Active Learning

Active Learning is a process in which students do more than passively receive information.


1. Small group discussions actively engage students.

These discussions can be framed in a variety of ways. Brainstorming allows students to generate multiple ideas or new ways to approach a topic or concept. Mind Maps are visual representations of a theory or concept. Problem Solving addresses a specific dilemma, identifies connections between concepts, or creates specific strategies and solutions. Problem solving is a critical thinking skill that students can use in research (to determine a hypothesis), when working on a team project (to assign roles or determine due dates and overall timeframe), or in their personal lives (to create strategies to enable them to study abroad or synchronize the many components of their lives as a college student, for example, job, course, internship and social life.

2. Provide time for students to reflect and write down their thoughts and ideas.

Having students take a few minutes to write (or to reflect collectively) encourages analysis and contemplation. This strategy can be used at any point during a class session to ask students to think about what they have heard, read, or discussed in class.

Here are several examples of writing and reflection exercises, courtesy of Elizabeth Cohn (School of International Service).


Quick Write or Free Writing


 3. Try a new strategy such as a Jigsaw Exercise.

A Jigsaw Exercise relies on each member of a group contributing to a shared understanding of a particular concept and then reconvening in different groups to share and extend that understanding. Here is how it works:

Jigsaw Exercise

4. Case Studies work well to help students analyze and apply information.

Bring real world examples from your discipline into the classroom. Encourage students to use critical thinking, problem solving, team work, and (when appropriate) consensus-building to address timely or historical issues.

5. Videos clips, TED Talks, and documentaries can stimulate class discussion.

Utilizing multimedia provides additional ways to access information. Using the ‘flipped classroom’ model, students can view materials before class and then discuss content or work on assignments during class. Additionally, short videos can be viewed during class and then discussed.

6. Experiment with Role Play, Simulation, and Games.

These activities can be used to help students process information presented in readings and lectures or even used in place of traditional teaching methodologies. Students take on specific Roles or perspectives to problem solve and think critically. Simulations allow students to practice specific skills, figure out how things work, create new ideas, or find solutions. Gaming has become a widely used example of experiential learning. Here are examples of games, from Elizabeth Cohn (School of International Service).



7. Oral Presentations, Demonstrations, Polls, and Surveys can be effective learning tools.

When effective public speaking and communication skills are course goals, presentations are especially useful. Demonstrations can be used in many disciplines to show mastery of concepts, foster creativity, or provide solutions to problems. Polls, and Surveys, deployed with or without technology, provide information about student learning. Surveys allow faculty to determine where students are in their thinking and understanding on a group level.

8. Debates work well to highlight opposing points of view or perspectives.

Debates can be especially valuable if students are challenged to present opinions that differ from their own. Goals can vary, e.g., consensus building (when appropriate) or facilitating a clearer understanding of how different people can view the same topic or issue in multiple ways. If you use debates in class, be sure you have set ground rules for classroom discussion.

9. Panel discussions with a small number of students can encourage thoughtful articulation of diverse points of view.

Small panel discussions afford individual students important opportunities to have an active class voice. In preparation for such panel discussions, students might be asked to do preliminary research that enables them to assume particular roles (or personae) or to articulate the position representation by such roles or personae.

10. Active Learning exercises can also be used to supplement a lecture.

Any of these experiential learning strategies works well to supplement a lecture. For example, if you solicit questions from the group and no one responds, Think-Pair-Share (see #2 above) can energize the class, since everyone participates. If students need time to reflect on a complex concept you are introducing, having students illustrate the concept or writing about it can engage class members.