Active learning – notes from reading group

Active learning might be an unhelpfully broad topic but there are some very helpful ideas in these papers.

  • Bonwell, C. (1991), Active learning: creating excitement in the classroom, Eric Digest – The article starts by defining what AL is, the key factor being that students must do more than just listen e.g. read. write, discuss, problem solve. It identifies the main barrier to use of AL as risk, for example that students will not participate, or that the teacher loses control.  It suggests ways to address this for example by trying low risk strategies such as short, structured, well-planned activities.
  • Prince, M. (2004), Does Active Learning Work? A Review of the Research, Journal of Engineering Education, 93(3), 223-232. Splits active learning into constituent parts and looks at the evidence for (often relatively minor) interventions covering each of these parts, in an attempt to identify what really works. A useful reference for anyone looking for quantitative evidence for active learning type interventions and a useful discussion of what leads to successful (or unsuccessful) problem-based-learning.
  • Jenkins, M. (2010), Active Learning Typology: a case study of the University of Gloucestershire. The paper describes how an ‘active learning ‘strategy has been implemented at the University of Gloucester. In the first paragraph Jenkins provides some references on active learning to unpacks its meaning that helped us to better understand the term and put it into context,  for example, …the role of the teacher is not to transmit knowledge to a passive recipient, but to structure the learner’s engagement with the knowledge, practising the high-level cognitive skills that enable them to make that knowledge their own (Laurillard, 2008; 527). page 2. At the same time this is compared to the understanding of ‘active learning’ of the staff at the university which through  a survey were asked to identify their conceptions of active learning. The results identified three categories ‘families’, 1) external (student are active when they learn by doing), 2) ‘internal (student are active when they are engaged in cognitive processes) and 3) holistic (it is a composite of the two, and students are active learning is generally investigative, developmental, creative. An interesting perspective is a distinction in the interpretation where the emphasis is placed on the student or the teacher, Is active learning what the teacher gets the students to do or what learning is done by students? The data showed that there is a split between some staff practising ‘active teaching’ and other practising ‘active learning’. The outcome of the project has produced a framework for staff to work with which is very useful and identifies common elements of active learning in these five categories: Co-learning opportunities, Authenitcity, Reflection, Skills development, Student support.