Active Learning Strategies (2024)

**This page is from an old version of CSUN's Teaching Toolkit. Find an updated version onthe current Teaching Toolkit on Canvas.**

What is Active Learning?

Active learning is an instructional method that engages students in the learning process and requires students to do meaningful learning activities. Students who participate in active learning are challenged to think about what they are doing rather than passively receive information from their instructor. While there are many approaches to active learning, the core elements are student activity and engagement in the learning process.

Does it Work?

A meta-analysis of 225 studies compared STEM classes taught using various active learning approaches with classes taught via lecture. “The results indicate that average examination scores improved by about 6% in active learning sessions, and that students in classes with traditional lecturing were 1.5 times more likely to fail than were students in classes with active learning.” (p. 8410) Carl Wieman, a Nobel-winning physicist who now does research on teaching and learning, describes the work as a “massive effort” that provides “a much more extensive quantitative analysis of the research on active learning in college and university STEM courses than previously existed.” (p. 8319) And what does he make of these results? “The implications of these meta-analysis results for instruction are profound, assuming they are indicative of what could be obtained if active learning methods replaced the lecture instruction that dominates U.S. postsecondary STEM instruction.” (pp. 8319-8320) That’s a long way from the guarded language usually found in commentaries on scientific results.

What are Some Examples of Active Learning?

There are several approaches to active learning that can be summarized into the following categories: Collaborative learning, cooperative learning, and problem-based learning.

Collaborative learning can refer to any instructional method in which students work together in small groups toward a common goal [2]. As such, collaborative learning can be viewed as encompassing all group-based instructional methods, including cooperative learning [3–7]. In contrast, some authors distinguish between collaborative and cooperative learning as having distinct historical developments and different philosophical roots [8–10]. In either interpretation, the core element of collaborative learning is the emphasis on student interactions rather than on learning as a solitary activity.

Cooperative learning can be defined as a structured form of group work where students pursue common goals while being assessed individually [3, 11]. The most common model of cooperative learning found in the engineering literature is that of Johnson, Johnson and Smith [12, 13]. This model incorporates five specific tenets, which are individual accountability, mutual interdependence, faceto- face promotive interaction, appropriate practice of interpersonal skills, and regular self-assessment of team functioning. While different cooperative learning models exist [14, 15], the core element held in common is a focus on cooperative incentives rather than competition to promote learning.

Problem-based learning (PBL) is an instructional method where relevant problems are introduced at the beginning of the instruction cycle and used to provide the context and motivation for the learning that follows. It is always active and usually (but not necessarily) collaborative or cooperative using the above definitions. PBL typically involves significant amounts of self-directed learning on the part of the students.

How do I Start?

Tips for Success

    • Become familiar with a few active learning techniques. Some that are easier to implement are the "one minute paper," and "think-pair-share" (see "CTI Active Learning Strategies" in the resources below for more detailed instructions on how to incorporate them).
    • Choose one or two techniques and modify them so that they address learning goals in your class.
    • When implementing active learning techniques, follow these general steps:
    • Use activities to draw attention to issues and content you feel are most critical.
    • Establish rules of conduct and civility to encourage appropriate participation.
    • Introduce the activity and explain the learning benefit.
    • Control the time cost by giving students a time limit to complete the task.
    • Stop the activity and debrief. Call on a few students or groups of students to share their thoughts and tie them in to the next steps of your lecture.
    • Consider usingclassroom response technologies,video clips, and even smartphones and laptops to facilitate active learning activities.
How do I Create Student Collaboration in the Classroom?

Exponential Think Pair and Share (.pdf)As an extension of the traditional "think pair share," students form larger and larger teams to teach each other.

Four Corners (.pdf)Allows for a lively, informal debate as students take a corner of the room to agree or disagree on a topic.WatchCSUN Professor Steve Holleprovide a brief demonstration.

Mindmap (.pdf)Students sketch an idea or concept discussed in class, even if they are not artists.

Networking Activity (.pdf)Students are given real-life networking scenarios and work in pairs to practice networking.

Placemats (.pdf)Students create a collage of responses to an instructor prompt--working both individually and in groups.WatchCSUN Professor Steve Holleprovide a brief demonstration.

Reading Through Pictures (.pdf)Students draw pictures to represent class readings and then discuss their drawings, thus discussing the reading.

Websites to Encourage Class Engagement (.pdf)Using sites like Poll Everywhere, students answer questions anonymously and interact with each other.

What Does it Mean to Let Students be Teachers?

Constructive Peer Review (.pdf)Students learn how to evaluate each others' work in a fun and useful way.

Generating a Product for an External Audience(.pdf)Students create something (such as a Wikipedia article) that people outside of the class can rate.

Guiding Thoughts on Readings(.pdf)As they enter the room, students write feedback on large paper and then discuss as a group.

Post Assignment Sharing(.pdf)Help students understand the "point" of an assignment and allow for discussion throughout the semester.

Sharing with Friends and Family(.pdf)Students pretend to explain an assignment or project to a friend or family member, demonstrating that they truly understand it.

Ten Ways to Start Discussions (.pdf)
Based on Peter Frederick's article, this guide provides ten strategies to engage students in discussion.

Speaker of the House(.pdf)One student is selected at random to present, like the speaker of the house, the main points of the day's class.

How do I Build Community in the Classroom?

Awards at End of Class (.pdf)At the end of the semester, students have a mini awards ceremony in the spirit of the Academy Awards, complete with winners' speeches.

Cultivating Organic Traditions(.pdf)Ideas to establish fun and unique traditions in your classroom: for example if you flash the lights twice, there is a class discussion.

Encouraging Self Care(.pdf)Students identify and share stress management techniques.

Establishing Expectations(.pdf)Help students work together effectively through establishing guidelines together.

Explaining the Rationale for a Collaborative Class(.pdf)Discuss as a group the benefits of group work.

Speed Meet-and-Greets(.pdf)Like speed dating, but this is a way for your students to quickly discuss class readings and activities.

Managing Different Communication Styles (.pdf)
How do you communicate with your students and how do they communicate with you? This chart provides an easy self-assessment.

What are Some Tips for Group Work Assignments?

Group Names (.pdf)In thisactivity, students collaborate to create a name for their group.

Intentional Group Formation (.pdf)Students form groups based on their interests.

How do I Make the First Day of Class Engaging?

How can you ensure that your students leave the first class session motivated and prepared for success?

Check out these resources:

First Day of Class: by Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching

Preparing for a Positive First Day of Class: Five Terrific Tips-by Lori Baker-SchenaActive Learning Strategies (1)

Making the First Day of Class Really First Class-by Cynthia DesrochersActive Learning Strategies (2)

The First Day of Class: A Once in a Semester Opportunity- Faculty Focus Teaching Professor Blog


References: Freeman, S., Eddy, S.L., McDonough, M., Smith, M.K., Okorafor, N., Jordt, H., and Wenderoth, M.P., (2014). Active learning increases student performance in science, engineering, and mathematics.Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS),111 (23), 8410-8415.

Weiman, C.E., (2014. Large-scale comparison of science teaching methods sends clear message.Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS),111 (23), 8319-8320.

Active Learning Strategies (2024)


Active Learning Strategies? ›

An active learning strategy is any type of activity during class (face-to-face, online, or outside of class) that engages learners in deep thought about the subject matter in your course.

What are active learning strategies? ›

An active learning strategy is any type of activity during class (face-to-face, online, or outside of class) that engages learners in deep thought about the subject matter in your course.

What are examples of active learning techniques? ›

Other examples of active learning techniques include role-playing, case studies, group projects, think-pair-share, peer teaching, debates, Just-in-Time Teaching, and short demonstrations followed by class discussion.

What are the 4 active learning approaches? ›

Cattaneo (2017) classifies active learning activities as problem-based learning, discovery-based learning, inquiry-based learning, project-based learning, and case-based learning. She finds that each of these approaches is student-centered, but they vary quite widely in their implementation.

What are 3 ways to encourage active learning? ›

By Kasia Piotrowska
  • Are you looking for ways to get learners actively involved in the classroom? ...
  • Give learners clear lesson aims and refer to them at each stage.
  • Give learners tools to follow the lesson aims.
  • Make room for learners to reflect on the lesson.
  • Teachers don't have to stick to their plan.
Oct 30, 2017

What are the 10 principles of active learning? ›

Findings Based on the literature and the experience of the teaching faculty, ten principles of effective teaching were recommended: 1) create an active learning environment, 2) focus attention, 3) connect knowledge, 4) help students organize their knowledge, 5) provide timely feedback, 6) demand quality, 7) balance ...

What are the two types of active learning? ›

Design of learning development now is much more motivated by the importance of student-centered learning, in other words, students must be active in learning. Learning activity according to Mayer (2009) consists of two parts: active cognitively and active behaviorally.

What is an active learning lesson plan? ›

Active learning is a teaching strategy that is proven to support deeper learning and encourage students to develop critical thinking skills and apply concepts they are learning through activities such as projects, discussions, and collaborations.

How do you engage students in active learning? ›

Promoting student engagement through active learning

Strategies include, but are not limited to, question-and-answer sessions, discussion, interactive lecture (in which students respond to or ask questions), quick writing assignments, hands-on activities, and experiential learning.

Which is the most effective mechanism for active learning? ›

Use of technology

The use of multimedia and technology tools helps enhance the atmosphere of the classroom, thus enhancing the active learning experience. In this way, each student actively engages in the learning process.

What is advanced active learning method? ›

What is it? Advanced active learning formats are designed to engage a student's critical thinking skills and apply previous and new knowledge to real-life scenarios.

What does Piaget say about active learning? ›

Active learning

Piaget thought that independent exploration and discovery were important at all stages of cognitive development in enabling students to lead their own learning in line with their current developmental understandings.

Why are active learning strategies important? ›

Active learning improves student outcomes

The benefits to using such activities are many, including improved critical thinking skills, increased retention and transfer of new information, increased motivation, improved interpersonal skills, and decreased course failure (Prince, 2004).

What is Vygotsky's theory of active learning? ›

Lev Vygotsky's work elucidated the relationship between cognitive processes and social activities and led to the sociocultural theory of development, which suggests that learning takes place when students solve problems beyond their current developmental level with the support of their instructor or their peers ( ...

What activities promote active learning? ›

Active learning engages students in learning, using activities such as reading, writing, discussion, or problem solving, which promote analysis, synthesis, and evaluation of class content. Active in-class learning also provides students with informal opportunities for feedback on how well they understood the material.

What are the core elements of active learning? ›

The core elements of active learning are student activity and engagement in the learning process. Active learning is often contrasted to the traditional lecture where students passively receive information from the instructor.

What are the 6 key learning strategies? ›

These six strategies include spaced practice, interleaving, elaboration, concrete examples, dual coding, and retrieval practice.

What are the six most effective learning strategies? ›

The Science of Learning: Six Strategies for Effective Learning
  • Spaced Practice. ...
  • Interleaving. ...
  • Retrieval Practice. ...
  • Elaboration. ...
  • Concrete Examples. ...
  • Dual Coding.
May 13, 2020

What are examples of activity based teaching strategies? ›

Besides this, puzzles, games, role play, skits, story-telling, demonstrations using real objects, taking students on an educational tour, playing a subject-related video, and showing a documentary in the classroom are all examples of activity-based learning/teaching methods.

What is the most effective mechanism for active learning? ›

Use of technology

The use of multimedia and technology tools helps enhance the atmosphere of the classroom, thus enhancing the active learning experience. In this way, each student actively engages in the learning process.

What are the 4 C's teaching strategies? ›

The 21st century learning skills are often called the 4 C's: critical thinking, creative thinking, communicating, and collaborating. These skills help students learn, and so they are vital to success in school and beyond.

What are the 7 key learning areas? ›

We'll now take a brief look at each of these 7 areas and why they are important.
  • Communication and language development. ...
  • Physical development. ...
  • Personal, social, and emotional development. ...
  • Literacy development. ...
  • Mathematics. ...
  • Understanding the world. ...
  • Expressive arts and design.
Sep 3, 2016

What are the 9 teaching strategies? ›

9 Teaching Strategies That Help Students Learn Effectively
  • Inquiry-Based Model.
  • Storyboarding.
  • Peer Tutoring and Assessment.
  • Brainstorming.
  • Reflections.
  • Student-Led Classes.
  • Visual Aids.
  • Interdisciplinary Approach.
Jan 10, 2021

What are learning activities and instructional strategies? ›

Instructional strategies encompass any type of learning technique a teacher uses to help students learn or gain a better understanding of the course material. They allow teachers to make the learning experience more fun and practical and can also encourage students to take more of an active role in their education.

What are strategies and activities? ›

Strategies are broad concepts or approaches to achieve the project objectives while activities are actions that are undertaken within these strategies. For example, 'building the capacity of the community members' is a strategy your project has adopted.


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