Active Learning

“Learning is not a spectator sport. Students do not learn much just sitting in classes listening to teachers, memorizing prepackaged assignments, and spitting out answers. They must talk about what they are learning, write reflectively about it, relate it to past experiences, and apply it to their daily lives. They must make what they learn part of themselves.”

Chickering & Gamson, 1987

In the book Active Learning: Creating Excitement in the Classroom, Bonwell and Eison define active learning as that which “involves students in doing things and thinking about the things they are doing.” They list the following general characteristics of strategies that utilize active learning in the classroom:

  • Students are involved in more than listening.
  • Less emphasis is placed on transmitting information and more on developing student’s skills.
  • Students are involved in higher-order thinking (analysis, synthesis, evaluation).
  • Students are engaged in activities (e.g., reading, discussing, writing).


Active Learning includes a range of teaching and learning activities. These strategies, supported by decades of classroom research, may be thought of as a continuum from low risk to high risk for both teachers and students. Such a continuum may include (but not be limited to) strategies such as some of the following:

  • involving students in well structured question and answer sessions in lecture classes
  • individual think and write exercises, such as the pause technique or one minute papers
  • pairing activities such as “think, pair, share”
  • interactive seminars
  • case studies

More complex and higher risk processes might include such activities as:

  • individual and group project based assignments;
  • student involvement in research,
  • internships,
  • practicum experiences,
  • student teaching,
  • clinical preceptor structures

Highest risk processes may include such carefully structured small group based strategies as some of these more familiar ones:

  • collaborative learning
  • cooperative learning
  • team learning
  • problem-based learning

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