Active Learning

One of the most difficult tasks we face as instructors when designing a course is how to best use the time we have with students. While we want to present important information and make sure that our students are exposed to course content, we must also provide time and space for students to apply the knowledge they obtain in class. This page provides strategies for encouraging active learning in the classroom. If you're looking for ways to balance content delivery and student engagement, this page and its related content should help you begin to enact that balance.

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Active learning is based on the premise that students must do more than just listen to fully comprehend new information. They must read closely, write often, discuss ideas with peers, and think critically. By using active, rather than passive, modes of learning, you will increase your teaching effectiveness and your students' learning.

Active learning isn't simply the opposite of lecturing, however. It involves the implementation of "learning experiences in which the students are thinking about the subject matter" (McKeachie, 2002). These learning experiences can take the form of presentations, group work, class discussion, writing prompts, and reading exercises. Active learning motivates students to apply new knowledge in hands-on situations. These applications allow them to engage with the course material in meaningful and formative ways.

The practice of encouraging active learning is linked with the pedagogy of inductive teaching. As opposed to deductive teaching, in which concepts are defined by the teacher, and the class is then exposed to examples on this previously learned concept, inductive teaching centers around the idea that knowledge is dependent on an individual's experience and interaction with the material. The instructor provides examples from which students are encouraged to seek patterns and applications, explore and extend the material, and make connections, thus inductively learning the concept that these examples indicate. KU faculty members Caroline Bennett and Nathan Wood offer more suggestions for optimizing class time in their Two-Minute Mentor discussion

Structuring your class such that it requires students to inductively process the course material is outlined in the Teaching for Understanding framework (Wiske, 1998). In this framework of guided inquiry, the role of the teacher is to direct students' attention and analysis through focused and often ongoing assignments. In addition, this framework helps to move students toward more complex intellectual tasks, as outlined in Bloom's Taxonomy of Learning.

Moreover, These assignments should attempt to increase the "uncoverage" of a subject, which requires that students receive "lessons that enable them to experience directly the inquiries, arguments, applications, and points of view underneath the facts and opinions they learn if they are to understand them. Students have to do the subject, not just learn its results" (Wiggins & McTighe, 1998). This manner of teaching is beneficial for all instructors whose course goals include the sentence, "I want my students to be able to think like a ________ (scientist, mathematician, writer, etc.)."