Active learning

Active learning has largely replaced traditional teaching over the past two decades. The term has grown to encompass a range of teaching methods, suitable for all ages and abilities. “Learning through doing” is the core principle behind the concept, building on the premise that experience is better than dry theory, and learning by rote, which depends on memory, may result in a superficial understanding of a subject.

By using varied means to engage students and get them involved in the learning process, active learning allows the learning curve to be maintained and increased. This helps to overcome the problem of progressive reduction of learning performance linked with non-associative forms of learning, known as habituation. Repetition leads to boredom, and does not encourage creative thinking or logical advancement. It becomes counter-productive with increased use. Passive listening is not sufficient: active learning promotes deeper understanding and creativity through involving students in dialogue, discussion, research and other means of study.

There is a difference of opinion as to when active learning is most appropriate. The consensus of opinion is that it is not suitable for introducing new material, but rather as an aid to learning material that has already been studied. By following up a lesson or a lecture with a discussion, active learning is used to ensure that the material has been properly understood. It provides an opportunity to clear up any grey areas or mistakes, and is useful for gauging how well each individual is doing.

two young women and a young man studying at a table

Active learning encourages the formation of groups of students, or partnerships, to jointly study a subject.

Active learning encourages the formation of groups of students, or partnerships, to jointly study a subject. These collaborations help to widen the range of thought and understanding, by providing diverging points of view and tackling different parts of the subject under study. A short assessment, or summary, produced by these groups can provide useful feedback for the teacher and the other students. This can be further employed in a debate, which is another useful tool in active learning. Role playing, learning games and discussion of films also play a part in active learning. As well as being fun, they aid performance and allow observational learning.

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