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How Engaged Students Are Transforming Classrooms of Tomorrow and Challenging the Future of Teaching and Learning

Think back on your school days. Which lessons or experiences did you find most fascinating? What has stuck with you through the years? There is a solid chance your most impactful school memories involved what education professionals often refer to as active learning.

Although this educational style has received increased attention and in recent years, it has been relied upon for millennia. For some time, many eschewed active learning in favor of a more passive approach. While the traditional and passive approach to learning still has its proponents, active learning is on the upswing, and exciting technological possibilities are taking it to a whole new level.

Whether you want to incorporate active learning techniques in your work as an educator or apply it to your personal life, you stand to benefit from this methodology. As a student-focused teaching method, it is an important way that professional educators are making teaching and learning more exciting. Keep reading to learn what active learning is, why it is so beneficial, and how it can be implemented within all types of learning environments.

What Is Active Learning?

Before you can truly understand what active learning is, it helps to know what it is not. This style of education stands in stark contrast to passive efforts, which require students to simply absorb information presented by instructors. Often, this takes the form of the traditional lecture; the teacher stands at the front of the classroom and shares information while students listen quietly.

Conversely, active learning strives to engage students in the learning process. They are charged with taking ownership over their education. This can take many forms, such as participating in class projects, getting involved in discussions, or reflecting in personal journals. What these various strategies have in common is students playing an active role in the learning process.

Benefits of Active Learning

growing body of research reveals that active learning has a far greater impact on long-term comprehension than its passive counterparts. Interestingly, students think they learn more from passive strategies — but studies reveal that active lessons actually impart far more academic value. The increased cognitive effort associated with active learning can make both students and instructors hesitant to adopt this approach, so it is important for both sides to understand the benefits:

  • From discussions to group projects, many active learning efforts involve extensive collaboration. These skills are vital in the modern workforce but can be difficult to develop when students are almost exclusively exposed to passive learning techniques.
  • Passive learning often focuses on the power of recall, rather than encouraging students to think in new or original ways. Creativity, however, is a crucial component of the active learning experience. When students exercise their creative muscles, they are more likely to come up with innovative ideas — and show confidence in these breakthroughs.
  • Early on, many students master the art of regurgitating material that they have absorbed through passive techniques. Unfortunately, this information is then quickly forgotten. Active learning allows students to retain a greater volume of knowledge.

Active Learning Strategies and Techniques

As we have discussed, active learning can take many forms. The ideal learning environment will incorporate a variety of methods, as no one strategy is guaranteed to actively engage all students.

Key active learning strategies worth implementing in the modern classroom include:

  • Discussion groups. While all-class discussions can be overwhelming for introverted students, smaller groups encourage participants to let their thoughts be known. Instructors can provide thought-provoking prompts to get students started and wrap up by allowing group representatives to share main takeaways with the entire class. This is a great strategy for adult learning, as students bring a vast array of perspectives and experiences to the table.
  • Journal prompts. Active learning is not always loud. As previously mentioned, it can also take quieter, more contemplative forms. Journaling, for example, forces students to engage not only with academic material, but also with their own thoughts on the learning process. Many find it easier to get started when they receive targeted prompts that pique their curiosity.
  • Flipped classrooms. Advocates of flipped classrooms feel that passive processes such as lectures do not make proper use of students’ and teachers’ limited time. Instead, flipped classrooms focus on problem-solving within the school setting, with teachers acting as guides, rather than lecturers.
  • JIgsawing. Students are more likely to take ownership of complex material if they have the chance to act as the instructor. Hence, the value of a strategy known as “jigsawing.” Under this approach, each student (or group of students) is assigned a specific topic to learn inside and out. Once they have mastered the material, students share their findings with one another.
  • Muddiest point. Teachers often struggle to identify student misconceptions. Thankfully, a practice known as the “muddiest point” can reveal where students are struggling. This solution is simple: during lessons or activities, students make note of the concepts they find most confusing — and why. Not only does this provide valuable insight for teachers, it also forces students to engage with complex material they might otherwise avoid.
  • VR technology. As one of the most prominent trends in higher education, virtual reality exposes students to concepts and scenarios that might otherwise be out of reach. With public speaking, for example, apps such as Samsung Be Fearless provide insight into everything from heart rate to speaking pace. These details may not be as captivating if learned from a strictly theoretical level, but they can make a huge impact if applied personally. VR can also be used to help students transition to potentially overwhelming situations. For example, nursing students use VR to build clinical confidence.

Creating an Active Learning Classroom

Now that you understand what active learning is and why it is so beneficial, it is time to implement this concept into your own learning and teaching methods. This begins with defining your goals. Overarching objectives should be established for each semester, followed by smaller, more digestible goals for the week or day. From there, you can determine which active learning strategies are most capable of helping you and your students fulfill these objectives.

Next comes planning. From classroom layouts to lesson plans, it will quickly become evident that the status quo will not work for an active classroom. With your unique objectives in mind, consider how the following elements can encourage active learning:

  • Classroom design and layout
  • Use of technology
  • Rules and policies
  • Assigning homework or reading

These elements can either support or hinder your efforts to get students engaged. When in doubt, aim for maximum mobility and interaction.

Do not hesitate to get feedback from students. Encourage them to be honest about the types of active learning strategies they find most compelling. Other instructors can also be a great source of inspiration; through targeted discussions, you can engage in active learning sessions about active learning.

Earn Your Master’s in Education at Post

Our online master’s in education program includes several concentrations that delve into the power of active learning. From curriculum and instruction to educational technology, you will find many opportunities to pursue your potential as a passionate educator. Contact us today to learn more.

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