Active Learning

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Active learning is an approach that emphasises participation amongst students whereby they are actively encouraged to collaborate with peers in the classroom. Centred on a constructivist approach to learning, knowledge is constructed in experiences through interactions and exploration of different perspectives. Learners interpret meaning through the alignment of new information with existing knowledge (Bednar, Cunningham, Duffy, & Perry, 1991).

In short, active learning encourages students to take ownership of knowledge and become active participants in the learning process. An active classroom promotes dialogue between instructors and learners, supporting consolidation of knowledge (Laurillard, 2002). These interactions can be used to feedforward into future teaching as part of your own evaluation process.

Active Learning Design

Designing an active environment promotes a process where students learn by solving problems, actively analyse information, apply knowledge and create original solutions. Instruction that requires students to engage cognitively and meaningfully with content results in better learning than instruction where students are solely exposed to information passively (Freeman, et al., 2014).

Here are some approaches that foster an active learning experience, encouraging learners to collaborate in sharing ideas and knowledge:


Barkley, E., Cross, K., & Major, C. (2005). Collaborative Learning Techniques: A Handbook for College Faculty. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Bednar, A., Cunningham, D., Duffy, T., & Perry, J. (1991). Theory into practice: How do we link? Englewood, CO: Libraries Unlimited.

Freeman, S., Eddy, S., McDonough, M., Smith, M., Okoroafor, N., Jordt, H., & Wenderoth, M. (2014). Active learning increases student performance in science, engineering and mathematics. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 111(23), 8410-8415.

Grant, R. (1997). A Claim for the Case Method in the Teaching of Geography. Journal of Geography in Higher Education, 21(2), 171-185.

Hallinger, P., & Bridges, E. (2007). A Problem-based Approach for Management Education: Preparing Managers for cAction. Dordrecht, NL: Springer.

Laurillard, D. (2002). Rethinking University Teaching: A Conversational Framework for the Effective Use of Learning Technologies. London: Routledge.

Laurillard, D. (2012). Teaching as a Design Science: Building Pedagogical Patterns for Learning and Technology. New York and London: Routledge.

Mustoe, L., & Croft, A. (1999). Motivating Engineering Students by Using Modern Case Studies. European Journal of Engineering Education, 15(6), 469-476.

Stinson, J., & Milter, R. (1996). Problem-based Learning in Business Education: Curriculum Design and Implementation Issues. New Directions for Teaching and Learning(68), 33-42.