Thursday, 19 April 2012 22:10

What is Active Learning?

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strategies for actively engaging students Swimming instructor teaching girl in water © 2012 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.

Active learning ranges from basic reading/listening activities such as guided reading of text or advanced organizers for lectures, to highly physically active activities such as field trips, student demonstrations, role plays and games.

It is generally understood that active learning allows for not only greater retention of the information but also an increased level of social participation that is beneficial to the learner in the long-term.

Active learning strategies are important to include in a lesson because they encourage the student to do the following:

  • Participate in the learning process, thereby promoting autonomous learning
  • Consider new experiences
  • Observe and reflect on activities
  • Relate abstract concepts to concrete experiences and vice versa
  • Form models and theories based on experiences
  • Test their ideas in an active and practical method

General Strategies

In a face-to-face, video conference, or long Elluminate session, consider breaking up the class with several activities that require student to involve themselves with the content. In an online class, divide large amounts of content with discussion forums, questions, and short quizzes which require students to click on a response, or by employing more complicated and interactive learning objects which can be created by the your instructional design team’s media specialists.

Specific Examples

Directed Reading
Directed reading/thinking activities are designed to guide learners through an important reading or lecture. These types of activities are useful in many circumstances, especially when introducing complex concepts that are typically covered in lectures or readings.

When planning a directed reading/thinking activity, consider the concepts that may spark the most questions from your learners. Begin by examining the objectives of the activity by examining which information is most significant for their retention. Do this by reviewing the reading or lecture content to identify the areas of highest importance. You may also wish to create a list of questions students may ask. Also, look for organizational tips in the reading/lecture that may help students navigate through the material.

The first part of the directed reading/thinking activity should include an activity that activates prior knowledge, and interest. Just like the basic principles of a lesson, a directed reading/thinking activity should also include a bridging activity that cumulatively incorporates previous material.

Some instructors prefer to create an organized handout that students can use as a guide through the material. Other instructors may choose to provide a list of significant questions that will help students discover the central ideas and supporting concepts. Whichever method you choose, ensure that your directed reading/thinking activity is designed to help your learners meet the learning objectives.

Flash Animation
Here is a sample of how you can turn a lesson activity into a more effective online activity through the use of flash animation.



In the “Before” example, the activity involved a basic pen and paper map quiz given to the students during class. This activity took valuable class time, and could easily be done instead online.

The “After” example shows the map quiz was transformed into an interactive activity online using flash animation. Students were given practice quizzes in which they would “drag and drop” labels onto the correct location. They would then complete the quiz online. Visuals and drag-and-drop capabilities of Flash helped create a much more interactive learning opportunity for students.


Beyth-Marom, R. Saporta, K. & Caspi, A (2005). Synchronous vs. asynchronous tutorial: Factors affecting student preferences and choices. Journal of research on technology in education, 37(3), 245-262.

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