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Active Learning

Active Learning

  • Meaningful engagement in learning experiences
      • Emphasizes authentic learning experiences
      • More than Q & As and small group discussions
  • Specific to course learning outcomes/goals
  • Purposeful
  • Contextualized (enhances meaningfulness)
  • On a continuum from simple to complex (see Bloom’s Revised & Digitalized Taxonomy)
  • Self-directed (strong intellectual engagement)
  • Individual and/or small group oriented
  • Student-centered (uses scaffolding, universally designed)
  • Includes reflection or debriefs (metacognition)

Using Active Learning in Your Course

  • Have a clear outcome/goal
      • Ensure you communicate outcome/goal to your students
      • Breaking the learning experience into sub goals can communicate degree of progress & success to the students
      • You may want to map out possible pathways to attain stated outcome with sub-outcomes
          • Multi-outcome activities can be beneficial
      • More effective if working toward more complex capabilities (see Bloom’s Revised & Digitalized Taxonomy)
  • Have a clear and realistic time frame
      • Segment the task & time frame to help keep groups on task & progressing effectively
      • Check-in to determine each group’s progress
          • Asking groups to share their discoveries, creations, questions, determinations, etc. can be meaningful
  • Provide a pre-class activity that will assist in preparing the students for the active learning experience(s)
  • Ensure the necessary resources are readily accessible
  • Use with individuals or small groups 2-5
  • Determine if this experience will be assessed and graded
      • If so, how and when?
      • If using a rubric or rating scale, provide prior to the start of class
  • Ensure you schedule time 10-15 mins) to debrief as groups & whole class (if not too big)
      • Reflect on discoveries/learning
      • Identify effective active learning/group strategies for next active learning episode
      • This can be the most valuable part of the entire experience!

General Active Learning Example

  • Context:
      • 30 health science students organized into 10 groups of 3
      • Students will view videos, images and read brief case files of 10 different patients
      • Class period – 90 mins
  • Pre-class Activity:
      • Review normal cardiovascular health and function
      • Describe the normal blood clot function
  • Goal: Students will be able to differentiate between patients with/without blood clots
      • Sub-goal 1. Construct a list of symptoms for abnormal blood clot
      • Sub-goal 2. Identify high-risk events and other factors which make a person more susceptible to blood clots
      • Sub-goal 3. Create a sequenced blood clot symptom checklist/questionnaire
          • Once this has been approved by the instructor students will have access to the patient data for review and evaluation
  • Assessment/Grading:
      • Rating scale (0-5) for
          • Each sub-goal, focused on the appropriate comprehensiveness and sequence of each list and questionnaire - 40%
          • Accurate and appropriate application of the created checklist/questionnaire - 25%
          • Accurate identification patients with blood clot symptoms - 25%
      • Analyzes and adjusts symptom checklist/questionnaire - 10%\
  • Debrief Activities:
    • Randomly swap each group’s symptom checklist/questionnaire and have the groups analyze and determine strengths and ways to improve
    • Randomly swap each group’s symptom checklist/questionnaire and have the groups apply it to a specific set of patient data and determine strengths and ways to improve
    • Standard debrief questions...
      • What worked well?
      • What would you do differently next time?
      • What key concepts, skills or ideas did you learn?

Toward an Active Learning Ecosystem

Wright, R. (November 28, 2017). The thrill of teaching and learning in an active learning classroom. EDUCAUSE Virtual Webinar

  • Students
      • Develop sophisticated strategies to find and evaluate the information they need
      • Will be able to write their own learning objectives
      • With their teachers understand and use cognitive science to improve learning
      • Find support for the social and emotional aspects of learning
      • Are empowered, trained, and supported to ask important, unanswered questions
      • Do the authentic work of the discipline
      • Contribute to human knowledge
      • Move toward becoming the best version of themselves as human beings
  • Each class in an active learning ecosystem will be an idea incubator/maker-space, where students and teachers collaborate, challenge, and inspire one another to solve real problems

Just in Time Teaching (JiTT)

  • Is a teaching approach developed to increase student engagement in the classroom
      • It provides structure to the outside-of-class time for the students
  • Uses the web to initiate thought, discussion and create a baseline of knowledge, skills and/or capabilities to increase active learning during the class meetings
      • Transfers the responsibility for learning to the student
      • According to Middendorf and Novak, (2004). JiTT web-based learning materials are one or more of the following categories:
          • Student assignments/activities (warm-ups, puzzles, etc.)
          • Enrichment pages (multimedia, readings, webpages, research, etc.)
          • Instructional activities, analyses, simulations, data, etc.
  • It also provides the instructor with a guide on what experiences should be the focus of the class meeting

For more on JiTT



More Active Learning Resources


Novak, G, Patterson, E.T., Gavrin, A.D., and Christian, W. (1999). Just-In-Time Teaching: Blending Active Learning with Web Technology. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Novak, G. and Middendorf, J. (2004) Just-in-Time Teaching. In: Volume IV - What Works, What Matters, What Lasts. Project Kaleidoscope.

Patterson, E. (2004). Just-in-Time Teaching: Technology transforms learning: A status report. In Invention and impact: Building excellence in undergraduate science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education 49-54. American Association for the Advancement of Science

Last Published: Mar 12, 2021