In brief:

  • Passively listening to a lecture is not useful for promoting higher-level thinking skills such as synthesis, evaluation, inquiry, and creation.
  • Students learn best when there is a balance between lectures and learner-centered activities, and when the activities are varied and support higher-order thinking skills.
  • Research suggests that active learning techniques improve student grades and retention rates, and promote critical thinking skills.

Advances in cognitive psychology and our understanding of brain plasticity are leading to important changes in what we know about learning. Thanks to these changes, instructors are turning their attention to new and emerging principles of pedagogy and course design to see what methods should be used to optimize student learning.

This video briefly describes how people learn, explains how active learning techniques are used to support how we learn, and discusses two empirical studies in relation to the effectiveness of using active learning techniques in academic classrooms.

The next section will:

  • discuss the characteristics of active learning classrooms.

Freeman, S. et al (2014). Active learning increases student performance in science,          engineering, and mathematics. Proceedings of the National Academy of        Sciences,111(23), 8410-8415.

Bunce D.M, Flens, E.A., Neiles K.Y. (2010). How Long Can Students Pay Attention in Class?           A Study of Student Attention Decline Using Clickers. Journal of Chemical         Education.       87 (12), 1438-1443.  DOI: 10.1021/ed100409p

McKeachie, W. & Svinicki, M. McKeachie’s Teaching Tips: Strategies, research and theory for       college and university teachers. 14th ed.; Wadsworth, Cengage Learning: Belmont, 2014.