Active Learning in Class

Learning Objectives

  • Recognize strategies that engage active learning in the classroom

Megan is currently taking two classes: geology and American literature. In her geology class, the instructor lectures for the full class time and gives reading assignments. In Megan’s literature class, however, the instructor relies on class discussions, small group discussions, and occasionally even review games. Megan enjoys her literature class, but she struggles to feel engaged and interested in geology. What strategies can Megan use to stay motivated and involved in both of her courses?

 group of students sitting in a circleThink about the college classes you’ve taken so far. Like Megan, you may feel like it’s a mixed bag: you probably enjoyed the courses with a variety of teaching styles and learning activities the most. Even if you’re a quieter, more reserved student who dislikes lots of group discussions, you probably prefer to have some class projects or writing assignments rather than lectures alone. Group projects, discussions, and writing are examples of active learning, because they involve doing something. Active learning happens when students participate in their education through activities that enhance learning. Those activities may involve just thinking about what you’re learning. Active learning can take place both in and out of the classroom. The following are examples of activities that can facilitate active engagement in the classroom.

  • Class discussions: Class discussions can help students stay focused because they feature different voices besides that of the instructor. Students can also hear one another’s questions and comments and learn from one another. Such discussions may involve the entire class, or the instructor may organize smaller groups, giving quieter students a greater chance to talk. Another method is to create online discussion boards so that students have more time to develop their ideas and comments and keep the conversation going.
  • Writing assignments: Instructors may ask students to write short reaction papers or journal entries about lessons or reading assignments. Such assignments can help students review or reflect on what they just learned to help them understand and remember the material, and also provide a means of communicating questions and concerns to their instructors.
  • Student-led teaching: Many instructors believe that a true test of whether students understand concepts is being able to teach the material to others. For that reason, instructors will sometimes have students work in groups and research a topic or review assigned readings, and then prepare a minipresentation and teach it to the rest of the class. This activity can help students feel more accountable for their learning and work harder, since classmates will be relying on them.


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