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Active Learning

What is Active Learning?

Active learning is an instructional method that engages learners in the learning process by requiring learners to do meaningful activities and think about what they are doing as opposed to passively listening to an expert. It emphasizes higher-order and critical thinking, application of knowledge, metacognition, and often involves collaborative group work and experiential learning experiences.

When learning is active, learners do most of the work. It requires the learner’s own mental involvement and application of the knowledge they have learned. Learning at DSU should be fast-paced, fun, supportive, personally engaging, and focused on achieving clearly specified desired learning outcomes.

Active learning is not teacher-centered or passive—it is learner-centered, i.e., it involves more than just passively listening to a person lecture on a topic. Learners in an active learning environment are doing things and simultaneously thinking about the work done and the purpose behind it so that they can enhance their higher-order thinking capabilities and skills.

What are the Benefits of Active Learning?

Active learning is valuable for a variety of reasons:

1. It provides instructors with feedback about what students are learning.
2. It helps students gauge their own understanding. By grappling with ideas, students connect new concepts to prior knowledge in meaningful ways and construct their own understanding.
3. Collaborating with classmates promotes community and connection between students, which can enhance a sense of belonging as well as motivation.
4. It creates a low bar to participation for quiet or passive students by encouraging every student to think and do.

Many of the larger scale studies on active learning have been conducted in STEM disciplines, although it reasonable to expect that the benefits of active learning extend to any field. A 2014 meta-analysis of 225 research studies in STEM classes found that students in classes with active learning performed 6% better on exams than students in classes with traditional lecturing, and that students in classes with traditional lecturing were 1.5 times more likely to fail than in classes with active learning (Freeman et al, 2014). Additionally, all else being equal, active learning has been shown to decrease the achievement gap for underrepresented minorities and first generation college students (e.g. Eddy and Hogan 2014).



Active Learning Techniques and Examples:

Active learning strategies can vary from very simple strategies such as clarification pauses or large group discussion to quite complex methods, such as experiential learning, problem-based learning, service learning, etc. Some strategies can be as short as a few minutes long while others take an entire semester. Below you will find a series of examples on how you could potentially facilitate Active learning in your next class.

Case studies: In a case study, students apply their knowledge to real life scenarios, requiring them to synthesize a variety of information and make recommendations.
Collaborative note-taking: The instructor pauses during class and asks students to take a few minutes to summarize in writing what they have just learned and/or consolidate their notes. Students then exchange notes with a partner to compare; this can highlight key ideas that a student might have missed or misunderstood.
Concept map: This activity helps students understand the relationship between concepts. Typically, students are provided with a list of terms. They arrange the terms on paper and draw arrows between related concepts, labeling each arrow to explain the relationship.
Group work: Whether solving problems or discussing a prompt, working in small groups can be an effective method of engaging students. In some cases, all groups work on or discuss the same question; in other cases, the instructor might assign different topics to different groups. The group’s task should be purposeful and should be structured in such a way that there is an obvious advantage to working as a team rather than individually. It is useful for groups to share their ideas with the rest of the class – whether by writing answers on the board, raising key points that were discussed, or sharing a poster they created.
Jigsaw: Small groups of students each discuss a different, but related topic. Students are then shuffled such that new groups are comprised of one student from each of the original groups. In these new groups, each student is responsible for sharing key aspects of their original discussion. The second group must synthesize and use all of the ideas from the first set of discussions in order to complete a new or more advanced task. A nice feature of a jigsaw is that every student in the original group must fully understand the key ideas so that they can teach their classmates in the second group.
Minute paper, or quick write: Students write a short answer in response to a prompt during class, requiring students to articulate their knowledge or apply it to a new situation.
NB: A minute paper can also be used as a reflection at the end of class. The instructor might ask students to write down the most important concept that they learned that day, as well as something they found confusing. Targeted questions can also provide feedback to the instructor about students’ experience in the class.
Statement correction, or intentional mistakes: The instructor provides statements, readings, proofs, or other material that contains errors. The students are charged with finding and correcting the errors. Concepts that students commonly misunderstand are well suited for this activity.
Strip sequence, or sequence reconstruction: The goal of this activity is for students to order a set of items, such as steps in a biological process or a series of historical events.  As one strategy, the instructor provides students with a list of items written on strips of paper for the students to sort. Removable labels with printed items also work well for this activity.
Polling: During class, the instructor asks a multiple-choice question. Students can respond in a variety of ways. Possibilities include applications such as PollEverywhere or Learning Catalytics. In some courses, each student uses a handheld clicker, or personal response device, to record their answers through software such as TurningPoint or iClicker. Alternatively, students can respond to a multiple-choice question by raising the appropriate number of fingers or by holding up a colored card, where colors correspond to the different answers. A particularly effective strategy is to ask each student to first respond to the poll independently, then discuss the question with a neighbor, and then re-vote.

Active Learning at Dixie State:

Dixie State University is dedicated to providing students with a unique classroom experience, fully utilizing Active learning strategies both within the classroom and beyond. Check out the videos below to watch how the University is bringing its tagline Active Learning. Active Life to reality.

Our awesome faculty is committed to creating an interactive and engaging experience for all Dixie State University students as well. Visit our Faculty Spotlight web page to read more about what they're doing.


The University is also dedicated to providing a space for Active Learning to be maximized to the fullest potential. We have several classrooms on campus equipped with moveable chairs and tables, various technologies, etc. If you are an instructor who would like to teach in one of our Active learning spaces, please contact a CTL staff member. 


Active learning isn't just limited to student learning. Dixie State's faculty and staff members also engage in highly interactive events, such as the Center for Teaching and Learning's Annual Teaching and Learning Conference, the Fall Faculty Forum, Lunch and Learn Workshops, and more.


Active Learning Strategies for the Online Classroom:

Do you want to add active learning activities to your online courses?  Active Learning is not limited to just Face-to-Face classrooms.  Below are some great articles for integrating active learning strategies in an online course.

Northwest University article: Active Learning Strategies for the Online Classroom
University of Florida article: Active Learning in Online Courses
Ohio State University article: Active Learning in an Online Course
eLearning Industry article: 8 Creative Ideas For Active Learning Activities To Include In Your eLearning Course

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