The benefits of Active Learning

There are several discussions about the traditional teaching method and active learning method. In my opinion, each method has advantages and disadvantages. There is NO perfect method so the decision to select which method to teach is depending mostly on the teachers. The Active learning method is more useful in teaching Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) than the traditional and that is why I choose this method.

Today, students are very active and easy to get distracted. They cannot sit still in class and listen to a long lecture without checking text messages, emails, and other social media. If we want to encourage them to learn then we need to keep them busy and motivate them so that they see the value of putting in the effort to learn something rather than forcing them to sit and listen to something that they are not interested in.

Traditional lecturing does not allow students to develop into critical thinkers. It makes them be the receivers of knowledge from authoritarian teachers. If we want students to actively analyze the materials and come up with their own independent knowledge then we need to use active learning method. Students need to know that they need to develop different skills such as teamwork, Collaboration, Critical thinking, and Problem-solving in order to succeed in their future. To ensure that students will be able to develop these skills, we need to encourage them to ask questions, challenge theories, discover new ideas, discuss opinions which are not encouraged in the traditional method.

The traditional method encourages a “fixed mindset”. What the teachers teach is the “Golden rule” that students must obey. What they read from class materials is always “Right” and there is no other way. Active learning encourages independent thinking and allows students to investigate a theory, ask more questions, think independently, and develop a “growth mindset.” For example in math, there is more than one way to solve a problem and there is always an alternative to a solution. Without the ability to think broadly, students may not be able to go further in their learning.

The active learning method emphasizes pre-class assignments and post-class homework to ensure that class time can be used more efficiently to discuss, ask questions, and explore the concepts at a deeper level. However, if the students are unprepared or not ready to learn, they will be confused so it is important for the teacher to explain the concept to them before starting this method.

Active learning focuses on encouraging students to learn the materials on their own as they must be active in their learning process. The pre-class work let the students develop the fundamental understanding of the concepts so when they come to class, they can learn the concepts at a deeper level through the class discussions, or asking questions, listen to the answers and continue to explore the concept further by the process of applying, analyzing, and developing knowledge during class time. Students work through the foundational material prior to class so the time spent in class with their friends and the teacher becomes more valuable as they explore higher levels of critical thinking and analysis.

By switching the traditional environment of lecturing where the teachers “transfer the knowledge” to an active learning environment where students “develop their own knowledge” via inquiring, exploring, and analyzing the teacher create a new environment that engages students, enhances learning in an exciting classroom atmosphere.

Of course, teachers need to make your expectations clear so students understand what they must do. It is important for the teachers to clarify exactly what the expectations are. For example, if you assign a short article for your students to “read before class” you need to tell them what information will be used during class discussion and who do you will call to talk about the reading assignment (Randomly or specifically identify a few students each time) What details are important and maybe in the quiz? Do you want them to be able to answer review questions at the end of the chapter to prepare for a class discussion? Do you want them to be able to compare two points of view from the chapter as part of an in-class debate?

I have been using Active learning for many years and found it very useful. Most students told me that in the beginning, they do not like it because they get used to being passive rather than active but over time, most learn well and did well in their learning.


  • Blogs of Prof. John Vu, Carnegie Mellon University

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