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:
Case studies offer a new dynamic to the classroom experience, immersing students in a realistic and complex environment and promoting the application of skills in context. They provide a contextual situation, present a problem, and require students to interact with the data available in order to find a solution. Linking the classroom to the workplace, case studies provide a connection between the taught theories and practical application (Barkley, Cross, & Major, 2005).
Making use of realistic and complex situations, the case should provide context, present a problem, and ask students to apply their knowledge to find a solution.
Problem-Based Learning (PBL) is designed to align discipline-specific knowledge with transferable skills through experiential learning. Students develop an integrated body of knowledge from many disciplines while developing transferable skills such as problem-solving, critical and creative thinking, communication and leadership skills. PBL promotes an environment where theoretical and practical skills are used in unison to prepare learners to have the capacity to facilitate, collaborate and implement solutions to significant organisational problems (Hallinger & Bridges, 2007).
PBL is particularly effective in business education due to the high degree of transferable knowledge and skills between education and the workplace. In the context of business education, PBL works best when problems are designed to emphasise knowledge acquisition with situation analysis (Stinson & Milter, 1996), whereby students tackle open-ended, realistic and complex challenges that require the application of existing theoretical knowledge, business acumen, critical-thinking skills and personal experiences to succeed. Research has shown that business students learn effectively through the case study method. PBL capitalises on the use of case studies and enhances the student experience further by placing the responsibility of delivering a solution to the students - treating them as consultants in practice.
Through an iterative cycle, they develop a set of principles for designing appropriate and relevant problems that align with the learning outcomes of the course. These principles originate in experiences that found problems were not given adequate attention, were not authentic and lacked engagement or that problems were too structured and therefore stemmed creativity as solutions became prescribed within the problem brief. The principles are as follows:
Narrow boundaries limit potential learning. Opening problems to new experiences asks a learner to consider the wider impact of decisions and actions.
Authenticity ensures that students embrace the skills required in professional practice. Practice is contextualised and directly linked with theoretical knowledge.
Students develop the ability to confront ambiguous problems in order to make sense of them and apply knowledge effectively. By engaging in an active inquiry process, students develop requisite business research skills.
An historic case can become a search for the ‘correct’ answer. Simulating a real and current problem provides an engaging platform for learning as it relates to the students' forthcoming experiences.
Introducing non-expert students to a new knowledge domain can be difficult – larger groups of learners will be impacted by varied perspectives, prior knowledge and experiences. Step-by-step examples, on the other hand, are an effective way to learn new concepts and solutions. Using this method, an expert “walks” learners through a problem and addresses each step through a worked example. Afterwards, learners do a cognitive walkthrough of the problem and explain the process of finding the solution. Students should then be able to apply the solution to derivative examples of the same concept.
- Highlight the positive aspects of the video
- Ask students for suggestions: How can learners be actively involved in the process?
- Encourage individuals to work through examples in groups. Invite peers to pose questions and explain positions to each other
As students' prior knowledge can be varied, worked examples provide an opportunity for them to explore new content and practice.
Worked examples support the students' understanding of how to approach a problem. They also provide a basis for applying the knowledge to new problems and contexts.
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.