Whether you’re facing a 300-student lecture hall or a 15-student seminar table, one of your primary goals for the class should be to actively engage students with the content. Students learn more when they’re active in the learning process, whether through conversation, practice, analysis, or application. This contrasts sharply with traditional teaching methods, in which students are expected to sit for hours, listen and, ideally, absorb information provided by the teacher.
Research has shown that active learning promotes student learning, and increases STEM undergraduate retention rates.
For several factors, however, teachers are reluctant to change their teaching methods, including fear of opposition to active learning from the students.
Active learning techniques are integrated into every aspect of your course design. Of example, promoting brief partner conversations during lectures (i.e., think-pair-sharing), introducing problem-or case-based research projects to the curriculum, and integrating time of critical analysis activities by small groups during seminars are all excellent ways to engage students involved in learning.
Why does active learning matter?
When it comes to improving student academic performance, few educational strategies can match the power of active learning.
Researchers have consistently found that higher student performance and participation are correlated with active learning approaches (e.g. Freeman et al.; McDermott et al.) in teaching methods. Students who use active learning approaches in organizing, tracking, and measuring their learning progress were also found to outperform peers who lack such skills.
And although educators have been motivated for decades to integrate active learning approaches into their teaching, little has changed in how we teach higher education students.
Both conventional face-to-face and online learning tend to be distinguished by models of information transfer relying almost entirely on passive lecturing and reading of textbooks.
A few tips to help you get started.
Facilitate autonomous, analytical, and creative thinking Ask students to evaluate, synthesize, or apply content, both during lectures and at assignments. Some examples include: • Case-based experiments for problem solving–these kinds of exercises help students improve analytical skills and learn how to apply scientific theories to real-world issues.
Using case studies in a lecture, and have students work out their ideas independently or in small groups, or use case studies as the basis for major projects or exams.
• Debate–this is another active learning technique which contributes to the development of critical thinking and logical reasoning. In a brief (five minute) written exercise or classroom discussion, present opposing viewpoints in lecture and appoint students to defend one or both of the viewpoints.
Encouraging constructive cooperation Operating in a collective community can be an extremely useful addition to a big team. Such examples include: • Small-group discussions–during a lecture, there are many benefits of taking short think-pair breaks. Such small-group discussions help students understand and maintain content, while also serving the wider goals of improving their communication skills and growing their knowledge of their peers as learning resources.
• Peer coaching activities–one-minute paper reflection or pace problem-solving questions combined with peer-to-peer conversation can be a highly effective teaching technique.
Cognitive psychology research has shown that one of the best ways to improve comprehension is to teach a peer content. Build this exercise through presentations, study groups, and fast, breakout “teaching” sessions such as the one mentioned above into your classes.
Increase engagement, encouragement and success of students When you invite students to participate actively in the learning environment, they take more responsibility for their results during the course.
Similarly, students see a course as more important and more directly related to their interests when they have a chance to make choices about what they are learning and how they are using that information. For example: • Brainstorm learning goals–if you include students in the creation of classroom events, e.g., encourage them to choose the subject of a short discussion or generate ideas on how to apply a concept to a problem that concerns them, it will automatically increase levels of involvement. Involving students in classroom activities often allows them to evaluate their comprehension and capacity and instead of allowing them to rest comfortably with a knowledge of the surface, it encourages them to develop a deeper understanding of content.