When most people envision the classroom experience in elementary school, it’s full of collaborative learning, hands-on modalities, and fun lessons. Shifting to the thought of what a university style classroom looks like, and those students are now sitting in a crowd of faces listening to their professors drone on in lecture-style instructional methods.
But the idea of active learning has taken over education in the past decade more than ever because of the significance of research that shows how much greater of an impact it has on positive student outcomes. Instructors of all grades, including post-secondary institutions, should learn and adopt active learning strategies in their pedagogical approaches to create a deeper, more lasting impact on their students.
What Does Active Learning Look Like in Colleges and Universities?
Seasoned instructors in higher level institutions frequently dismiss active learning as the way it’s envisioned in elementary schools. But active learning at a higher level institution has just as many advantages, although it looks quite different.
Active learning is a means to encourage students to engage on a meaningful level, where they must think about what they’re learning and apply it, rather than simply memorize and retain it until the next test, after which it is dumped from their short-term memories.
Upper-level active learning can be easily transitioned into a large classroom experience with exercises like:
● Case study evaluation
● Case study simulation
● Debate of an open-ended topic
● Engaging in self-reflection and self-monitoring
● Reflection of a lesson
● Active construction of assignments or quizzes to share with peers
● Peer reviews
These are easy to implement learning activities that don’t require a lot of front-end work for the instructor to include them in their lessons, but they do bring significant value to the student.
The Benefits of Active Learning
Research has shown that active learning has many advantages to it that make it worth including in instructional pedagogy at all levels. Both the student and the institution benefit from improved positive student outcomes.
Active learning creates opportunities for students to thrive in the classroom environment through benefits such as:
● Fostering a deeper understanding of the concept or lesson they are learning
● Allowing instructors to listen to their thought processes and gain insight as to how each student is internalizing a concept
● Giving classmates an opportunity to connect with those they may not have spoken to otherwise and gain different perspectives of a topic
● Improving student attention and engagement in a course
Active learning strategies have been proven to be at least twice as effective to students with helping them to understand the concept at hand. This is especially true in subjects like science, math, and technology, where student performance has risen significantly in courses where instructors regularly engage in active learning practices.
Students who receive lecture-based instruction as a regular method of imparting knowledge are 1.5 times more likely to fail or leave school than those who participate in classes with active learning modalities.
It’s a Win/Win/Win for Everyone
When instructors use active learning to engage students in their lessons, it benefits everyone, from the student to society in general. Active learning gives individuals the opportunity to increase their knowledge of a subject and learn how to develop their critical thinking and problem-solving abilities, a skill that will benefit them far beyond their school years. It helps them to foster positive attitudes regarding education and to share those attitudes with others they may encounter.
Instructors have less behavioral or academic issues with students when they use active learning, making it easier for them to impart knowledge. They, too, are more engaged when their studies are using critical and creative thinking, mastering problem-solving, learning how to adapt to problems, communicating with each other, and developing a repertoire of interpersonal skills to help them build a better future.
All of this interweaves together in an improved positive student outcome that reflects on the institution's reputation, making it a winning situation for everyone involved.