Active Learning in Class

Learning Outcomes

  • Recognize strategies that engage active learning in the classroom


Latika is currently taking two classes: Geology of the American West and American literature. In her geology class, the instructor lectures for the full class time and gives reading assignments. There are no class discussions or group projects.

In Latika’s literature class, however, the instructor relies on class discussions, small group discussions, and occasionally even review games. Latika enjoys her literature class, but she struggles to feel engaged and interested in geology.  

What strategies can Latika use to stay motivated and involved in both of her courses? Latika will have to embrace active learning strategies and keep herself motivated. Since she can’t change the style of the geology class, she can change her approach by embracing active learning strategies.

What is active learning? Active learning happens when you participate in your education through activities that enhance learning. Those activities may involve 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. Even though she’s not invited to have discussions in her geology class, she can still talk to other students after class. She could even share what she is learning with her friends and family. Sometimes talking to people who are not in your class forces you to think about new ways of explaining what you’re learning.
  • 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. Since the geology teacher isn’t assigning writing, Latika can take a few minutes after class to write down everything she learned. It might also be helpful to write down questions or things that she didn’t understand so that she remembers where she needs help.
  • 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. Since there are no group projects in her geology course, Latika can try to form her own study group. 

Think about the college classes you’ve taken so far. Like Latika, 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. That’s where the learning happens!

Try It


active learning: student strategies that involve doing something, such as completing a project or giving a presentation, as opposed to passively receiving information without consciously processing it