The Importance of Active Learning

Research on active learning has repeatedly demonstrated that when instructors shift from passively delivering information to active learning techniques, students have greater learning gains (Michael, 2006; Freeman et al., 2014).

A professor talking with a student over a laptop.

Instructors at Fisher are provided opportunities to learn and develop active learning techniques that enhance the quality of education in their classrooms (Freeman & Wash, 2013; Van Amburgh et al., 2013).

What is Active Learning?

There is no universally accepted definition of active learning in the pedagogical literature, but there are many different overlapping ideas that work to identify what it is. At its core, active learning techniques work to have students think, engage, and process information in the moments of learning.

Opportunities to Learn about Active Learning

Primarily led by the Active Learning Faculty Fellow and supported by the entire team at the DePeters Family Center, several different options are available to faculty and staff who wish to develop active learning practices. Visit the Workshops and Events page for upcoming opportunities or email to request a 1:1 or department-specific session. 

  • Two-day immersive Active Learning Institute - May each year.
  • One-day immersive Active Learning Mini-Institute - January each year.
  • Workshops allow a group of participants to learn to design effective teaching strategies and overcome engagement barriers to enhance their teaching practices.
  • Department-requested workshops focus on specific topics.
  • 1:1 consultations allow instructors to work with DePeters Family Center staff or the Active Learning Fellow to implement customized strategies into their courses.

Active Learning Workshops

Workshops are designed to explore one specific component of active learning. Any faculty or staff member can explore the Workshops and Events page within the DePeters Family Center site to see the upcoming schedule and register for a workshop. Below are examples of workshops that have been offered to faculty and staff. 

  • Active learning & assessment
  • Active learning & group work
  • Active learning AI
  • Active learning outside the classroom
  • Active learning pedagogical inventories
  • Badged and contract grading
  • Graphic syllabi
  • Holding students accountable
  • Overcoming resistance in active learning
  • Peer evaluation and assessment
  • Team-based learning
  • Using confidence marking in assessment
  • Working in technology classrooms

Implementing Active Learning

An asset of active learning strategies is that they vary in complexity which affords instructors to begin implementation in a way that is comfortable to them. Active learning does not require a complete course overhaul; it can begin with changing one lesson in one class session. The following are suggestions for implementing active learning pedagogies:

  • Begin with a topic you are very familiar with.
  • Be sure that the desired learning outcomes of the active learning strategy align with the objectives of the course or the unit. 
  • Select a topic that has proven challenging for students so they can see the learning focus of the activity. 
  • Use an active learning inventory tool to help decide which pedagogical strategy to infuse.
  • Know that it will likely take more time for you to prepare and deliver the selected strategy.
  • Prepare the students so they can better understand the different expectations of them when using active learning strategies.
  • Consider how the classroom layout can enhance the implementation of your strategy.
  • Explore if low technology (e.g., whiteboards, manipulatives) or high technology (e.g., software, personal devices) can assist you in the pedagogical strategy.

Active Learning By Asking Questions

  • History questions: questions that relate to students’ experiences
    • What did you do…?
    • What happened when you…?
    • What happened next…?
  • Relationship questions: questions that engage students in comparing things
    • What else does this relate to…?
    • What do these have in common…?
    • How is this easier/more difficult than…?
  • Application questions: questions that have students use knowledge in new contexts
    • How could this idea be used to design…?
    • What evidence do we have that supports…?
    • What issues could this solve…?
  • Speculation questions: questions that require thinking beyond given information
    • What would happen if you changed…?
    • What might the next appropriate step be…?
    • How would [stakeholder] react if…?
  • Explanation questions: questions that get at underlying mechanisms, processes, and reasons
    • How can we account for…?
    • What justification/s could be provided for…?
    • What assumptions are being made about…?

Active Learning Resources and Further Reading