Planning Active Learning

One of the best ways to engage and motivate your students during a lesson is to use active learning activities. Active learning should be signalled to the learner in the syllabus and in individual lessons.

Why use active learning? Some students may be resistant to active learning, so it is important that we are transparent about why active learning is important. The chart below provides the average retention rates divided by the type of instruction; it clearly shows that the more actively a student engages with course content, the more likely they will retain the lesson.

(Figure 3.5: Average Retention Rates from Different Teaching Methods)

What are the options for active learning? For in-class activities there are a great variety of options to engage students in active learning, which can be done individually, collaboratively, or cooperatively. Whether you are new to active learning or want to freshen up your active learning techniques, the TATP guide Active Learning and Adapting Teaching Techniques offers background on active learning and eighteen effective active learning activities. Active learning is often easiest to implement in small-class environments; however, students in large classes benefit from active student engagement as well; the guide mentioned above also provides adaptations for each activity to scale them up for implementation in larger classes.

Active learning in the classroom should be low stakes activities. Low stakes assessments carry little or no weight in terms of grades and allow students to practice deepening their understanding of a topic or to develop specific skills. Examples of low stakes assessments are online quizzes or in-class small group activities like a think-pair-share. To support student writing, the TATP have also developed a resource Low Stakes Writing Activities.

How do you choose active learning activities? When choosing your active learning, you can bridge the relationship between significant learning and active learning by correlating learning activities with Bloom’s taxonomy.

(Figure 3.6: Bloom’ Revised Taxonomy and The Learning Pyramid)

There is a relationship between Bloom’s taxonomy and the styles of teaching: the lowest levels of Bloom’s taxonomy (rote memorization) are connected with the most passive form of learning (lecture). Likewise, the highest level of Bloom’s revised taxonomy (creation) also correlates with the most beneficial active learning technique (teaching others). Thinking about the relationship between modes of teaching, modes of learning, and average retention rates with your class might be a good way of developing ways to incorporate more active learning activities into your class. Furthermore, discussing this relationship with your students can be a good way of decreasing resistance to participation in active learning activities in the classroom, tutorial, or lab.