Active Learning and Adapting Teaching Techniques
WHAT IS ACTIVE LEARNING?
Active learning comprises a wide range of activities that are defined as “any instructional method that engages students in the learning process. In short, active learning requires students to do meaningful learning activities and think about what they are doing” (Prince, 2004).
WHY IS ACTIVE LEARNING IMPORTANT?
In the 1980s, Arthur W. Chickering and Zelda F. Gamson (1987), asserted that effective teaching encourages active learning. “Learning is not a spectator sport,” they emphasized, as “students do not learn much just sitting in classes and listening to teachers, memorizing pre-packaged assignments, and spitting out answers.” In order to have significant learning experiences, “they must talk about what they are learning, write about it, relate it to past experiences, and apply it to their daily lives. They must make what they learn part of themselves.” Do active learning activities make learning significant and simultaneously get students interested, engaged and motivated?
Evidence shows numerous benefits of using active learning activities:
- Increases students’ satisfaction and positive attitude towards course material as well as their self-confidence and self-reliance (Springer et al., 1998)
- Motivates students to be engaged learners (Huston, 2009)
- Increases content knowledge, critical thinking and recall of course content (Cherney, 2008)
- Allows for inclusion of different learning styles (Thaman et al., 2013)
- Increases enthusiasm for learning in both students and instructor (Diochon and Cameron, 2001)
- Gets students involved in higher order thinking, such as analysis, synthesis, creative thinking, adaptability, problem-solving, etc. (Gosser et al., 2005)
WHAT ARE THE DIFFERENT TYPES OF ACTIVE LEARNING AND HOW CAN I USE THEM IN MY CLASSROOM?
Active learning activities can engage students in various ways by:
- reading, thinking and speaking critically
- expressing ideas through writing
- examining personal attitudes and values
- giving and receiving feedback
- reflecting on the learning process
Active learning activities can be utilized in different settings and contexts:
- a bridging tool (at the beginning of class to assess prior knowledge)
- on the way out of class (e.g., as formative assessment)
- outside the class (in e.g., study groups, online discussion boards, etc.)
Active learning activities can be completed by students working as:
- small groups
- the entire class
Active learning activities can be tailored to specific time constraints. The activities can be as short or as long as time permits, ranging from between 1-2 minutes to 20-40 minutes.
(Adapted from Eison, 2010.)
HOW DO I FORM AD HOC GROUPS DURING A CLASSROOM SESSION?
Below are some quick and easy techniques to divide the class into spontaneous groups:
- Ask students to form groups with the two or three or four people around them. For classrooms with fixed furniture, have students turn to the people behind (or in front) of them
- Ask students to form groups with the two or three or four people who they don’t know who are around them. Have students introduce themselves first before working on the topic. For classrooms with fixed furniture, this may mean changing seats
- Have the class count off (1, 2, 3, etc.) until you have as many groups as you need, depending on the size of the class. Then have all the 1s, 2s, etc., gather together to work on the assignment or activity
HOW CAN I SCALE UP ACTIVE LEARNING ACTIVITIES FOR LARGE GROUPS OF STUDENTS?
Course at the University of Toronto come in all shapes and sizes, so you need to be prepared to adapt your lesson planning, your learning activities and even your overall teaching approach to different types of courses. In this guide, you will also learn how to adapt different active learning techniques to accommodate the different teaching contexts that you may encounter. Effective active learning techniques are not dependent on the type of classroom they occur in or on the number of students in the class; they are instead shaped by the facilitator, together with the students. Instructions on how to scale up each of the activities is included in the description.
THIS GUIDE EXPLAINS 18 SPECIFIC ACTIVE LEARNING ACTIVITIES ON HOW TO GET STUDENTS INTERESTED, ENGAGED AND MOTIVATED