Active Learning: A Complete Guide

Active learning is defined as a form of teaching meant to engage students more highly in the learning process. Traditional learning is considered passive, meaning that students typically sit and listen as a lecture is delivered.

Students across the world are familiar with the traditional, lecture based approach to learning. This approach begins among the youngest learners and continues all the way through to college.

In the passive environment, students can find themselves listening to lectures for hours. When students complain about being bored in school, they’re often referring to the fact that learning often involves doing little more than sitting at a desk all day.

After being in classes throughout the day, sitting down and doing little more, of course students become bored. They disengage from the lectures and lose concentration. This is where active learning is so beneficial.

The process of active learning involves making students more involved in the learning process. Researchers previously indicated that there are seven principles that underlie active learning. The first principle of active learning is that it needs to be purposeful. The task needs to be relevant to the student, who needs to understand what they’re learning and why.

There also needs to be reflection, a period when the student thinks on the meaning of what they learned. Third, there is also a negotiation that occurs between student and teachers. Students need to be actively involved with their learning and negotiate with their teachers their goals and the purpose of those goals.

The fourth principle is that students need to critically assess what they’re learning. Instead of simply listening to a lecture or reading material, they need to evaluate the content. The student also needs to be critical of their own approach to the material and make decisions about what learning strategies work best for them. Fifth, learning needs to have some context and complexity.

Learning best occurs when a student understands how their learning applies in a real life context. From a teacher’s perspective, the sixth principle is that all learning tasks need to be situation driven. In other words, it’s important to develop tasks that are appropriate to learning goals.

Finally, engagement is important to learning. Without engagement, students will feel bored about their learning and feel disinterested in the material.

Active Learning Environment vs Passive learning Environment

There are several strategies that help students become active learners. Active learning is often more likely when certain practices are in place. For instance, hands-on labs are one of the primary ways to encourage active learning.

These labs are environments in which learners can go hands on with their materials and participate in activities that put into practice material that has been learned. For instance, a student might learn about how a chemical reaction occurs. However, when they’re in a lab, they get the chance to actually make those chemical reactions happen. Armed behind their lab coats and goggles, students can mix chemicals and create various reactions that demonstrate what these chemical reactions look like in practice.

A big trend in education over the last decade has been the growth of Maker Labs, which exemplify hands-on learning and encourage active learning. Maker labs are also known as Maker Spaces or HackerSpaces, but they always refer to the same thing.

These are dedicated spaces in a school or library in which students can collaboratively work on projects. Maker Labs are often equipped with a variety of technology, including 3D printers, soldering irons, and even sewing machines. These various kinds of tools let users work together and independently on creating.

People attending these labs can seek out help from others who have more knowledge while also putting to use their own knowledge on a topic to create different products, such as electronics and 3D prints. Maker spaces heavily emphasize going hands on with a variety of tools that allow students to put into practice what they have learned.

Another way that students can be encouraged to be active learners is through the use of peer instruction. Peer instruction involves students working with other students. Students become both teachers and learners as they attempt to work through problems either in partnerships or as a part of larger groups. However, it’s also important to set up students for success.

Rather than simply allow them to broadly tackle a topic, students should be placed into an environment in which their peer learning can be successful. Teachers often do this by first taking students through readings of a certain topic. Students are then asked to reflect on the reading and are given a question they must answer based on that reading. Each student comes up with their own answers individually. However, they are then brought together to discuss their answers with their peers. This approach is helpful because it forces students to think about their answers, consider why they might be wrong, and discuss why they think they’re right.

After having had discussion, the student can then revise their answer in the light of the new information they’ve learned from their peers. Finally, the teacher takes them through an explanation of the answer and why a specific answer was right or wrong.

One of the easiest ways to be an active learner, thanks to advances in technology, is in the form of games and challenges. Teachers have long relied on games to help engage younger learners and keep them entertained while also instructing them. However, the gamification of learning has become a massive trend in education. There are multiple examples of the gamification of learning, each which deserves some attention.

First, people young and old now carry around with them cell phones that have far more processing power than computers from a decade ago. Thanks to this, new apps have been developed that help people learn any time they want to in a fun and engaging way. For instance, take the app, Duolingo. Duolingo is entirely free and designed to help people learn new languages.

People can play flashcards, speak to the app itself, and pick from different images as they increase their score. Increased score leads to coins, which can be used to customize the app and its mascot with new costumes. The important part here is that learning still occurs, only within the context of a fun app.

There are various rewards that students can work toward, which helps keep them returning to the app. Learning using an app like Duolingo also doesn’t feel like work, which is important to keeping people engaged with their material.

Of course, classroom computers still serve as perfectly suitable means by which to help students learn through gamification. Computer labs are increasingly popular in schools and help to supplement learning or teach entire, semester long classes to students. For a topic like math, programs such as Knowre can help students from elementary through to the end of high school.

Students are given digital rewards for their performance on the software, which adapts the challenge to how well a student is performing. Essentially, the software takes care of the job of scaffolding the lessons. At the same time, the challenges students are faced with take the form of games to make learning more fun. Teachers can also track student progress, making it valuable for teachers at the same time that the software is highly engaging to students.

Other games are less oriented around learning itself but can still help teach. The game Civilization VI, for instance, is designed around creating a society rooted in ancient historical culture, such as the Romans or Aztecs.

There are no educational games in Civilization VI, since the goal is to create a society. However, to create that society, players need to build buildings and create units that are rooted in that culture’s history. A military unit for the Romans, for instance, includes the Roman Legionnaire, while the Greeks have a unit called the Hoplite.

The game includes an entire encyclopedia discussing each of these in depth. In the classroom, games like this can be used so long as the teacher sets specific goals for the player, such as writing a brief report about these historic units and structures. More than anything, games like Civilization VI simply help to encourage a person’s interest in a subject, which is often an important first step toward encouraging future learning on a topic.

The larger point about active learning environments is that they can be incredibly diverse, particularly in an era when technology empowers students to learn in so many ways. Active learning has become far easier thanks to Maker Labs and learning software. However, the power of peer learning cannot be forgotten. So long as learners are hands on with material and doing more than simply passively receiving information, they will remain more engaged than they would otherwise be.

Individually Becoming an Active Learner

Active learning is often discussed in the context of classrooms. Teachers have a strong role to play in encouraging active learning, though students can also seek out learning environments, such as Maker Labs, in which they will be more hands-on with their material. However, there are also some basic strategies a person can adopt to individually become more active in their learning.

First, it’s important to ask questions as you learn. If you’re sitting through a lecture or reading material, think up questions about what is being taught. Ask about the arguments being made, the sources being used, and points that need to be cleared up.

Write down these questions if you need to. Even if your instructor doesn’t get to your question, you can still follow up with more reading later to learn more about the subject. As such, taking notes should also be considered an important part of active learning. Although you don’t want to be writing through your entire class, you do want to take notes on critical, key points. This same strategy can be used when you’re reading. Feel free to highlight confusing points or points you have questions about so you can follow up with more research later.

When it comes to reading, you’ll also want to adopt specific approaches to your material. Identify the main points of the material in each passage and be able to summarize passages in a single sentence. If there are any activities, completing them may help you come to a deeper understanding of the material.

Synthesis is also an important part of being an active learner. Synthesis is the process of summarizing the arguments others made and also combining it with other research. For instance, if you read several books on a single topic, you should be able to write out not only what each individual book was about, but also the larger message of all those books taken together.

Synthesis is important for researchers but also for students of all ages. You also want to be able to fit new knowledge with what you already know. For instance, if you learn new material that conflicts with your previous learning, you should ask why the material conflicts. Ask whether the new material you’ve learned is trustworthy. If it is, then ask if the author is making a new point that hasn’t been considered by previous writers.

Also, find ways of applying your learning to your life. Learners often benefit when they can understand how what they learn relates to their real lives. In fact, students often complain when they can’t understand why they’re learning something. However, the truly active learner is continuously looking for ways to apply new knowledge, whether that means practically applying their learning or using their new knowledge to understand complex topics.

Benefits of Active Learning

The active learner is better equipped to deal with several of the most common challenges people face in academics, but also in life in general. Active learning often helps people become better critical thinkers. They become better equipped to evaluate new information and arguments, making them less prone to believing false information.

Active learners are also more often involved in discussions that help to promote deep learning. They take into consideration the viewpoints and responses of others, which helps them to better evaluate their own arguments. These discussions are invaluable specifically because they help students become better at creating their own arguments.

Active learning is often collaborative in nature, meaning that active learners are often highly engaged with other learners. This is good for learning, but the ability to collaborate is also an important skill to have in the workplace and life in general. Collaborating with others on a regular basis helps generate teamwork skills that are particularly valuable once a person enters the workforce.

Finally, active learners often go hands on with a wide variety of technology. This helps to promote technological literacy. As can be seen, active learning is valuable because it does promote deeper understanding. However, there are also a variety of associated skills that can help people be more successful in life.

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