What is active learning? Active learning is an instructional approach that puts the student in the center of the learning. This teaching methodology actively engages the learner and is a contrast with traditional lecture-based approaches where the instructor does most of the talking and students are passive. Some of the many strategies that instructors use to promote active learning include group discussions, peer instruction, problem-solving, case studies, role playing, journal writing, and structured learning groups.
The evidence is overwhelming that employing active learning strategies leads to deeper learning, increased retention and higher performance. Recently, a group of instructors from the University of Washington conducted a meta-analysis of 225 studies on using active learning in STEM courses and found that average examination scores improved by about 6% and failure rates dropped 50% in active learning sections when compared to classes with traditional lecturing.
Several trends that we see as we travel to campuses across the country bode well for active learning:
- Courses redesigned for improved outcomes. Increasingly, schools are incentivizing faculty to redesign courses around measurable outcomes, and these redesigned courses tend to employ a greater degree of active learning strategies.
- Changing the role of assessments. Formative assessments, which are used to drive learning rather than to measure learning, are cropping up across the college curriculum. These can be used to personalize the learning for students, and to guide instructors to continuously improve the teaching. Also, schools are adopting strategies that promote active learning, such as e-portfolios and peer review.
- Increased use of active learning classrooms. More of these flexible learning environments are cropping up on college campuses, along with professional development on how to use them effectively.
- Use of mobile devices for learning. Ed tech tools are finally being designed to be mobile responsive. A host of recently launched apps makes it easier for students to use their personal mobile devices to access content and education platforms.
- Collaborative faculty development. Higher ed faculty development budgets are increasing, and increasingly these budgets are being used for collaborative faculty learning experiences that model these successful active learning strategies.