Definition of Active Learning

It is not possible to provide universally accepted definitions for all of the vocabulary of active learning since different authors in the field have interpreted some terms differently. However, it is possible to provide some generally accepted definitions and to highlight distinctions in how common terms are used. Active learning is generally defined as any instructional method that engages students in the learning process. In short, active learning requires students to do meaningful learning activities and think about what they are doing…[in] the classroom (Prince, 2004, p. 223).

Active learning refers to a broad range of teaching strategies which engage students as active participants in their learning. Typically, these strategies involve students working together during class, but may also involve individual work and/or reflection, as well as group work outside the classroom. The focus is on how to learn rather than what to learn, placing the learner at the heart of the process. Active learning can be on a spectrum of learner and teacher control of the learning process and learning environment.

The main characteristic of active learning is that students are engaged in activities which involve more than just listening and note-taking (e.g. reading, discussing, writing).

One or more of the following should be present to fully exploit the potential of active learning:

  • Less emphasis is placed on transmitting information and more on developing students’ skills.
  • Students are engaged in the (co)creation of new knowledge based on their previous knowledge and socio-cultural context.
  • Students are involved in higher-order thinking (analysis, synthesis, evaluation, critical thinking, problem-solving, metacognition and reflexivity).
  • Greater emphasis is placed on students’ exploration of their own attitudes and values.

Teaching approaches to support active learning range from short, simple activities like journal writing, problem solving and paired discussions, to more complex activities such as case studies, debating, role playing, team-based problem solving, collaborative game-based learning and project-based learning.

Sources: adapted from Bonwell & Eison (1991), Prince (2004), Raynal & Rieunier (2010), University of Minnesota – Center for Educational Innovation.

Bonwell, C. C., & Eison, J.A. (1991). Active Learning: Creating Excitement in the Classroom. ASHE-ERIC Higher Education Report No. 1. Washington, D.C.: The George Washington University, School of Education and Human Development.
Prince, M. (2004). Does Active Learning Work? A Review of the Research. Journal of Engineering Education, 93: 223-231.
Raynal, F., & Rieunier, A. (2010). Pédagogie: Dictionnaire des concepts clés. Paris: ESF.
University of Minnesota – Center for Educational Innovation (https://cei.umn.edu/active-learning)

Definitions collected by partners

Active learning is a form of learning in which teaching strives to involve students in the learning process more directly than in other methods.

WIKIPEDIA

Active learning means that the learners co-construct new knowledge, by questioning, debating and problem solving, based on their previous knowledge and socio-cultural context. The teacher is there to provide scaffolding rather than presenting knowledge. The learners have control over the learning process and take ownership and responsibility for their own learning. The focus is on how to learn rather than what to learn. It develops students’ critical thinking skills, problem solving skills etc. The learner is at the heart of the learning process and takes the initiative. Active learning can be on a spectrum of learner and teacher control of the learning process and learning environment.

Divya Jindal-Snape (University of Dundee)

Create a motivating learning situation that leads to intellectual, emotional and/or psychomotor involvement on their part. This activity is always carried out on real objects or symbols. A teacher provokes active learning when he puts students in situations that encourage them to design a project, implement it and reflect on what they do and from what they do.

From the previous definition and the literature, 7 main characteristics were very often mentioned:

  1. The roles of the learner and the teacher are modified (degree of control of learning).
  2. An authentic learning context.
  3. Motivation by and for active learning.
  4. A high-level cognitive activity in the learner.
  5. Metacognition and reflexivity.
  6. Learning facilitated by group interactions (group organization).
  7. Significant tasks to encourage learning.

Raynal et Rieunier, 2010, mentioned by Gerard Casanova (AUNEGE)

In active learning approach teachers as to design activities for a classroom not only to make students put their fingers in the pie, but also to do it close to their classmates, sharing with them the experimental activities and being enriched also by their different perspectives. In this way students will make good works together: try things out, make mistakes, repair them, cope with difficulties and go beyond obstacles and, finally, this approach will make them obtain shared results. Students will learn not only trying to do something directly and by themselves. They will also learn through watching the other students and they will build consciousness about a subject on their direct experiences and on the observation of others. Transversal skills are going to be reinforced, if already existing, and developed, when missing

METID – Politecnico di Milano (Paola Corti)

Active learning is defined as “anything that involves students in doing things and thinking about the things they are doing.”

n.b.: definition works with the following premise: In the context of the college classroom and if given these characteristics

“Students are involved in more than listening.

Less emphasis is placed on transmitting information and more on developing students’ skills.

Students are involved in higher-order thinking (analysis, synthesis, evaluation).

Students are engaged in activities (e.g., reading, discussing, writing).

Greater emphasis is placed on students’ exploration of their own attitudes and values.”

Bonwell/Eison 1991, mentioned by Christiane Bottke (ZMML – University of Bremen)

Active learning refers to a broad range of teaching strategies which engage students as active participants in their learning during class time with their instructor. Typically, these strategies involve some amount of students working together during class, but may also involve individual work and/or reflection. These teaching approaches range from short, simple activities like journal writing, problem solving and paired discussions, to longer, involved activities or pedagogical frameworks like case studies, role plays, and structured team-based learning.

University of Minnesota – Center for Educational Innovation (identified by Deborah Arnold, AUNEGe)

https://cei.umn.edu/active-learning Website contains a useful diagram with examples of active learning strategies on a spectrum from simple to complex. (see last page, but limited to classroom activities and some missing, eg project-based learning).

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eLene4Life supports curriculum innovation in higher education (HE) through the development of active learning approaches for transversal skills, with the ultimate aim of improving students’ employability.

 

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This project has been funded by Erasmus + programme of the European Union.

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The European Commission support for the production of this publication does not constitute an endorsement of the contents which reflects the views only of the authors, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.

This project No. 2018-1-FR01-KA203-047829 has been funded by Erasmus + programme of the European Union.

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