Thursday, October 8, 2015

Principles for Good Practice in Education Series: Encourage Active Learning

Chickering and Gamson (1987) recommended seven practices to improve teaching and learning for undergraduates. Those key principles are based on 50 years of educational research and were compiled in a study supported by the American Association of Higher Education, the Education Commission of States and The Johnson Foundation.

The Seven Principles are:
  • Encourage active learning
  • Encourage contact between students and faculty
  • Develop reciprocity and cooperation among students
  • Give prompt feedback
  • Emphasize time on task
  • Communicate high expectations
  • Respect diverse talents and ways of learning
This post will focus on Encouraging Active Learning.

Active learning is defined as "students [that are] engaged in more activities than just listening. They are involved in dialog, debate, writing, and problem solving, as well as higher-order thinking, e.g., analysis, synthesis, evaluation" (Bonwell & Eison, 1991). Learning is not a spectator sport. Students need to do more than sit in class listening to a lecture, scrolling through a PowerPoint slideshow, and reading the textbook. They must be given the opportunity to talk about what they are learning, write about it, relate it to past experiences, and apply it to their daily lives. Making the material part of themselves is the best way to learn.

According to research by Prince (2004), twenty minutes of listening to a lecture is the maximum amount of time that students can process information effectively. 

Some tips to Encourage Active Learning:
  • Provide real-life scenarios to help students apply theoretical concepts
  • Provide application activities that go beyond the topics and activities provided in the textbook
  • Ask questions frequently that require participation through discussion groups, polling (Moodle Choice or Feedback tools), learning partners, or games
  • Encourage students to suggest additional resources that relate to the topic such as YouTube videos and articles
  • After providing test results, ask students what they will do differently to prepare next time
  • Provide a variety of options for the completion of tasks and major assignments  
For some excellent examples of how others are engaging their students in active learning visit these articles:
Educators are more important than ever as experts in our chosen areas, the leaders and the role models for our students. It is up to us to engage our students with relevant and current methods, set the standards high, and develop life-long learners (Online Learning Insights).

Next in the series: Encouraging Contact Between Students and Faculty


Bonwell, C., &  Eison, J. (1991) Active Learning: Creating Excitement in the Classroom, ASHE-ERIC Higher Education Report No. 1

Chickering, A. W. & Gamson, Z. F. (1987). Seven principles for good practice in undergraduate education. Washington Center News.

Online Learning Insights. (2012). How-to remain relevant in higher ed with 'active learning'.

Prince, M. (2004). Does active learning work? A review of the research. J. Engr. Education. 93(3), 223-231.

University of South Carolina, Center for Teaching Excellence. Seven Principles of Good Practice in Undergraduate Education.

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