Active Learning

We learn by doing. Research shows that active learning is much better recalled, enjoyed and understood. Active methods require us to ‘make our own meaning’ , that is, develop our own conceptualisations of what we are learning. During this process we physically make neural connections in our brain, the process we call learning. Passive methods such as listening do not require us to make these neural connections or conceptualisations. Active methods also:

  • Give the learner feedback on their incomplete understandings and encourage them fix this, for example by helping each other.
  • Give the teacher feedback on which learners understand, and who needs help
  • Develop thinking skills such as analysis problem solving, and evaluation
  • Help learners to use their learning in realistic and useful ways, and see its importance and relevance
  • Are more fun!
  • Give the teacher a bit of a rest

Good students may create meaning from passive methods, but weak students do not. Both types of student improve their learning enormously when they are required to use it.

When active methods are compared with traditional methods in careful control group and experimental group comparisons, active methods produce much better achievement. This is true even though the control group (traditional didactic methods) has the same teaching time as the experimental (active learning) group. This is also true at every academic level. For more on this download Active Learning Works: the evidence

Why not experiment with some newish active methods?

  • Teaching without talking: Here are 25 ways of teaching without talking, that require students to make their own meanings.
    • Download this here. There is a short videocast by Geoff on this here.
  • Formative Teaching: These are relatively new active methods that provide the learner and the teacher with feedback.
    • Download this here.
  • Visual and Kinesthetic methods: All students benefit from variety, why not try these methods from one chapter of Teaching Today.
    • Download these here.

How can I encourage my teaching team to use more active methods?

  • Try the Active Scheme of Work and the supported Experiments pages.
  • Play this game with your team
  • There are very many more methods to try in my book – ‘Teaching Today: a practical guide’ Geoff Petty, 5th Ed (2014) published by Oxford University Press, pages 133 to 343 deal specifically with teaching methods.