Active learning

Explore the concepts that support active learning, and how to help your students achieve it.

The teaching focus needs to be on the students and their learning

  • Effective education is dialogic rather than a one way transfer. It is a process that views and fosters students as active learners on an ‘intellectual journey’.
  • There needs to be a level of engagement and personal contact with students who perceive you as someone who is interested in the subject matter, excited by it, interested in them, and interested in their learning.
  • Design the course to excite and inspire students from their perspective, create a positive learning environment.
  • Students learn through doing. They learn by being able to see whether they are right or wrong as they go, and by (teachers) giving students interesting materials and practical applications.
  • Students have different learning styles, or preferences: visual, aural, read/write and kinaesthetic (VARK). Let students hear it, see it, read it, and apply it. Provide a change of pace by offering different opportunities, using a variety of objects, visuals and movement to re-engage students.
  • Use icebreakers (PDF 77.3 KB) at the start.

Small frog on grass.

“Teaching is a bit magical, like a frog. Dissect a frog and you end up with all these parts, but it is not a frog anymore: it is the difference between organic and mechanistic approaches to the world.” Paul McDonald

Learning is student led

  • Take the time to understand your audience. Get to know your students. Who are they? What do they like? And don't like? What are the pressures they are dealing with?
  • Try not to make assumptions about student knowledge.
  • Believe in your students' ability to apply their learning to problems/issues from their own experience. Create a learning environment in which students generate their own knowledge.
  • Use coaching. Guide students to think of solutions to their own problems and opportunities. Try using Bloom's Revised Taxonomy with six levels of thinking activities, it provides a framework for enacting low to high-level thinking, planning for student thinking at all levels.
    Download Bloom's Revised Taxonomy (PDF 247 KB).
  • Surrender control. Be willing to explore things together. Create the foundation and then explore all of the facets together, not necessarily knowing where it is going.

“Information is like a present. You have to wrap it up, put it in a story or example, put it non-verbally. If you don't, it isn't Christmas.” Paul McDonald.

Students need relevant, ‘real world’ learning

  • Relevance is the key issue for students. They find it hard to understand if you talk about an area they have no experience with (like running a business). Instead, use examples they can relate to (TV ads for example). Keep trying to find relevance, until they get it.
  • Start with reference knowledge, based on students' past experience. Tap into their prior experience, something they can relate to, that is relevant to them and engages them.
  • Give students a purpose for why they are learning things.
  • Get students involved in real problems, problem-based learning, and make it immediate.
  • Do a lot of repetition/reinforcement of learning: repeat in different ways to ground it.
  • Provide a feedback loop. Give meaningful feedback throughout the course.
  • Explore opposing viewpoints by providing evidence, through examples.
  • After introducing a new concept/idea/theory, provide your own example and get students to discuss their personal and professional/work examples.
  • Feedback from students indicates that they value experiences that help them see their own future (like jobs), teaching they can relate to, and relevant and up-to-date examples.