Isn’t All Learning “Active Learning?”

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If you do anything related to education, you have probably heard of the term “active learning.” People write books and articles about it. They give presentations extolling its benefits. If you search for active learning in Google, you’ll get over 265,000 results. It seems like active learning is everywhere, but what does it really mean?

When people talk about active learning, they are usually referring to a style of teaching where students are encouraged to engage with the material they are studying in some manner. Students usually do this through reading, writing, talking, listening, and reflecting in some way with course content. For example, a teacher might have students work on a case study to see how they would apply concepts they have read about. There are several other active learning strategies that can be used in addition to case studies such as discussion groups, role-playing, and journal writing. Ultimately, the goal is to move away from a scenario where the teacher spends the whole class lecturing, while students passively sit and listen.

The new Larner Classroom at Dana Medical Library is being built to accommodate 120 students at small tables optimizing the team-based or active learning philosophy. The space will feature flexible furniture to support a variety of learning configurations, multiple projection screens, an advanced video and sound system, and active acoustics to accommodate both small and large groups.

Incorporating active learning into a class takes planning and time, but the results are usually worth it. Studies have shown that students in active learning classes learn and retain more information, participate more in class, and do better overall in terms of grades. Teachers usually report that they benefit from active learning too. After all, what more could a teacher ask for then to have a class full of engaged and successful students?