“Active learning focuses on how students learn, not just on what they learn.” (Getting started with Active Learning, Cambridge International Education Teaching and Learning Team, 2020). It is a process where students are encouraged to actively participate in gaining deep understanding of a topic, rather than receiving information from the tutor only. This construction of knowledge and consequently understanding of that knowledge requires learning to be active where their learning is challenged throughout. This can be carried out by doing activities in lessons that encourage students to think, develop and apply ideas to a variety of different contexts.
The theoretical basis of active learning
Active learning is a popular learning methodology. Its theoretical basis is framed around:
- The knowledge philosophy of constructivism – where knowledge construction and deep understanding for that knowledge is created through meaningfully constructed activities.
- The knowledge philosophy of social-constructivism – where learning takes place in collaboration with peers and tutors.
Other pedagogical approaches which utilise active learning include problem-based learning, experiential learning and student-centred learning model.
What are the benefits of active learning?
A central benefit of active learning is that it keeps the student engaged and motivated, reframing existing knowledge as they develop skills to address authentic new activities. This tends to increase enthusiasm for their studies, as well as helping them to retain the skills learnt for future use. It encourages students to ask questions and to approach material in a perceptive way in order to gain further understanding.
Active learning approaches also teach students the ‘process’ of understanding a topic, which enhances their autonomy and ability to learn. This has implications for the sustainability of student learning development as it provides the means for students to continue their learning beyond a single task or module on their way to become independent, self-regulated, learners.
What questions should I ask myself when creating an active learning activity?
There is no one size fits all model for designing active learning as each discipline and its signature pedagogies is unique. But if you are new to active learning, the following questions and ideas may be a helpful place to start:
- What materials do the students need to learn? This could be regarding skills as well as subject content.
- How will the task help my students to learn? Will the task you have created provide them with skills they will be able to apply elsewhere? This is a key factor when applying active learning.
- Aim to include more open ended questions to encourage discussion.
- Explain how the task is useful to the students. Some students may be hesitant to contribute to this new way of learning, but if they are aware of the benefits, they may be more likely to raise their hand!
Active learning in practice
It is vital that the student and the learning is at the forefront when creating an active learning activity. The task does not have to be complex, it just needs to motivate the students to start thinking independently and critically.
An example of an activity could be to put your students into groups and give each group a different question or topic. Encourage the students to discuss within their group how they can answer the question, and to allocate different research tasks between themselves. They would then come up with a singular answer and present it to the rest of the class, where other groups would then ask questions about their topic. A suggestion would be to have all of the topics related, so that all each group has contributed to a wider knowledge base by the end of the activity.
How can Microsoft Teams help with collaboration?
Collaboration is a vital part of active learning, and can be facilitated through the use of various digital tools. One example is the use of Microsoft Teams. We have a range of blog posts which can assist you in the application of this tool for active learning:
Pedagogic value of lecture capture
One of the key benefits of technology-enhanced learning is in the potential it offers to personalise and allow self-regulation of the learner journey. From the perspective of the student, lecture capture can be a highly valued, where students can go over materials again to reinforce learning and allow them opportunities to fill gaps in any knowledge. There is evidence that there are some groups for whom access to recorded lecture material may be a particularly important pedagogic resource. Students learning in a second language and students who require additional learning support appear to make greater use of recordings. In addition, second language learners show different patterns of usage, for example, being more likely to review materials directly after the lecture than other students.
For many first-year students, the lecture format will be a new learning environment. These students may value the opportunity to get a second chance at the lecture content when in this transitional stage. Considering heterogeneous learning preferences, lecture capture can mitigate the problems of lectures that are too fast-paced, too dense, and/or too difficult to follow. Therefore, the flexibility to stop, restart, and review the materials at a time and place of their choosing has very good pedagogical benefits. Additionally, the ability to personalise the learner journey and self-regulate learning via the availability of lecture recordings could significantly reduce feelings of anxiety.
One of the challenges to lecture capture is avoiding passivity which can come from missed opportunities to interact with learners, as well as lack of integration with other technologies. Active Learning using lecture capture can be underpinned by moving image (bringing lectures ‘alive’ with animated moving image content), interactivity (allowing opportunities for students to interact with recorded material in different ways) and integration (interlinking with supporting texts, discussion boards, chat, resource links, self-assessment quizzes and so on).
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Cambridge-community.org.uk. 2020. Getting Started With Active Learning. [online] Available at: <https://www.cambridge-community.org.uk/professional-development/gswal/index.html>.
Ford, M. B., Burns, C. E., Mitch, N., & Gomez, M. M. (2012). The effectiveness of classroom capture technology. Active Learning in Higher Education, 13(3), 191–201. https://doi.org/10.1177/1469787412452982