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Active learning

Active learning

Table of Contents

    Ever read or listened to something and completely forgotten what you learned five minutes later?

    It happens to the best of us. If we aren’t highly focused on the material and can’t relate it to our job or personal life, we tend to tune it out.

    So how do you capture employees’ attention and get them to apply what they’ve learned?

    Active learning.

    Active learning engages learners early, from onboarding to career pathing, helping them develop and practice key skills over time. 

    We’ve put together this guide to help you understand what active learning is and why it’s useful. You’ll learn:

    • What active learning is
    • Several active learning strategies
    • The difference between active and passive learning
    • How learning management systems increase active learning

    What is active learning?

    Active learning is a teaching method that encourages learner engagement with lessons that ask employees to reflect, investigate, and brainstorm. Courses that use active learning methods help learners internalize concepts they’ve learned to solve complex problems and make better decisions. 

    Instructors are essential to fostering active learning in an organization. They guide learners’ critical thinking by incorporating strategies that significantly enhance student learning experiences, such as group discussions and writing prompts. Active learning activities allow all participants to learn by doing, applying what they’ve learned rather than just listening or reading. 

    And it works.

    Higher education research has shown that active learning techniques have more successful outcomes. According to a recent meta-analysis, conventional teaching methods are “1.5 times more likely to fail,” and courses incorporating active learning see a 6% increase in exam scores compared to traditional teaching methods. 

    What are some examples of active learning?

    Active learning happens when an instructor creates activities that push learners to think and practice their new skills.

    For example, a teacher may ask learners to take a quiz,  synthesize or summarize what they learned, or facilitate a group discussion.

    In this way, active learning approaches differ significantly from traditional, passive lectures — learners have opportunities to engage with the course material and practice valuable skills.

    Key differences: Active learning vs. passive learning?

    The primary difference between active and passive learning is the learner’s level of participation

    • Active learning is a learner-centered style of education. Participants actively participate in the learning process by doing hands-on work designed to improve learning outcomes and enhance problem-solving.
    • Passive learning is a teacher-centered style of education. The teacher presents content and learners listen.

    Active learning creates learner excitement

    Active learning strategies encourage learners to be involved in their educational experience by activating higher-order thinking. Per Bonwell and Eison, active learners must “engage in analysis, synthesis, and evaluation,” which may include: 

    • Researching, reading, and writing about real-life case studies.
    • Participating in class discussions, polls, group work, simulations, and role-play.
    • Asking and seeking answers to questions and providing feedback on other learners’ input.

    Active learning takes hard work, dedication, and commitment. To finish their coursework, active learners must use their critical thinking skills and take ownership of their education. 

    Passive learning relies on strong listening skills

    Passive learners absorb information through traditional lectures or readings. As a result, learners may not necessarily apply learning concepts to their job, lowering the chances the learner will internalize and act on the knowledge they’ve acquired. 

    For passive learning methods to work, learners must actively listen and pay attention to detail. And they may need extra help to retain or apply what they have learned effectively. 

    Five active learning strategies

    Now that you have a basic understanding of active learning, here are some ways to implement it and boost learner engagement.

    1. Retrieval practice

    In retrieval practice, learners pause for two to three minutes every 15 minutes during class and write down everything they can remember. 

    This simple approach helps learners “retrieve” information, improving long-term memory and helping learners translate new information into their own words. As learners write, they are encouraged to ask questions about things they don’t understand. Actively engaging with course material reinforces learner knowledge and helps them retain it.

    2. Demonstrations

    In this active learning strategy, instructors ask learners to predict the result of a demonstration before it happens. Participants watch the demo, then explain what they observed and how it differed from their hypothesis. 

    If a learner’s prediction is incorrect, they must examine any misconceptions or misunderstandings and restructure their mental model.

    3. Think-pair-share

    Think-pair-share is an active learning technique used by trainers, facilitators, and educators to engage learners in productive conversations. It encourages learners to think independently and discuss their ideas with a partner or small group. 

    In this approach, the instructor asks a question, and learners get one minute to think of a response. They get paired up or put into small groups to share their answers and reach a consensus. 

    This technique encourages critical thinking, collaboration, and communication while allowing learners to engage with each other in meaningful ways and can be adapted to any classroom or training environment. A bonus is that think-pair-share is fairly easy for teachers to incorporate into existing lesson plans.

    4. Minute papers

    Minute papers ask learners to reflect on and examine what they’ve learned. During or after a lecture, teachers give learners a prompt about the material they just covered, such as:

    • What was the most important thing you learned in this course?
    • What outstanding questions do you have about the material we just learned?
    • How do you plan to apply what we just learned?

    Minute papers ensure everyone is retaining information and understanding the material presented. Participants can also express their thoughts on what they’ve learned and how it can apply to different situations. 

    5. Jigsaw

    The Jigsaw strategy works by separating learners into small groups to research a specific topic and present their findings. Then, each learner moves to a different group and explains what they’ve learned. Jigsaw encourages collaborative learning, increases learner engagement, and helps develop strong communication skills.

    What are the benefits of active learning?

    Active learning is valuable in any learning environment, from corporate offices to schools and universities. It’s also incredibly effective for software and IT, nursing, customer and member training, restaurants, and retail training.

    More specifically, active learning:

    • Gives learners a more varied learning experience, motivating them to learn more.
    • Enables a direct connection between instructors and peers, which seldom occurs during regular sessions.
    • Can improve communication skills in classes where learners offer constructive criticism.
    • Encourages an open-minded attitude and fosters respect among fellow learners.
    • Promotes involvement and inspires both learners and instructors.

    But this doesn’t mean you should abandon passive learning styles. To serve every learner, teachers must maintain a balanced approach and appropriately utilize teaching strategies to trigger and enable critical thinking. 

    Increase active learning with a learning management system

    A learning management system (LMS) can increase active learning across different industries by centralizing onboarding, ongoing education, and continuous development processes into one system. With an LMS, you can easily:

    • Track learners’ progress
    • Provide feedback
    • Ensure learners understand the material by administering quizzes and tests

    With an LMS, you can customize each training program to meet the individual needs of each learner, giving them tailored guidance throughout the learning process. Using an LMS for learning and development allows learners to receive the best possible education at their own pace. 

    Want to learn more about learning management systems? 

    Contact us for a demo or explore our glossary for more guidance and a deeper exploration of learning terms.