CENTRE FOR TEACHING EXCELLENCETeach | Active Learning
Why does it matter?
Including active learning activities in your classes provides students with the opportunity to check their comprehension of material, to practice a skill, or to collaborate with other students to make connections to the material through their shared understanding and knowledge. Designing active learning activities provides opportunities for students to engage in critical thinking and practice higher-order thinking skills such as evaluate, synthesize, and create while increasing opportunities for retention and transfer of material.
Research recognizes that active learning leads to higher levels of student achievement and personal development (Kuh, O’Donnell, and Schneider, 2017), increases student grades especially in smaller enrolled classes of 50 or fewer students (Freeman et al. 2014) and positively impacts student motivation (Owens, Sadler, Barlow, & Smith-Walters, 2017).
How do I get started?
Review your learning outcomes for the lesson and determine how you will assess them. Then, design your active learning activities to scaffold the assessment you have planned. The active learning activities prepare students to engage with the material and provide them with multiple opportunities to engage with the course content and practice their new skills to successfully complete the planned assessment.
How are instructors using it?
Instructors are planning for students to be active participants in the learning process by designing meaningful learning activities that are interspersed throughout the lesson and that are designed to foster the students’ achievement of the stated learning outcomes. Active learning examples may include opportunities for students to ask or respond to questions, collaborate with other students to check their understanding of material, complete a comprehension check, or apply what they have learned through a case study, problem solving example, skill demonstration, etc. It is also important to include an active learning summary activity (one-minute paper, muddiest point, short answer question) at the end of the lesson to assess how well students are applying/understanding the material.
Where can I go for a deeper dive?
- Centre for Teaching Excellence, Capilano University (2020). Active Learning Strategies
- Creative Commons. Liberating Structures: Including and Unleashing Everyone.
- Freeman, S., 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 111 (23) 8410-8415.
- Giovannetti, M. (2021). Teaching and Learning with Engagement. Capilano University, Centre for Teaching Excellence.
- Kuh, G., O’Donnell, K., & Schneider, C. (2017). HIPs at ten. Change, 49(5), 8-16.
Owens, D., Sadler, T., Barlow, A., & Smith-Walters, C. (2017). Student motivation from and resistance to active learning rooted in essential science practices. Research in Science Education.
- Prince, M. (2004). Does active learning work? A review of the research. Journal of Engineering Education, 93(3), 223-231.
- Queen’s University, Active learning module.
- University of Minnesota, Centre for Educational Innovation, Active Learning.
Capilano University is named after Chief Joe Capilano, an important leader of the Squamish (Sḵwx̱wú7mesh) Nation of the Coast Salish people. We respectfully acknowledge that our campuses are located on the unceded sovereign Indigenous Nations of Lil’wat, xʷməθkʷəy̓əm(Musqueam), Shíshálh (Sechelt), Sḵwx̱wú7mesh(Squamish) and Səl̓ílwətaʔ/Selilwitulh (Tsleil-Waututh).
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