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Active Learning

Calvin & Hobbs

Active Learning at its best!!!

Once upon a time … I worked at a school where I had been a integral part of creating and promoting the following school vision:

A community where ACTIVE LEARNERS seek excellence, value diversity and find their own voice to become leaders for a more peaceful world.

I did so out of a strong foundational belief in the power and benefits of learning according to this methodology. Deemed as the local ‘father of reflection’, I strove to model and inculcate this vital practice for students and colleagues in developing meta-cognition and appreciation – strong bonds for building ownership for intrinsically motivated life-time learning.

I believe that in developing active learners a school needs to be dedicated to actively involving students in their own learning as they read, write, discuss, investigate, perform and problem-solve. As such, students engage in higher-order thinking tasks such as reflection, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation in their learning and performances. Current brain learning research supports the use of active learning methodologies to stretch learning in making it relevant to the students as they make personal meaning connections. As important, is the attention to creating an environment where a community of learners are supported in making use of their multiple intelligences and motivated to achieve, while attending to positive social relationships with peers and adults. Extension opportunities for developing active learners may be found in personal leadership development and participation in service learning. The over-arching goal with the use of active learning is to make learning fun and engaging (with roots in organic ‘play’).

What is Active Learning?

Active learning, at times synonymous with experiential learning, is inductive, learner centered, and activity oriented. Personalized reflection about an experience and the formulation of plans to apply learning to other contexts are critical factors in effective active learning. The emphasis in active/experiential learning is on the process of student ownership in learning.

Active/experiential learning can be viewed as a cycle consisting of the following phases, all of which are necessary:

  1. The learner is actively engaged in the experience;
  2. The learner is able to reflect on the experience;
  3. The learner uses analytical skills to conceptualize the experience; and ultimately
  4. The learner must utilize decision making and problem solving skills in order to use and apply the new ideas gained from the experience.


Examples of Active Learning Activities

*Technology may be used in many forms to engage students actively in their learning.

  • Field Trips
  • Fine Arts
  • Narratives
  • Conducting Experiments
  • Simulations
  • Games
  • Adventure Activities
  • Storytelling
  • Focused Imaging
  • Field Observations
  • Role-playing
  • Model Building
  • Surveys

Quotes related to Active Learning

“Knowledge cannot be passed like material substance from one mind to another; for thoughts are not objects which may be held and handled….Ideas must be re-experienced.”

John Milton Gregory

“I would submit that we need to find a balance that provides students with all of the necessary tools to succeed and contribute in today’s fast paced and ever changing society.”

Tom Jackson

“The only learning that really sticks is that which is self discovered”

Carl Rodgers

“For most students academic learning is too abstract. They need to see, touch and smell what they read and write about”

John I Goodlad

“I hear and … I forget
I see and … I remember
I do and … I understand”

Chinese Proverb

“An important fact about the process approach is that the skills that are taught are transferable to other tasks. Process skills are not isolated bits of knowledge, but broad skills that can be used for a lifetime”

Substance Abuse Prevention Activities for Secondary Students” Patricia & Timothy Greene

“Conversation is the laboratory and workshop of the student” 

Ralph Waldo Emerson

“If teaching were only telling, my children would be incredibly brilliant; I’ve told them everything they need to know”

Howard G. Hendricks

Student Engagement - Student Learning

Recommended Resources

Active Learning: Theories & Research    (article)

How Brain Research Relates to Rigor, Relevance, and Relationships (article)

Brain-based Learning Design Principles (website)

Practical Classroom Applications of Current Brain Research  (website)

Marc Prensky – Digital Natives (video) *Make sure to hear his last statement …!

Stuart Brown: Play is more than just fun  (Ted Talk video)

PRENSKY-TDN-FINAL_COVER  Play  Active Learning2  Teaching for Experiential Learning  Using Experiential Education in the Classroom  Inspiring Active Learning  Brain based learning in the digital age   Spark

Inquiry-based Learning (website)

Project-based Learning (website)

Problem-based Learning Teaching & Learning Template (website)

Active Reviewing (website)

Guiding Questions: What is the relationship of student engagement to student learning?  If Active Learning was embraced in our schools, what would it mean in terms of curricula, instruction, facilities, scheduling, etc.?


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