Academic journal article College Student Journal

Student Perceptions of Active Learning

Academic journal article College Student Journal

Student Perceptions of Active Learning

Article excerpt

A paradigm shift from lecture-based courses to interactive classes punctuated with engaging, student-centered learning activities has begun to characterize the work of some teachers in higher education. Convinced through the literature of the values of using active learning strategies, we assessed through an action research project in five college courses student perceptions of their impact on learning. Specifically, students were asked to engage in a variety of in-class and out-of-class exploratory writing assignments and pairs and other small group discussions interspersed among short lectures. Quantitative and qualitative data revealed students valued participating in engaging learning activities. Students also affirmed how active engagement positively impacted their learning.


Lecturing remains the predominant instructional method used in college classrooms as many academicians claim it is the most efficient and effective way to deliver content (Lom, 2012). That is, lectures are effectual for teaching and synthesizing information, especially when information is complex, large classes make lecturing economical, and lecturing conforms to the way universities are configured relative to space and time. However, evidence is lacking that this should be the only instructional approach used, especially when too many college students passively sit in classrooms while pretending to pay attention. In fact, an increasing wealth of evidence confirms how active engagement significantly impacts student learning, understanding, and critical thinking (e.g., Bonwell & Eisen, 1991; Komarraju & Karau, 2008; Machemer & Crawford, 2007). As such, the scholarship of teaching strongly affirms what students across most disciplines readily espouse. Endless lectures do not keep their minds engaged as many mentally check out after only a few minutes. To combat this, Bonwell and Eisen (1991), Brookfield (2006), and Cavanaugh (2011) argue that at least every 10-15 minutes lectures should be punctuated by a diversity of learning activities to keep students focused and engaged, which in turn will help them learn.

Creating learner-centered environments is the most important thing faculty can do to optimize student learning (Doyle, 2008). Learner-centered environments, Doyle stresses, are different because they require students to move beyond taking notes and passing tests to embracing new learning roles and responsibilities. When students exert real control over their educational experiences, they make important choices about what and how they will learn. Higher education, emphasizes Mansson (2013), is experiencing a paradigm shift from teacher-centered instruction to learner-centered instruction. This learner-centered paradigm requires teachers who value maximizing opportunities for students to learn, while urging students to accept that what is learned in any course will always be their responsibility.

"Student-centered instruction is a broad teaching approach that includes substituting active learning for lectures, holding students responsible for their learning, and using self-paced and/or cooperative (team-based) learning" (Felder & Brent, 1996, p. 43). Cavanagh (2011) concludes cooperative activities help students understand content better because they are more actively engaged. In fact, cooperative learning leads to deeper learning and increased critical thinking (Millis, 2010). Doyle (2011) astutely concludes, "Neuroscience, biology, and cognitive science research have made it clear that the one who does the work does the learning" (p. 1). No doubt, students learn best when they engage actively in the learning process (Davis, 1993).

So, who is right--the defenders of only lecturing, or are the advocates of engaging students more actively in their learning? To help answer this question, we examined the literature on numerous instructional practices and from these chose exploratory writing assignments and small-group discussions as learning strategies to intersperse with short lectures (See Figure 1). …

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