Active Learning Overview

Why active learning? Motivated by evidence

There were several relevant pieces of student success data that motivated the selection of the current QEP topic:

  • Over the last 3 years, 50% of first-year students received an F in at least one course
  • First-year student retention has remained steady at 77-78% in recent years
  • Lower than desired success rates in key core courses (Math and English)
  • Expected dramatic decrease in the number of high school graduates by 2024

While recent indicators of student success at SHSU is slightly higher than many peer institutions, there is still much room for improvement.  In fact, in order to prepare for the anticipated decline in the number of potential first-year students, one strategy is to begin increasing efforts which aim to improve first- and second-year student success, which will in turn increase the retention of those students already enrolled at SHSU.

Faculty-student interactions are the key factor governing student success at a university.  Accordingly, the first primary goal of this QEP is for faculty to increase the use of active learning techniques across all courses and disciplines. 

What is active learning?

Active learning covers such a variety of methods that it can be hard to define.  All methods, however, share a philosophical basis on the constructivist theory of learning.

This theory states that learning is an active, contextualized process of constructing a network of knowledge rather than simply acquiring information (Ertmer & Newby, 2008).  The learner is not a blank slate to which facts are added, but instead an active participant in constructing their functional knowledge.  The learner’s past experiences and cultural factors affect their knowledge construction. Learning environments with active experiences allows the learner to think about their own learning, enhancing their construction of knowledge, and helping to address previous misconceptions and limitations from past experiences.  Therefore, the active learning pedagogical approach is influenced by the constructivist theory of learning. 

Simply put, by using active learning, the learner is focused on activities that stimulate information processing, organization, and recollection. To help the instructor guide the active learning process, formative assessments are used. 

Need more proof?

The breadth of educational literature indicating these benefits of active learning in certain disciplines is expansive.  Abundant evidence from educational research and psychology of learning studies clearly demonstrates that an active approach in the classroom leads to improved student learning and academic success (Bain, 2004; Bransford, Brown, & Cocking, 2000; Brown, Roediger, & McDaniel, 2014; Kuh, 2008)

Study after study provides evidence of active learning leading to improvements in both student learning and student success.  Many faculty members in several departments have already incorporated active learning into their classroom pedagogy.