Active learning for today

Active learning is using a combination of pre-class assignment to ready students BEFORE they come to class and using time in class for discussion, questions, answers, and other learning activities then assess students learning by assign homework, quizzes and short answer AFTER the class to make sure students are learning the material well. In this method, students should be more active in their learning rather than just passively listening to the lecture and learning the material later whenever they can. The teachers are NOT just the knowledge transmitters but also people who can help, support and encourage the students to be responsible for their learning.

BEFORE going to class, students are required to read some articles or watch a short video so they learn something about the class materials (i.e., the first time they learn.) During the class, the teachers give a short lecture to summarize the important concepts then using class time for discussion or answer questions where students learn the materials at a deeper level (i.e., the second time they learn.) By having a short assessment, homework, and quizzes AFTER the class, the students can develop a deeper understanding of the class materials and apply what they have learned to solve problems (i.e., The third time they learn.) By having at least three times to learn the material, students will learn at a deeper level. The goal of this method is to facilitate greater student learning to fit in the fast-changing time today driven mostly by science and technology.

In college, especially in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM), a deeper learning is critical, and the push for students to be active learners is necessary. This effective teaching is widely used in top universities and should be encouraged in other places to meet the needs of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Therefore, the curriculum should be redesigned to maximize learning so students could have a more thorough understanding of concepts and be able to apply them to solve problems.

In designing an active learning course, the teachers need to establish clear learning goals for the topic. (What do you want the students to learn?) The teachers need to design activities to help students meet the learning goals. (What do you want the students to read, to watch and learn the concept before coming to class? How do you make sure that the students are doing that?) and design class activities to promote deeper learning (i.e., What learning activities can students do during class?

What other activities can be accomplished during class?) and how to assess their learning. (i.e., What activities can students complete after class? How can I assess their learning after each class? Which activities require a grade and which activities will students do because they can see a connection between what they learn and what will be needed in their career?)

These activities often take time to do it well. Writing effective learning goals is a skill that teachers must constantly do. Design class activities require a creative mind and a lot of practice. However, if you do it at least three times, I think you will learn to do it well and continue to improve your teaching method.


  • Blogs of Prof. John Vu, Carnegie Mellon University

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