Active learning is a method of learning in which you are actively or experientially involved in the learning process. Examples of active learning are class discussions, writing assignments, and student-led teaching. Why is active learning so important to the learning process, perhaps more so than experiences that entail merely listening? Learn strategies for engaging more actively with the content covered in class.
Megan is currently taking two classes: geology and American literature. In her geology class, the instructor lectures for the full class time and gives reading assignments. In Megan’s literature class, however, the instructor relies on class discussions, small group discussions, and occasionally even review games. Megan enjoys her literature class, but she struggles to feel engaged and interested in geology. What strategies can Megan use to stay motivated and involved in both of her courses?
Think about the college classes you’ve taken so far. Like Megan, you may feel like it’s a mixed bag: you probably enjoyed the courses with a variety of teaching styles and learning activities the most. Even if you’re a quieter, more reserved student who dislikes lots of group discussions, you probably prefer to have some class projects or writing assignments rather than lectures alone. Group projects, discussions, and writing are examples of active learning, because they involve doing something. Active learning happens when students participate in their education through activities that enhance learning. Those activities may involve just thinking about what you’re learning. Active learning can take place both in and out of the classroom. The following are examples of activities that can facilitate active engagement in the classroom.
Many instructors conduct their classes mainly through lectures. The lecture remains the most pervasive teaching format across the field of higher education. One reason is that the lecture is an efficient way for the instructor to control the content, organization, and pace of a presentation, particularly in a large group.
However, there are drawbacks to this “information-transfer” approach, where the instructor does all the talking and the students quietly listen: student have a hard time paying attention from start to finish—the mind wanders. Also, current cognitive science research shows that adult learners need an opportunity to practice newfound skills and newly introduced content.
Lectures can set the stage for that interaction or practice, but lectures alone don’t foster student mastery. While instructors typically speak 100–200 words per minute, students hear only 50–100 of them. Moreover, studies show that students retain 70 percent of what they hear during the first ten minutes of class and only 20 percent of what they hear during the last ten minutes of class.
Thus it is especially important for students in lecture-based courses to engage in active learning outside of the classroom. But it’s also true for other kinds of college courses—including the ones that have active learning opportunities in class. Why?
Because college students spend more time working (and learning) independently and less time in the classroom with the instructor and peers. Also, much of one’s coursework consists of reading and writing assignments. How can these learning activities
be active? The following are very effective strategies to help you be more engaged with, and get more out of, the learning you do outside the classroom:
The following video discusses the process of creating mind maps further and shows how they can be a helpful strategy for active engagement:
In addition to the strategies described above, the following are additional ways to engage in active reading and learning:
Answer the question(s) below to see how well you understand the topics covered in the section. This short quiz does not count toward your grade, and you can retake it an unlimited number of times.
1. Columbia University Graduate School of Arts and Sciences Teaching Center. "Active Learning. " Columbia.edu. n.d. Web. 10 Feb 2016.
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