Thursday, February 20, 2014

Active Learning Strategies

Contributed by David Alexander, Graduate Teaching Assistant, and Phillip Becker, Tech Fellow for the Center for Teaching and Learning
Faculty members oftentimes look for ways to engage their students within the classroom. However, it can be difficult at times to encourage participation with the students, especially if the class is a lecture format. Engagement can be accomplished through several different ways, including integrating active learning strategies.
Active learning is the process of giving students opportunities to think, reflect, and involve them in the course materials in a meaningful way (Using Active Learning, 2011; Eison, 2010). Students have different learning styles and because of this a traditional lecture-based class, along with other types of instruction, may not be adequate for a number of students taking a particular course. According to Meyers and Jones (1993), students are not attentive approximately 40% of the time during a lecture. Therefore, by integrating various teaching strategies into the classroom, students will be able to not only retain more information, but be able to apply the knowledge and skills they acquire.
One way to facilitate active learning strategies is by modifying the types of questions asked in class. Faculty members may ask questions that that only require remembering facts which are often forgotten in a short period of time. Developing questions that are more complex and require deeper thought may increase engagement and how much a student retains. There are three levels of question complexity: remembering, applying, and evaluating. Questions at the remembering level are basic questions that simply elicit facts. Questions at the application level requires the student to use the information and relate it to a situation. An example of an application question is “How would you explain the connection between…?” The highest level of questioning that could be asked are evaluating questions. This type of questioning requires students to use higher levels of cognition and to justify their answers. An example of an evaluating question would be “In this case study, how would you have done….if you were in the same position (Classroom Activities, 2009)?” These types of questions can engage the students more and lead to longer discussions.
Small group work may also be beneficial when integrating interactive learning strategies. Students can be put into small groups to teach other students about a topic that relates to class. One small group can teach another small group or a small group can teach the class about a topic. In regards to what the small group would teach, the faculty member can assign a topic that would supplement the material that is taught. This would require the students to conduct outside research, which will add to their learning experience (Using Active Learning, 2011).
Another technique to utilize active learning is to integrate debates that support the classroom material. Debates are a way for students to critically think about the material, form logical and cohesive arguments, and express themselves in front of their peers and the faculty member (Eison, 2010).
There are many ways to increase classroom participation. One book I recommend on this topic is L. Dee Fink’s book Creating Significant Learning Experiences: An Integrated Approach to Designing College Courses which has great ideas about college classrooms. Students should be able to learn more from an engaging classroom. Properly implemented activities should result in students wanting to come to class rather than feeling they have to go to class.


Eison, J. (2010). Using active learning instructional strategies to create excitement and enhance learning. Retrieved from
Fink, D. (2003). Creating significant learning experiences: An integrated approach to designing college courses. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. 
FSU, (2011). Using active learning in the classroom. Retrieved from
Meyer, C. & Jones T. (1993). Promoting active learning: Strategies for the college classroom. San Francisco: Josey-Bass Inc.
UNC, CFE (2009). Classroom activities for active learning. Retrieved from

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