With the education industry going through a paradigm shift, more and more university educators are realizing the value of active learning strategies – a broad range of pedagogical processes that emphasize the importance of student ownership and level of engagement – as against passive learning which largely involves sitting in a classroom and taking notes.
In this post, we are going to explore the concept of active learning in more detail and will also discuss how higher education institutions can implement active learning initiatives to improve the overall student learning experience.
What is Active Learning?
Active learning is a specific learning technique that requires students to engage in various meaningful activities like working together with peers to apply a new practice and thinking on a deeper level about the concepts they’re learning. When students engage in such kinds of active learning practices, they are engaged in higher-order thinking (analysis, synthesis, evaluation) and are more likely to retain the concepts they have learned.
One of the other important aspects of active learning is that it involves a lot of scaffolding. Educators and institutions, therefore, need to take a great deal of time and effort before finalizing the right setting where students can take the lead. They need to have a strong-hold not only on the content but also on the process of designing challenging learning experiments, exercises, readings, and interactive experiments that allow students to step in and take responsibility for the course.
Among the key exercises that are considered a part of active learning strategies are –
- Engaging in simulations, scenarios, or case studies
- Self-monitoring one’s own learning actively
- Taking part in debates on current events
- Reflecting on concepts or topics covered in class
- Developing quizzes for use with peers
- Taking interviews of experts in their respective field
Benefits of Active Learning
Active learning harnesses the benefits of various curiosity-driven methods and problem-based learning practices, stimulating the learner’s critical thinking skills.
This student-centered approach to learning and teaching in which educators are seen as facilitators of learning has several benefits as discussed below –
- Allows students to deepen their understanding of a given topic
- Helps build connections between students, which in turn, enhance course completion rates
- Give educators deeper insight into how well their students are understanding and grasping new concepts
Different Ways That Higher Education Institutions Can Implement Active Learning
At the center of active learning, the concept is nothing but an attempt to fully engage students in the learning process in a way that they are not just the passive recipients of knowledge, but are co-creators and active participants of their own learning.
Having said that, there are specific ways that higher-ed institutions can implement active learning initiatives for better learning outcomes. Some of these are discussed below –
In this activity, students are required to think about a particular question or situation individually first and then form pairs to discuss their understanding of the concept with another student. Following this, the learnings and findings can be shared in a large classroom discussion.
This approach allows students to think individually as well as analyze and clarify their responses in a collaborative manner. It also helps students organize their prior knowledge, brainstorm/summarize, and subsequently apply and integrate new information.
2. Short Cases/Scenarios
Case studies, simulations, and scenarios allow students to apply the concepts and topics learned in class to real-life situations. A completely flexible activity, it can be adapted for use in various disciplines.
It can either be as simple as posing a specific question to engage students in a discussion about how the students would approach a given scenario or can be extensive and require students to conduct additional research to approach the scenario effectively.
3. In-Class Demonstrations
Interactive in-class demonstrations can be a great way to ensure the application of a concept. In this approach, students are involved in the demonstration and are required to reflect and analyze the process.
Such in-class demonstrations help in increasing the student understanding of concepts, while also allowing them to have an enjoyable learning process.
4. One Minute Paper
This active learning approach involves students individually writing a 1-2 min response to an open question. This can be done either at the end of a class, where students can write a response to provide the instructor with feedback on their understanding or throughout the lecture as a transition between content/topics.
The activity allows them to reflect and summarize the information shared, and identify the areas which they need to revisit for more clarity.
5. Group Discussion
Irrespective of the class size or discipline, targeted group discussions can be used both in-class as well as online. This active learning approach focuses on instructors facilitating students’ learning experience by engaging them in meaningful discussions.
Such discussions require students to think critically and to continuously evaluate their own (and peers) responses. It allows them to explore a variety of different perspectives and build on each other’s understanding and knowledge of the content. Further, these discussions also help students develop the critical skills of integration and knowledge synthesis.
6. Real-Time Reactions
The approach involves students watching a video, mini-lecture or any other student presentation, followed by sharing their real-time reactions on the same.
This active learning technique also helps students to think critically, spot trends and consider varied points of view. Some of the smart ways to do this are by setting up a hashtag that allows students to do live tweeting or by leveraging a chat function to share instant reactions.
7. Idea Line Up
Another way to engage your students actively in their own learning is through the idea lineup method. It involves choosing a question for students that has a range of responses. You will have to then ask students where they stand on the idea.
You can either have them come to the front and organize themselves in a line physically based on where they find themselves on the spectrum of answers or get them to place themselves on a virtual number line if you are teaching in a virtual set up.
8. Concept Mapping
One of the innovative ways where you can allow students to step away from fixed perspectives is through collaborative concept mapping.
Students in a classroom can do this either to review previous work or to map ideas for projects and assignments. There are multiple online tools available that make it easy to facilitate this and map out connections between ideas.
While the concept of active learning is fundamentally shifting the way universities take responsibility for educational changes, not all active learning activities are appropriate for all students or all courses. It is, therefore, important for educators to select specific activities that are better aligned with the learning outcomes they’re seeking for their students.
The ultimate aim of these active learning exercises should be to create engaging and meaningful ways for students to apply conceptual knowledge in their respective professional spaces.
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