Active Learning

“Active learning [means] that to truly learn, we need to make an idea, a concept, or a solution our own by working it into our personal knowledge and experience” (Barkley, 2010, p. 16). The author describes active learning not as related to physical teaching activities, but as the mind being actively engaged. Students must be self-motivated and engaged participants in their learning, with constant assessment and reflection on the results of their learning (Barkley, 2010).
As a college instructor, I might assume that each of my learners has the motivation to be active learners. However, in my experience, this is not always the case, and I find that the presence of active learning is not always obvious. Students may appear to be active participants in learning activities, however, lively group discussions and animated presentations are not necessarily proof of active learning. And occasionally, those students who appear to be not present at all may be in fact, actively learning, with quiet concentration and focused analysis or strategizing. I feel that through continued teaching experience, I will be better able to recognize true active learning as I observe my students. I also hope to find ways in which I can promote learners active examination, questioning and reflection on both existing and new knowledge and experience.

The concept of active learning in the role of instructor causes me to reflect on the ways in which I can promote active learning in my classroom. The instructor should not be standing at the front of the classroom delivering information. Rather, we must set-up conditions where the students are creating their own learning – making information or a concept their own “by connecting it to their existing knowledge and experience” (Barkley, 2010, p. 17). Instructors must allow time for students to reflect on what is new material, and what is already known. Once the instructor has provided the opportunity to explore previous knowledge, the instructor can focus on presenting new material in a way that is relevant for the learners. Depending on the topic and the readiness of the students, many activities are suited to active learning: case study analysis, small debate groups, etc. And lastly, to emphasize active learning and collaboration with peers, the instructor may choose to alter grading criteria to place greater importance on comprehension and critical thinking, rather than just memorization.
Reflecting on active learning from the instructor point of view presents a unique challenge, whereby the instructor must step-back into a facilitator/guide role. The focus of instruction becomes more than the delivery of specific course content, rather, instructors provide learners a sense of empowerment to take new material and meld it with their existing knowledge and experience to make it their own.

Barkley, E.F. (2010). Student engagement techniques: A handbook for college faculty. San Francisco: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.


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