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.
What are the benefits?
The breadth of educational literature indicating the 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 and through the Engaging Classrooms QEP we hope to continue this trend.