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Active Learning
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Active Learning

Sam Comins explores the theory & practice of active learning in the classroom.








What is active learning?

“Active learning is generally defined as any instructional method that engages students in the learning process. In short, active learning requires students to do meaningful learning activities and think about what they are doing” (Prince, 2004).


Impacts of active learning.

Several studies have been performed to analyse the impacts on attainment of traditional teaching methods versus active learning strategies. One study performed by Khan, Majoka, Khurshid, and Shah (2017) into the impact of active learning methods on students’ academic achievement concludes that in all areas; knowledge, understanding, application, problem solving, observation and reasoning, students’ achievement is significantly higher when taught using active learning techniques. Research by Freeman, Eddy, McDonough, Smith, Okoroafor, Jordt and Wenderoth (2014) also had similar findings for undergraduate STEM courses. Student performance increased with active learning compared to lecture style delivery. Their findings also suggest that failure rates were reduced when active learning strategies were applied.

Links to these papers can be found here:


Examples of active learning strategies.

Active learning can easily be incorporated into schemes of learning, with small adjustments to existing resources, making it an effective strategy to boost engagement and attainment without the need to invest in hours of additional planning time.

Some of my favourite activities include:

1.      Students as teachers (with a twist). In small groups, students select a topic and method of delivery (chosen at random), ranging from designing a poster, to singing, to dancing. Providing students with the opportunities to stretch themselves out of their comfort zones often results in better engagement and learning. A group of boys were given the task of teaching the class animal adaptations with dance as their method of delivery. Another group had lines of defence, rap style. Both groups commented that their knowledge of these topics was easier to retrieve in assessments due to picturing themselves in the learning environment in which the content was delivered.

2.      Sporting events. Set mini white boards up as football pitches. In teams, students answer questions/complete tasks. For every question or task completed, their team advances one place towards their goal. Team with the most goals wins! With the World Cup coming up, this might be a way to increase the engagement of football fans!

3.      True or false? Set one wall in your classroom as ‘true’ and the opposite wall as ‘false’. Ask questions and students then move to the correct side of the classroom. Good for mini plenaries throughout lessons.


Additional examples can be found on the following websites:



1.      Khan, K., Majoka, M.I., Khurshid, K., & Shah, S.M.H. (2017). Impact of Active Learning Method on Students Academic Achievement in Physics at Secondary School Level in Pakistan. Journal of Education & Social Sciences Vol. 5(2), 134-151.

2.      Freeman, S., Eddy, S.L., McDonough, M., Smith, M.K., Okoroafor, N., Jordt, H., & Wenderoth, M.P. (2014). Active learning increases student performance in science, engineering, and mathematics. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 111(23), 8410-8415.

3.      Prince, M. (2004). Does Active Learning Work? A Review of the Research. Journal of engineering education, 93(3), 223-231.



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