Four Strategies to Inspire Active Learning

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“I never teach my pupils. I only attempt to provide the conditions in which they can learn” - Albert Einstein

It has long been known that successful learning requires more than listening. When active learning occurs, instructors tend to see student engagement soar, exam scores are better, and learners’ critical thinking and problem-solving skills improve — even for the most complex subject matter. In one study of 225 STEM classrooms, researchers found that, on average, examination scores for students exposed to active learning were approximately 6% higher than for those taught via traditional lectures. It was also observed that failure rates in the same student population were about 1.5 times lower.[1] Beyond the empirical performance measures, active learning also has a positive psychological impact. Both students and instructors are more engaged and enthusiastic.

And yet, despite this long-held understanding of the benefits of active learning, traditional postsecondary classroom size and structure is still oriented toward lecture-based instruction and passive learning.[2]

To address this shortfall, in 2017, EDUCAUSE research identified the Active Learning Classroom (ALC) as the top strategic technology. Together with makerspaces, ALC designs increasingly promote coursework that helps learners discover, invent, solve problems and create knowledge.

With regard to modern classroom design, active learning classrooms typically have the following characteristics:

  • They typically feature round or curved tables with moveable seating, allowing students to face each other and thus support small-group work.
  • Tables are often paired with their own whiteboards for brainstorming and diagramming.
  • Many tables are linked to large LCD displays so students can project their computer screens to the group, and the instructor can choose a table’s work to share with the entire class.
  • Wireless internet plays an important role in retrieving resources and linking to content management systems.
  • Depending upon the size of the room, table microphones can be critical, so that every student’s voice can be broadcast across the room.[3]

Active learning strategies can be employed within the classroom to inspire engagement, debate and discussion. If you are looking to embrace active learning in your postsecondary institution, here are four particular strategies recommended by experts in higher education:

  1. Establish commitment – instead of imposing strict rules and structure on students’ learning, offer students a chance to think critically about their learning and encourage them to devise their own solutions to challenges that they may face along the way.
  2. Disrupt reality – Replace actual reality with an imagined one, presenting students with alternative or futuristic events and happenings.
  3. Introduce imagined solutions – Ask students to use their own experiences and knowledge to explore course concepts.
  4. Incorporate arts-based pedagogy – Integrate visual and theater-based activity to encourage students to think more creatively, abstractly and cooperatively when tackling complex subject matter.[2]

[1] Active Learning and Flipped Classrooms in Introductory Mathematics
[2] Transcending Convention and Space: Strategies for Fostering Active Learning in Large Post-Secondary Classes
[3] Active Learning Classrooms: The Top Strategic Technology for 2017

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