Welcome to this workshop on Active Learning!
This workshop has been adapted from a graduate-level course. Therefore, there may be some references to peer review, student activities and assessment. You can interact with these research and reflection-based activities individually to support your understanding of the content.
In this module, we will discuss the benefits of, and considerations for, implementing active learning across a variety of teaching and learning contexts. You will also be provided resources and prompts to personally research an active learning strategy and consider how you can apply it to your teaching for your own development.
Throughout this workshop session, we have included opportunities for you to reflect on your learning. Please have a notebook handy so that you can note your responses along the way.
By the end of this module, you should be able to:
- Identify the key components of active learning
- Explain why active learning is important
- Considerations and for implementing and selecting an active learning strategy
- Identify potential barriers to active learning
- Describe the role that active learning plays in a constructively aligned learning experience
Before we begin, pause, reflect and write a few notes about your experiences as a student or learner in a post-secondary education setting.
Take a moment to think back to a time when you felt particularly engaged in your learning.
Consider: What were you doing at that time? And, what facilitated or encouraged your engagement?
If you would like to share your reflections, and or read about others’ experiences, checkout this Padlet – Active Learning interactive activity. You can click on the plus sign in the bottom right corner to add a response. This is not an assessed component of this workshop, rather an opportunity for you to reflect on, and share what promotes your engagement as an adult learner. Point-form is perfectly acceptable, and your response will remain anonymous.
Now, review the following video. It will be helpful to define Active Learning and its key components.
Take a few minutes to revisit your response to the questions posed a the beginning of this section. Based on the definition of active learning and the key components that were discussed in the video, please consider:
- Was the moment or experience you described an example of active learning? Why or why not?
In this section of the workshop, we will briefly review some of the most cited evidence in support of active learning. We have included these references in the resources list at the end of this workshop should you wish to read them in detail.
Later in this workshop, we will discuss why sharing the effectiveness of active learning as a teaching strategy is essential for engaging your students. While watching the following video, please note any evidence in support of active learning that resonates with you for sharing back with your students.
Whether you are new to active learning or a seasoned practitioner, reflect on, and write down a few considerations that you think might be important for:
- Incorporating active learning into your teaching; and,
- Selecting an active learning strategy.
After noting your thoughts, keep them in mind, and think about how they might apply to your teaching context as we review the rest of the content in this section. Watch the video below, and please note any additional considerations for implementing active learning that apply or might apply to your teaching context(s). These will come in handy when you are researching and selecting an active learning strategy to implement in your teaching.
This section of the workshop will cover the application of active learning strategies. To begin, think about what your most recent teaching or learning experience looked like. Note this teaching context, and consider the guide below.
When selecting an active learning strategy for your lesson, you may want to consider:
- The course delivery medium. Is the course online, blended, or face-to-face? If online or blended, will students participate in the lesson synchronously or asynchronously? If face-to-face, is this a lecture setting, or a (traditionally) more “intimate” tutorial or seminar setting?
- The course discipline, and relevant program- or course-level learning outcomes. What skills and knowledge are students in your discipline expected to demonstrate, and what activities might support this development?
- The class size. For example, is it a large introductory course, or a smaller upper-year seminar? What is the ratio of instructional staff to students for providing facilitation support?
- The classroom layout and furnishings, including fixed versus moveable features. Are students able to move around the room to interact with new peers, or are they limited to interacting with those in their immediate vicinity?
- Accessibility needs of your students, including mobility challenges, students’ comfort level, and the availability of required resources. What will your students need to participate in an activity, and how will you incorporate flexibility to encourage all students to engage in ways that are meaningful to them?
- The cognitive complexity of the activity or how it relates to the lesson’s intended learning outcomes. If the activity requires students to apply their knowledge or formulate new ideas, consider whether they have the foundational knowledge, skills, and experience to do so meaningfully.
- Your comfort and experience as an instructor. Remember, there is no need to pressure yourself into doing something that feels “risky” or outside of your comfort zone. Start small, and work your way up as you develop confidence in facilitating active learning techniques into your teaching.
The following video provides more ideas about how to apply and promote active learning across a variety of teaching contexts, specifcially large classrooms and online learning.
Active Learning Resources:
You can use the resources below as a starting point for your own research on active learning strategies.
- If you feel like diving headfirst into the world of active learning, check out the University of Central Florida’s list of 228 Interactive Learning Techniques.
- If you are teaching in a large classroom, consider one of the strategies outlined in the University of Waterloo’s Activities for Large Classes.
- If you would like to learn more about activities for online learners, visit UC Davis’s Learning Activities and Active Learning Online.
Now that we have defined what active learning is, explained its importance, and identified some considerations for selecting and implementing active learning into your teaching, think about bringing it all together and making a plan! Try reflecting on the following prompts:
- Describe your current / past teaching context.
- Choose an active learning strategy that you would like to implement in your teaching and how.
- Reflect on suggestions or considerations for implementing this strategy in both a large classroom and in an online learning environment.
If you would like to share your ideas about implementing active learning strategies in your teaching, and or read about others’, head back to the Padlet – Active Learning interactive activity. You can click on the plus sign in the bottom right corner to add a response. This is not an assessed component of this workshop, rather an opportunity for you and your peers to reflect on and share what promotes your engagement as adult learners. Point-form is perfectly acceptable, and your response will remain anonymous.
In this workshop, you reviewed the benefits of active learning for students, noted some considerations for applying active learning, and considered how to apply an active learning strategy of your choosing in a variety of teaching contexts.
As we have now reached the end of this workshop, you should be able to:
- Identify the key components of active learning;
- Explain why active learning is important;
- Identify considerations and for implementing and selecting an active learning strategy;
- Identify potential barriers to active learning; and,
- Describe the role that active learning plays in a constructively aligned learning experience.
“What is Active Learning?” Resources:
- Barkley, E. F. (2010). Student engagement techniques: A handbook for college faculty. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
- Bonwell, C. C., & Eison, J. A. (1991). Active learning: Creating excitement in the classroom. ASHE-ERIC Higher Education Report No.1. Washington, DC: George Washington University.
“Why use Active Learning?” Resources:
- Freeman, S., Eddy, S. L., McDonough, M., et al. (2014). Active learning increases student performance in science, engineering, and mathematics. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 111(23), 8410–8415.
- Henderson, C., Khan, R., & Dancy, M. (2018). Will my student evaluations decrease if I adopt an active learning instructional strategy? American Journal of Physics, 86(12), 934-942.
- Millis , B. J. (2012). Active learning strategies in face-to-face courses. Idea Paper, 53, 1-8.
- Prince, M. J. (2004). Does active learning work? A review of the research. Journal of Engineering Education, 93(3), 223-231.
Recommended Resources for Active Learning Strategies:
- Interactive Learning Techniques, University of Central Florida:
- Activities for Large Classes, University of Waterloo:
- Four-Step Strategy for Creating Active Learning in Any Learning Space:
- Learning Activities and Active Learning Online, UC Davis:
- McMaster’s Remote Teaching Guide: https://mi.mcmaster.ca/teaching-remotely/
- Universal Design for Learning (UDL) Principles: http://udlguidelines.cast.org/
- Adapted from content developed by Lisa Dyce, McMaster University.