What is Active Learning?

By Johanna Westwood (Learning Technologist)

Active learning puts students at the heart of the learning experience. It enables them to be more engaged with their own learning. Bonwell and Eison (1991) defined active learning as any learning strategy that involves “students doing things, and thinking about the things they are doing” (p. 2). 

We can create these active learning opportunities and environments through providing stimulating, challenging, collaborative, co-creation, and authentic, problem-based experiences. It is through this that students develop greater confidence and skills, and a deeper understanding of the topic. 

The JISC Digital Experiences Insights Survey 2018 notes that while students enjoy a mix of learning styles, very few express a preference for studying collaboratively. Working with other people in digital spaces is vital in the workplace, so students should get used to it early on their course – supported by equivalent modes of assessment. 

The Learning & Teaching Strategy sets out that the university will provide a sector-leading, dynamic and stimulating learning environment, which supports diverse learning needs and methods, and which encourages creativity and new forms of engagement and dialogue with our students. 

How can you embed active learning into the curriculum? 

Active learning is an approach, rather than a fixed set of activities. It can include any activity that encourages students to take an active, engaged part in the learning process within the classroom. Explore some of the examples below, while thinking about how these might be set as individual tasks as well as providing opportunities that enable students to work together collaboratively. This can help students to develop their communication and negotiation skills, as well as helping them gain a deeper understanding of a subject. 

Potential Supporting Technology 

When setting students up in collaborative groups, there do not always have to be face to face meetings. Introduce students to the Groups area in Course Resources, Blackboard Collaborate, or the collaborative tools within Office 365. As this approach is becoming more common in the workplace, students can develop relevant skills that helps them to prepare for placements, employment, other learning opportunities and further simulations. 

Skype and Webinar software such as Blackboard Collaborate can help create a live link up employers during class time. If you’re not able to set up live meetings, use record a conversation with an employer to set the brief, or scenario. 

In classroom screen sharing would be beneficial for small groups discussion, as it allows the students to share their work/research to the whole cohort using their own devices. This then allows larger collaboration and discussions with the cohort or with other smaller groups. Having this ability to cross collaborate using this technology could enhance the student experience by giving them a different approach to contribute to a session.  Also, this type of collaboration can replicate a business environment, where this type of screen sharing is already embedded into industry.