered by tutors, instructors and classmates than passive learners. Teachers are more likely to give enthusiastic and quality recommendation statements for further education to active learners. Active behaviors and values typically lead to better opportunities for advancement and higher remuneration increases. While active learning does not guarantee success, it enhances a student's chances of doing well.

Active learning is not exclusively taught, rewarded and promoted in school. Active learning should be reinforced and extended by playground supervisors, parents and babysitters. It is easiest for students to start active learning early, in part thanks to good role modeling. They should also get healthy rewards and understand that such learning is useful. Meanwhile, teachers, parents, and others working with students need to be competently instructed so that they can reinforce, reward and extend active learning behaviors and values.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

Inspiring Active Learning: A Complete Handbook for Today's Teachers
Merrill Harmin; Melanie Toth.
Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, 2006 (Expanded edition)
Teaching and Learning Strategies for the Thinking Classroom
Alan Crawford; Wendy Saul; Samuel R. Mathews; James Makinster.
International Debate Education Association, 2005
Librarian’s tip: Includes informatoin on active learning throughout, including Section I "Principles of Active Learning and Critical Thinking" and "Assessment of Critical Thinking and Active Learning," which begins on p. 172
Using Web 2.0 to Support the Active Learning Experience
Williams, Jo; Chinn, Susan J.
Journal of Information Systems Education, Vol. 20, No. 2, Summer 2009
Learning beyond the Classroom: Education for a Changing World
Tom Bentley.
Routledge, 1998
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 4 "Active Learning in Practice" and Chap. 5 "What Matters Most: Key Characteristics of Active Learning Projects"
Thinking Critically about Critical Thinking
Diane F. Halpern.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1996
Librarian’s tip: Includes active learning exercises in multiple chapters
Turning Students into Inventors: Active Learning Modules for Secondary Students
Gorman, Michael E.; Plucker, Jonathan A.; Callahan, Carolyn M.
Phi Delta Kappan, Vol. 79, No. 7, March 1998
The Influence of Active Learning on the College Student Departure Process
Braxton, John M.; Milem, Jeffrey F.; Sullivan, Anna Shaw.
Journal of Higher Education, Vol. 71, No. 5, September 2000
Active Learning in Secondary and College Science Classrooms: A Working Model for Helping the Learner to Learn
Joel A. Michael; Harold I. Modell.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2003
Teaching International Affairs with Cases: Cross-National Perspectives
Karen A. Mingst; Katsuhiko Mori.
Westview Press, 1997
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 1 "Active Learning in Different Environments: The Influence of Culture in the Class"
Creating, Implementing, and Managing Effective Training and Development: State-of-the-Art Lessons for Practice
Kurt Kraiger.
Jossey-Bass, 2002
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 7 "Using Computer Technology in Training: Building an Infrastructure for Active Learning"
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