Active learning

Active learning

Active learning is an umbrella term that refers to several models of instruction that focus the responsibility of learning on learners. Bonwell and Eison (1991) popularized this approach to instruction. This "buzz word" of the 1980s became their 1990s report to the Association for the Study of Higher Education (ASHE). In this report they discuss a variety of methodologies for promoting "active learning." However according to Mayer (2004) strategies like “active learning" developed out of the work of an earlier group of theorists -- those promoting discovery learning.

It has been suggested that students who actively engage with the material, are more likely to recall information (Bruner, 1961), but several well known authors have argued this claim is not well supported by the literature (Anderson Reder, & Simon, 1998; Gagné, 1966; Mayer, 2004; Kirschner, Sweller, and Clark, 2006) [ Kirschner, P. A., Sweller, J., and Clark, R. E. (2006) Why minimal guidance during instruction does not work: an analysis of the failure of constructivist, discovery, problem-based, experiential, and inquiry-based teaching. Educational Psychologist 41 (2) 75-86] . Rather than being behaviorally active during learning, Mayer (2004) suggests learners should be cognitively active.

Active learning exercises

Bonwell and Eison (1991) suggested learners work in pairs, discuss materials while role-playing, debate, engage in case study, take part in cooperative learning, or produce short written exercises, etc. While it makes sense to use these techniques as a "follow up" exercise, it may not make sense to use them to introduce material. They can, however, be used to create a context for the subsequent introduction of material. The degree of instructor guidance students need while being "active" may vary according to the task and its place in a teaching unit.

Examples of "active learning" activities include:

* A class discussion may be held in person or in an online environment.

* A think-pair-share activity is when learners take a minute to ponder the previous lesson, later to discuss it with one or more of their peers, finally to share it with the class as part of a formal discussion. It is during this formal discussion that the instructor should clarify misconceptions.

* A short written exercise that is often used is the "one minute paper." This is a good way to review materials.

While practice is useful to reinforce learning, problem solving is not always suggested. Sweller (1988) suggests solving problems can even have negative influence on learning, instead he suggests that learners should study worked-examples, because this is a more efficient method of schema acquisition. So instructors are cautioned to give learners some basic or initial instruction first, perhaps to be followed up with an activity based upon the above methods.

Active learning method: Learning by teaching (LdL)

An efficient instructional strategy that mixes guidance with active learning is "Learning by teaching" (Martin 1985, Martin/Oebel 2007). This strategy allows students to teach the new content to each other. Of course they must be accurately guided by instructors. This methodology was introduced during the early 1980s, especially in Germany, and is now well established in all levels of the German educational system [ Jean-Pol Martin:"Zum Aufbau didaktischer Teilkompetenzen beim Schüler. Fremdsprachenunterricht auf der lerntheoretischen Basis des Informationsverarbeitungsansatzes". Dissertation. Tübingen: Narr. 1985; Jean-Pol Martin, Guido Oebel (2007): "Lernen durch Lehren: Paradigmenwechsel in der Didaktik?", In: "Deutschunterricht in Japan", 12, 2007, 4-21 (Zeitschrift des Japanischen Lehrerverbandes, ISBN: 1342-6575)] . "Learning by teaching" is integration of behaviorism and cognitivism and offers a coherent framework for theory and practice.

Active learning and Policy

Policy may be satisfied by demonstrating the instructional effectiveness of active instruction. Rubrics (education) are a good way to evaluate "active learning" based instruction. These instructional tools can be used to describe the various different qualities of any activity. In addition, if given to the student, they can provide additional guidance (here is [ an example rubric] ).

Kirschner, Sweller, and Clark (2006) suggest that fifty years of empirical data does not support those using active learning methods early in the learning process. In the past few years Outcome-based education policy has begun to limit instructors to only using those techniques that have been shown to be effective. In the United States for instance, the No Child Left Behind Act requires those developing instruction to show evidence of its "effectiveness".

Research supporting active learning

Bonwell and Eison (1991) state that active learning strategies are comparable to lectures for achieving content mastery, but superior to lectures for developing thinking and writing skills. [ Active Learning: Creating Excitement in the Classroom. ERIC Digest] , Bonwell & Eison, 1991.]

Controversy and Criticism

The efficacy of active instructional techniques has been questioned recently (Mayer, 2004; Kirschner, Sweller, and Clark, 2006). Certainly practicing procedural skills is a necessity for learning to be automated. But while these activities may be motivating for learners, these unguided situations can in fact leave learners less competent than when they began the activity (Kirschner, Sweller, and Clark, 2006).

However, not all research supports Kirschner, Sweller, and Clark's views. For example, one 2007 study compared results for college students in six different versions of a computer literacy course. In some groups, instructional elements were left out (objectives, information, examples, practice with feedback, review). The "practice with feedback" is the active learning component of the study. The researchers found that in all cases, students who had practice with feedback had better performance and more positive attitudes than those students who did not have opportunities for practice.Martin, F., Klein, J. D., & Sullivan, H. (2007)The impact of instructional elements in computer-based instruction"British Journal of Educational Technology 38" (4), 623–636.]

tudying examples as an alternative to active learning strategies

Self-guided instruction is possible, but is Sweller and Cooper claim it is often arduous, clumsy, and less than efficient (Sweller and Cooper, 1985). Sweller (1988) suggests learners should study worked-examples because this is a more efficient method of "initial" instruction. Sweller and Cooper found that learners who studied worked examples performed significantly better than learners who actively solved problems (Sweller & Cooper, 1985; Cooper & Sweller, 1987). This was later called the "worked-example effect" (Clark, Nguyen and Sweller, 2006).

Evidence for learning by studying worked-examples (the worked example effect) has been found to be useful in many domains [e.g. music, chess, athletics (Atkinson, Derry, Renkl, & Wortham, 2000); concept mapping (Hilbert & Renkl, 2007); geometry (Tarmizi and Sweller, 1988); physics, mathematics, or programming (Gerjets, Scheiter, and Catrambone, 2004)] . Finally the worked example effect is only useful for novices (Kalyuga, Ayres, Chandler, and Sweller, 2003), so again practice, is a necessity, but only later after a student has the underlying schema in place.


ee also

*Educational technology
*Educational psychology


* Anderson, J. R., Reder, L. M. & Simon, H. (1998). Radical constructivism and cognitive psychology. In "D. Ravitch (Ed.) Brookings papers on education policy 1998." Washington, DC: Brookings Institute Press.
* Atkinson, R. K., Derry, S. J., Renkl, A., & Wortham, D. W. (2000). Learning from examples: Instructional principles from the worked examples research. "Review of Educational Research, 70", 181–214.
* cite book| author=Bonwell, C. & Eison, J.| year=1991| title=Active Learning: Creating Excitement in the Classroom AEHE-ERIC Higher Education Report No.1| location=Washington, D.C. | publisher=Jossey-Bass| id=ISBN 1-87838-00-87
* cite journal| author=Bruner, J. S.| year=1961| title= The act of discovery| journal= Harvard Educational Review| volume=31| issue=1| pages=21–32
* cite book
author=Clark, R., Nguyen, F., and Sweller, J.
title=Efficiency in Learning: Evidence-Based Guidelines to Manage Cognitive Load
location=San Francisco | publisher=Pfeiffer| id=ISBN 0-7879-7728-4

* Gagné, R. (1966). Varieties of learning and the concept of discovery (pp.135-150) In "Shulman, L. S. and Keislar, E. R. (Eds) Learning by discovery: A critical appraisal." Chicago: Rand McNally and Co.
* Gerjets,P. Scheiter,K. and Catrambone, R. (2004).Designing instructional examples to reduce intrinsic cognitive load: molar versus modular presentation of solution procedures. "Instructional Science. 32"(1) 33–58
* cite journal| author=Kalyuga,S., Ayres,P. Chandler,P and Sweller,J.
title=The Expertise Reversal Effect
journal=Educational Psychologist| volume=38
pages=23–31| doi=10.1207/S15326985EP3801_4

* [ Kirschner, P. A., Sweller, J., and Clark, R. E. (2006) Why minimal guidance during instruction does not work: an analysis of the failure of constructivist, discovery, problem-based, experiential, and inquiry-based teaching. Educational Psychologist 41 (2) 75-86]
*Hilbert, T. S., & Renkl, A. (2007). Learning how to Learn by Concept Mapping: A Worked-Example Effect. "Oral presentation at the 12th Biennial Conference EARLI 2007" in Budapest, Hungary
* cite journal| author=Mayer, R.| year=2004| title= Should there be a three-strikes rule against pure discovery learning? The case for guided methods of instruction
journal= American Psychologist| volume=59| issue=1| pages=14–19| doi=10.1037/0003-066X.59.1.14

* cite journal
author=Sweller, J.
title= Cognitive load during problem solving: Effects on learning
journal= Cognitive Science

* cite journal
author=Sweller, J., & Cooper, G. A.
title= The use of worked examples as a substitute for problem solving in learning algebra
journal= Cognition and Instruction

* Tarmizi, R.A. and Sweller, J. (1988). Guidance during mathematical problem solving. "Journal of Educational Psychology, 80" (4) 424-436

External links

* [ New Directions for Cooperative Education. ERIC Digest.]
* [ The Essential Elements of Cooperative Learning in the Classroom. ERIC Digest.]
* [ Active learning section of Geoff Petty's practical guide on improving teaching and learning.]
* [ Active Learning and Library Instruction]
* [ Platform for Active Learning (University of Hull)] . Includes bank of examples.
*. A developing open-source Wikibook related to learning as discussed in this article.
* [ Learning by teaching - by Jody Skinner]

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