Active Learning Toolkit
"Use of [active learning] techniques in the classroom is vital because of their powerful impact upon students' learning." -- Bonwell & Eison
What is Active Learning?
Active learning is an instructional approach that "involves students in doing things and thinking about the things they are doing," (Bonwell & Eison, 1991, p.2). Active learning engages students in activities beyond reading, listening, or watching to deepen their learning and connection with the material.
Students engaged in active learning often are:
- talking with each other in small groups or large discussions
- developing skills rather than memorizing information
- using higher order thinking
- doing something physical
- constructing knowledge or artifacts
Why is it Important?
Active learning improves student success.
- Students learn the material and perform better on exams and are 1.5 times less likely to fail than students in classes with traditional lectures (Freeman, et.al, 2014)
- The achievement gap for underrepresent student populations, including minorites and first-generation students, is decreased (Eddy and Hogan, 2014 and Haak et.al. 2001)
- Collaboration with classmates builds community and a sense of belonging among students, which can enhance motivation and persistence. (King, 2012)
- Students feel more personally invested in the material and their own learning when they are actively engaged. (Svinicki, 2016)
- Inclusiveness is enhanced through active learning by engaging a variety of learning modes or styles
Active learning acts as formative assessment and can:
- provide valuable feedback to instructors about what students do and do not understand.
- help students become more self-aware of their own learning progress.
With roots in constructivist learning theory, the primary benefit of active learning is that it makes students an active, rather than passive, participant in the the process of assimilating new information (Bransford, et.al., 1999) and leverages the power of social interaction, especially when students work with their peers to solve problems or create artifacts (Vygotsky, 1978).
Academic Research Articles
- Eddy, S.L. & Hogan, K.A. (2014). Getting under the hood: How and for homw does increase course structure work? CBE--Life Sciences Education, 13, 453-468.
- Freeman, A., Eddy, S.L., McDonough, M., Smith, M.K., Okoroafor, N., Jordt, H., & Wenderoth, M.P. (2014). Active learning increases student performance in science, engineering, and mathematics, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
- Haak, D.C., HilleRisLambers, J., Pitre, E., & Freeman, S. (2011). Increased structure and active learning reduce the achievement gap in introductory biology, Science, 332(6034), 1213-6.
- Stahlheim-Smith, A. (1998). Focusing on active, meaningful learning, Idea Paper 34, The Idea Center.
- Svinicki, M.D. (2016). Motivation: An updated analysis, Idea Paper #59, The Idea Center.
Articles for Educators
- Active Learning/Activity-Based Learning Website, ablconnect, Harvard University.
- Active Learning, Center for Teaching, Vanderbilt University
- Active Learning, Cornell University Center for Teaching Excellence
- Active Learning, Everett Community College
- Active Learning: Creating Excitement in the Classroom, Charles C. Bonwell and James A. Eison, Purdue University.
- Learner-Centered Instruction Promotes Student Success, The Journal. In this article, Northface University is used as an example of how project-based learning and other learner-centered instruction has helped students succeed. The article describes multiple forms of project-based and learner-centered types of instruction.
- Promoting Active Learning, Teaching Commons, Stanford University.
- Barkley, E. F., (2009). Student Engagement Techniques: A Handbook for College Faculty, Jossey-Bass. Available at CIIA & Western Libraries.
- Bean, John C., (1996) Engaging Ideas: The Professor's Guide to Integrating Writing, Critical Thinking, and Active Learning in the Classroom, Jossey-Bass, Available at CIIA & Western Libraries.
- MacGregor, Jean, Strategies for Energizing Large Classes: From Small Groups to Learning Communities: New Directions for Teaching and Learning, Jossey-Bass, 2000.
- Silberman, Mel, (1996) Active Learning: 101 Strategies to Teach Any Subject Pearson, 1996. Available at CIIA & Western Libraries.
- Stanley, Christine A., Engaging Large Classes: Strategies and Techniques for College Faculty, Jossey-Bass, 2002.
- Weimer, Maryellen, Learner-Centered Teaching: Five Key Changes to Practice, Jossey-Bass, 2002.
Choose a tool that seems comfortable for a single class session, or even just part of a class session, rather than trying to redeisgn an entire course. For example, you might first look for a tool that will help you make your lectures more interactive instead of trying to replace lectures with activities. Then work your way up to more immersive experiences for your students.
Also, feel free to alter ideas to suit your needs; think of instructions as guidelines or suggestions rather than rules. Adjusting tools to fit your own personality, as well as the content, class structure, and student demographics, will increase their potential for success.
Consider logistics like time, space, and materials. Determine how you will frame the activity, what explanations and directions you will offer, and what content students need prior to the activity in order to be successful. Think about using Flipped Teaching, where students access lecture materials through videos or online content prior to class, to free up time for active learning.
Provide a Framework
Explain to students what you are doing and why you are doing it. This not only helps build rapport and classroom climate, it enhances students’ metacognition and increases chances for success with the activity.
After the activity, let students discuss the experience with each other and with you. You’ll get feedback about both the process and the learning outcomes of the activity that can inform your next steps in the course content and instructional approaches.
Active Learning Ideas
- Activity Information, List of several active learning ideas with at-a-glance descriptions, examples, and supporting research. Includes case study, concept maps, discussions, games, jigsaw, think-pair-share, role play, and more. ABL Connect, Harvard University.
- Classroom Activities for Active Learning, Center for Faculty Excellence, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.
- Instructional Strategies - Faculty Center for Teaching & Learning, University of Central Florida. List of examples of different teaching methods for use in classroom, including active-learning, case-based learning, collaborative learning, and interactive teaching. Includes a large section about halfway down the page covering various tips for active lectures.
- Non-Traditional Teaching & Learning Strategies, Teaching and Learning Committee Resources, Montana State University.
General Tips on Interactive Lecturing
- Interactive Lectures: Summaries of 36 Formats, The Thiagi Group
- Interactive Lecture Techniques, Carleton College
- Lectures At a Glance, ablconnect, Harvard University
- Lecture Activity Database, ablconnect, Harvard University
- Research on Lectures, ablconnect, Harvard University
- Also see: Lecturing Effectively (Teaching Handbook)
Student Response Systems
- Classroom Response Systems Guide, Vanderbilt University - includes types of questions, activities, and examples.
- Designing Effective Questions for Classroom Response System Teaching, Ian Beatty et. al, University of Massachusetts.
- Also see: Student Response Systems (Teaching Handbook)
ABCD Voting Cards
- Using ABCD Cards, Georgianne Connell, WWU
- How to Use ConcepTests with ABCD Cards, Carleton College
- Use of Note Cards in the Classroom, Yale Center for Teaching and Learning
- Printable Card:
- Voting Card Sample (PDF for print purposes)
- Downloadable Apps (see details: ABCD Cards App@WWU)
IF AT Cards
- Immediate Feedback to Students Using the Branching Feature of Google Forms, Kevin Lenton
- What is the IF-AT?, Epstein Educational Enterprises
- IF-AT aka Scratch Cards, LearnTBL
- Order IF-AT Quizzes, Epstein Educational Enterprises
Mini White Boards
- 8 Great Ways to Use Whiteboards in the Classroom, Liz's Lessons
- Using Mini Whiteboards to Transform Classroom Practice, Stuff I'm Learning at School
- The Backchannel: Giving Every Student a Voice in the Blended Mobile Classroom, Edutopia
- Backchannel in Education - Nine Uses, Agile Learning
- Back Channelling in the Classroom, WhatEdSaid
- 10 Ways to Use Backchannels in Your Classroom, Edducational Technology and Mobile Learning
- The Power of Pausing, by Christine Harrington, Cengage blog
- Effective Use of the Pause Procedure to Enhance Student Engagement and Learning, by Bachhel & Thaman, Journal of Clinical and Diagnostic Research
- Pause Procedure, a brief overview at National Institute for Science Education
- Using the Pause Procedure to Enhance Lecture Recall, by Ruhl, Hughes, & Scholss, Teacher Education and Special Educaiton
- Classroom Assessment Technique: Muddiest Point, Western Washington University, CIIA
- Muddiest Point Assessment, PDC Community College, Virginia.
- Muddiest Point Activities, (Pages 14-17) Texas Tech University
- Concept Maps At a Glance, ablconnect, Harvard University
- Concept Maps: Research Summary, ablconnect, Harvard University
- Concept Maps Examples, ablconnect, Harvard University
- Research on Student Presentations, ablconnect, Harvard University
- Student Presentations At a Glance, ablconnect, Harvard University
- Student Presentations Activity Database, ablconnect, Harvard University
- Research on Peer Instruction, ablconnect, Harvard University
- Peer Instruction At a Glance, ablconnect, Harvard University
- Peer Instruction Activity Database, ablconnect, Harvard University
Low Stakes Assignments
- Low Stakes Assignments, Depaul University
- Benefits of Low Stakes Writing, excerpt from Assigning and Responding to Writing in Disciplines
- Collaborative Testing: Evidence of Learning in a Controlled In-Class Study of Undergraduate Students, Univ. of British Columbia
- Group Exams and Quizzes: The Benefits of Student Collaboration, FacultyFocus.com
- Variations of the Group Quiz that Promote Collaborative Learning, Indiana University, Purdue University
- What is Gallery Walk?, Carleton College
- Why Use Gallery Walk?, Carleton College
- How to Use Gallery Walk, Carleton College
- Gallery Walk, The Teacher Toolkit
- Classroom Strategies: Think-Pair-Share, All About Adolescent Literacy
- Think-Pair-Share Workshop, UNC Chapel Hill
- Active Learning is as Easy as Think-Write-Pair-Share: Podcast, UNC Charlotte
- At a Glance: Want to Try Pair and Share in Your Class? ablconnect, Harvard University
- Pair and Share Activity Database, ablconnect, Harvard University
- Research on Pair and Share, ablconnect, Harvard University
- Jigsaws, Carleton College
- Jigsaw At a Glance, ablconnect, Harvard University
- Jigsaw Examples, list of ideas by topic from ablconnect, Harvard University
- Jigsaw Tutorial, video from ablconnect, Harvard University
- The Jigsaw Classroom, An overview with 10 Easy Steps and tips for implementation, Social Psychology Network.
- Jigsaw Strategy, Penn State University
- Jigsaw Strategy: Instructional Strategy for Active Learning and Motivation (Instructional Video), ReflectionEdu
- Lesson Plan for Jigsaw Activity, E Workshop
- Why Use Jigsaw (Research on Activity Types), ablconnect, Harvard University
- Arguing to Learn in Science: The Role of Collaborative, Critical Discourse by Jonathan Osborne, Science, Apr 2010.
- Debate, a summary of research from ablconnect, Harvard University.
- Debate at a Glance: Want to Try Debate in Your Class? from ablconnect, Harvard University
- Examples, list of debate ideas by course/topic from ablconnect, Harvard University
- In-Class Debates: Fertile Ground for Active Learning and the Cultivation of Critical Thinking and Oral Communication Skills, by Ruth Kennedy, International Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, 2007.
- Let's Debate: Active Learning Encourages Student Participation and Critical Thinking, by Andrew Oros, Journal of Political Science Eduation, Sep 2007.
- Using Debate to Develop Empowered Learning in the Classroom: A Prescription, by Fisher, LaPointe, Peterson & White, University of Vermont
- Speed Dating at a Glance: Want to Try Speed Dating in Your Class? ablconnect, Harvard University
- Speed Dating Video Tutorial, ablconnect, Harvard University
- Speed Dating Ideas and Examples, ablconnect, Harvard University
- Research on Speed Dating, ablconnect, Harvard University
- Also see: Discussion Strategies (Teaching Handbook)
- Discussion at a Glance: Want to Facilitate Discussion in Your Section? ablconnect, Harvard University
- Discussion at a Glance: Want to Facilitate Discussion in Your Lecture Class? ablconnect, Harvard University
- Discussion Ideas and Examples, ablconnect, Harvard University
- Research on Discussion, ablconnect, Harvard University
- Also see: Discussion Strategies (Teaching Handbook)
How to Use Case Studies
- Case Writing Guide, Schreyer Institute for Teaching Excellence, Penn State.
- How to Lead a Case-Based Instruction, Eberly Center for Teaching Excellence & Educational Innovation, Carnegie Mellon University.
- Quick Tips for Case Writing, Penn State Teaching and Learning with Technology.
- Teaching with Case Studies, Penn State Teaching and Learning with Technology. Includes examples, strategies for writing cases, and teaching tips.
- The Case Method of Teaching Science, National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science, University of Buffalo, SUNY.
- The Case Method -- A Joint Venture in Learning, themed Issue on Case Studies, Journal on Excellence in College Teaching, (13)2.
Samples and Examples
- Case Study Activity Database, example case studies with lesson plans from ablconnect, Harvard University.
- The Washington Center Casebook, Case stories available for use.
Role-Plays, Simulations and Games
Role Plays and Simulations
- Enhanced Learning through Role-Playing, by Gail Schumann, University of Massachusetts, Amherst.
- Role-Playing Exercises, Rebecca Teed, Science Education Resource Center, Carlton College.
- Research on Using Role Play, ablconnect, Harvard University
- Role Play Activity Database, ablconnect, Harvard University
- Games at a Glance: Want to Use Games in Your Class?, ablconnect, Harvard University
- Game Ideas & Examples, ablconnect, Harvard University
- Research on Using Games, ablconnect, Harvard University
- Free Project Based Learning Resources, 21st Century Educational Technology & Learning.
- Motivating Students Through Project-Based Service Learning, The Journal. This article uses California schools as examples to show how project-based learning has motivated students.
- Project Based Learning, PBL-Online. Includes strategies, example projects, instruction to design projects, and reviews.
- Project-Based Learning, Tech & Learning. This article provides tops to implement project-based learning into classrooms.
- Why Teach with Project-Based Learning?, Edutopia. Includes videos about project-based learning and an article on project-based learning in classrooms.
- 5 Keys to Rigorous Project-Based Learning, Edutopia
- Also see: Collaborative Learning (Peer/Group Work) (Teaching Handbook)
- Learning Materials in a Problem Based Course, The Higher Education Academy, UK. This is a guide for using problem-based learning, including formats, roles, assessment, and evaluation.
- Problem-Based Learning: An Introduction, National Teaching and Learning Forum.
- Also see: Collaborative Learning (Peer/Group Work) (Teaching Handbook)
- Guided Inquiry (eBook), Google Books, by Carol C. Kuhlthau, Leslie K. Maniotes, Ann K. Caspari
- Also see: Inquiry-based Learning (Teaching Handbook) and Inquiry-based Learning (Innovative Teaching Showcase)
Field Trips (Real or Virtual)
- Teaching Outside the Classroom, Center for Teaching, Vanderbilt University
- Field Trip Ideas and Examples, ablconnect, Harvard University
- The Promise of Virtual Reality in Higher Education, Educause
- 3 Tips for Going Beyond the Virtual Field Trip, Campus Technology
- 10 Virtual Field Trip Options for Schools, EducationDive
Service Learning (Civic Engagement)
- 101 Ideas for Combining Service and Learning - Ideas for integrating service learning listed by discipline.
- Campus Compact - Searchable database of syllabi by discipline with examples of lesson plans and syllabi that integrate community-based learning
- Also see: Civic Engagement and Service Learning (Teaching Handbook)