Science of Learning · Teaching Strategies

Active Learning

“Learning is not a spectator sport. Students do not learn much just by sitting in class listening to teachers, memorizing prepackaged assignments, and spitting out answers. They must talk about what they are learning, write about it, relate it to past experiences, apply it to their daily lives. They must make what they learn part of themselves.” (1)
In my last post I discussed how the brain can really only focus on external stimulus for about 10 minutes- before becoming distracted. This is important because then the brain begins to internalize the learning in order to process and make sense of the new material. Giving students active processing time after direct instruction is one method that can assist in transferring the short term memory knowledge gained into long-term formation. (2)
Active Learning is one method of providing necessary processing that assists with actual learning. Active Learning is basically student centered instruction, where the students are participating in their learning and not just passively listening to lecture. It can take multiple forms depending on the goals of the day. It can be as simple as listening and questioning practices, to as complex as cooperative learning and other group exercises.


List of types of active learning instructional strategies (3):

  1. Individual Processing Time- quizzing, journaling, review sheet
  2. Questioning sessions- break lecture into chunks and review with whole class questioning techniques
  3. Immediate Feedback- quick formative assessments to gage understanding
  4. Pairing- pairing students for short reflective and processing activities
  5. Cooperative learning


Even with the best laid out plans and excitement to change curriculum presentation there are always stumbling points. The key to most of these barriers is anticipation and preparation. Here is a resource I developed to help address some of these barriers.

The following graphic was adapted from NAVIGATING THE BUMPY ROAD TO STUDENT-CENTERED INSTRUCTION by Richard M. Felder and Rebecca Brent (4) 

barriers to active learning

click here to download the above graphic (pdf): active learning
For tips, examples and other resources please see my next post: More on Engaged Learning





Work Cited:

1 Chickering, A & Gamson, Z. F. (March 1987) Seven principles for good practice. AAHE Bulletin 39: 3-7.

2 Jensen, Eric. Teaching with the brain in mind




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