Active Learning

From E-Learning Faculty Modules


Module Summary

Active Learning is an integral part of any class. Including active learning in your teaching ensures passive learning is held to a minimum. This module will address how active learning can be integrated into a course and strategies for instructors.


Learners will...

  • Identify active learning
  • Apply strategies for an active learning course

Main Contents

"Active learning is based on two assumptions: (1)that learning is by nature an active endeavour and (2) that different people learn in different ways" (Mayers and Jones, 1993). According to Meyers and Jones (1993), active learning has four elements and these are the building blocks of all active learning strategies:

Talking and Listening,


Writing, and


These elements involve cognitive activities that allow students to clarify, question, consolidate, and appropriate new knowledge (Meyers and Jones, 1993, p.21).

Instructors can use various strategies inclusive of the four mentioned above to design a course so learners experience active learning. Active learning means getting learners to be responsible for creating their own learning experiences using their existing knowledge and/or discovering new knowledge and not viewing learners as passive, where information is only given to them by the instructor.

Active learning is a fulfilling experience for learners and involves extensive planning on the instructor’s part. Active learning requires learners to analyze, synthesis, evaluate content and interact with other learners and produce their own version of content in a paper, essay, project or discussion. In active learning, learners are not receiving information in a passive way and each person is bringing in their own unique experience and if diversity is present in the class, the learning experience is richer. Instructors can create assignments that are structured yet allow learners to be creative and follow their interest while maintaining the learning outcomes of the course.

How To

Strategies can be used to promote active learning in the classroom or for an online course. Listed below are strategies instructors can use:

  • Create the right environment for active learning where learners feel safe to express themselves and the instructor cares about the learning process.
  • Use a leaner centered model and move away from the instructor lead model.
  • Create opportunities for student’s to discuss and collaborate on group projects and presentations.
  • Create opportunities for learners to feel safe to share their own learning with other learners in the course.
  • Encourage learners to build relationships with each other and the instructor; a learning community is formed.
  • Encourage healthy disagreements between learners when discussions occur.
  • Establish clear expectations for learner participation along with a rubric to guide the learning
  • Establish communication etiquettes for discussions and collaboration.
  • Encourage students in the active learning process.
  • Encourage higher order thinking skills.
  • Connect between real world and the content taught in course.
  • Create an impact by using visuals (graphs, maps, photos, videos) to convey content.
  • Use storytelling and humor in the class.
  • Use assessment as a natural part of the course that blends well with the course without a clear distinction of formal assessment.
  • Use technology that is effortless in the course.
  • Poll learners on their background, interests, knowledge and attitudes to design active learning.
  • Combine different learning styles (auditory, visual, kinesthetic) in the active learning process.
  • A variety of teaching strategies can be used to promote active learning. For example, discussions, group work, role-playing, use of games, simulations, problem-solving, journal writing, debate, peer-teaching, self-assessments and case studies.
  • Select a few strategies the first time, and add as you teach the course in the future

Possible Pitfalls

Active learning requires a fair amount of planning on the part of the instructor for the course. Close monitoring of the course is needed to ascertain learners are collaborating and not struggling or slacking and making sure the flow of the class is occurring as planned. Frequent feedback is needed to guide learners along. The instructor will have to give up the stage and take the role of mediator and allow for students to take charge.


Meyers, Chet, & Jones, B. Thomas. (1993). Promoting active learning (first edition ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Nash, R. (2009). The active classroom: Practical strategies for inolving students in the learning process. USA: Corwin Press.

Silberman, M. (2005). In John Wiley & Sons (Ed.), 101 ways to make training active (second ed.). USA: John Wiley & Sons.

Tileston Walker Donna. (2007). In Scott Power Marilyn (Ed.), Teaching strategies for active learning . Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

Tollefson, Kaia & Osborn K. Monica. (2008). In Fleming L. P. (Ed.), Cultivating the learner-centered classroom from theory to practice . Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.