When students are engaged in active learning, they are “doing” something and actively thinking about what they are doing (Bonwell & Eison, 1991). Classroom activities are designed to tap into students’ higher order thinking skills and require them to apply concepts, build ideas, and make connections in ways that construct their own knowledge and learning experiences. Learning activities can be as simple as discussing topic in pairs to more complex group collaborations and problem solving. Content that requires lower order thinking such as knowing and understanding (such as reading) can be moved outside of class to make time for in-class activities.
The general design strategies we are promoting are supported by research in the fields of education and the learning sciences and are not limited to a specific content area. Well-designed active learning experiences help move students from lower-order thinking into higher order cognitive engagement. Students who build their own knowledge are not only learning, they are becoming aware of how they learn (metacognition).
We also provide a brief bibliography of foundational literature and evidence to help you think more comprehensively about active learning and why it works.
Instructors new to active learning can easily become overwhelmed by the sheer amount of resources available. Many instructors have concerns about how they will cover content, manage the class, or have time to redesign their course. We recommend instructors start small and try out one of the techniques on our Assessment Strategies and Learning Activities document and then take some time to reflect on how the activity worked.
Once comfortable with in-class activities, instructors can begin to modify their lessons following the steps in our Active Learning Planning Guide. Our guide models the “backwards design” process (Wiggins & McTighe, 2005) in which a learning outcome is identified, along with the level of critical thinking necessary to achieve that goal. Next, an appropriate assessment is selected and learning activities are designed to help students achieve their goals. Our Assessment Strategies and Learning Activities document will help you quickly find assessments and activities that effectively support learning outcomes.
We provide easy to use resources that will guide you through the entire active learning design process.
Academic Technology Services' role is to provide excellent learning environments for LSA faculty and students and to facilitate exceptional instructional opportunities both in and out of the classroom. Supporting active learning is a big part of what we do. One of the most effective ways we support faculty is with one-on-one consultations. We work with individual faculty who want to design active lessons, integrate new learning technologies, think about ways to use classroom space, and explore new ways to engage students. If you would like to learn more about active learning, stop by or call the Learning Technologies and Consulting office to speak with one of our consultants.
Bonwell, C. C., Eison, J. A.. (1991). Active learning: creating excitement in the classroom. Washington, DC: School of Education and Human Development, George Washington University.
Wiggins, G. P.., McTighe, J. (2005). Understanding by design. Expanded 2nd ed. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.