Active Learning

Active learning is a learner-centered teaching approach involving the use of "instructional activities involving students in doing things and thinking about what they are doing" (Bonwell & Eison, 1991). 

Learner-centered approaches are a departure from traditional teaching and learning approaches, which relied more heavily on teacher-centered instructional activities related to more passive student learning.

Characteristics of Active Learning (Bonwell & Eison, 1991)

  • Students involved in more than listening
  • De-emphasis on transmitting information
  • Emphasis on developing skills
  • Student involvement in higher-order thinking
  • Engagement in activities
  • Emphasizing student self-awareness

Active versus Passive Learning

Active learning is about student "engagement with the material being learned" (Stark, et. al. 1988).  Students engaged in active learning are doing the work.  They are searching, processing, applying, analyzing, justifying, evaluating, generating, and creating.  They are involved in making sense.  This is in contrast to passive learning where students are receiving information from another source, which has essentially done most of the work for them; students intake information through listening, reading, and observing. 

Passive learning usually occurs within teacher-centered instructional approaches; active learning more readily occurs when learner-centered teaching approaches are used.  

Teaching is a complex and dynamic human endeavor, and  students depend on the teacher's capacity to identify and implement effective strategies. The decision to use active or passive learning strategies depends on many factors, including:  (a) learning objectives, (b) subject matter, and  (c) needs of learners.

The teacher must construct an understanding of the situation..." (Schon, 1983) and reframe as needed within the complex and dynamic learning environment. 

MSU Faculty Active Learning Scholarship of Teaching & Learning