Active Learning

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What is Active Learning?

  • "Active learning isn't a new idea. It goes back at least as far as Socrates and was a major emphasis among progressive educators like John Dewey. And yet, if you peer into many classrooms, we seem to have forgotten that learning is naturally an active process. It involves putting our students in situations which compel them to read, speak, listen, think deeply, and write. While well delivered lectures are valuable and are not uncommon, sometimes the thinking required while attending a lecture is low level comprehension that goes from the ear to the writing hand and leaves the mind untouched. Active learning puts the responsibility of organizing what is to be learned in the hands of the learners themselves, and ideally lends itself to a more diverse range of learning styles." Active Learning on the Web
  • "Active Learning is, in short, anything that students do in a classroom other than merely passively listening to an instructor's lecture. This includes everything from listening practices which help the students to absorb what they hear, to short writing exercises in which students react to lecture material, to complex group exercises in which students apply course material to "real life" situations and/or to new problems". Paulson & Faust, California State University, Los Angeles

Ten Benefits of Active Learning

Svinicki, M. 2001. College Teaching Methodology.

  1. Students are more likely to access their own prior knowledge, which is a key to learning.
  2. Students are more likely to find personally meaningful problem solutions or interpretations.
  3. Students receive more frequent and more immediate feedback.
  4. The need to produce forces learners to retrieve information from memory rather than simply recognizing a correct statement.
  5. Students increase their self-confidence and self-reliance.
  6. For most learners, it is more motivating to be active than passive.
  7. A task that you have done yourself or as part of a group is more highly valued.
  8. Student conceptions of knowledge change, which in turn has implications for cognitive development.
  9. Students who work together on active learning tasks learn to work with other people of different backgrounds and attitudes.
  10. Students learn strategies for learning itself by observing others.

Ten Tasks for Faculty who Use Active Learning

Svinicki, M. 2001. College Teaching Methodology.

  1. Identify the real objectives of learning (e.g. students should know why or how, not just what).
  2. Understand the process that students are learning (e.g. the solving, not just the solution).
  3. Be patient and react to what is said, not who said it.
  4. Think on your feet so you can turn any outcome into a learning opportunity.
  5. Be willing to entertain alternative solution paths or explanations in case the students go in a different but reasonable direction.
  6. Act as a facilitator of learning rather than a deliverer of content.
  7. Have a deep understanding of the content and how a student might go about learning it.
  8. Accept less breadth in the interest of greater depth of understanding.
  9. Alter the testing procedures to reflect what was done in the active learning format.
  10. Be able to accept when it doesn’t work the first time and keep on trying.

Practical Guides

Go Further


Link to Complete Bibliography
For a complete bibliography, please visit the CTLT's shared folder on Refworks.

Having problems? Visit the RefWorks information guide.

Link to Complete Bibliography
For a complete bibliography, please visit the CTLT's shared folder on Refworks.

Having problems? Visit the RefWorks information guide.


  • Barkley, E. F. (2010). Student engagement techniques: A handbook for college faculty. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. Ubc-elink.png
  • Bellanca, J. A. (1997). Active learning handbook: For the multiple intelligences classroom. Arlington Heights, IL: IRI/Skylight Training and Pub. Ubc-elink.png
  • Bonwell, C. C. (1992-1993). Risky business: Making active learning a reality. Teaching Excellence: Toward the Best in the Academy, 4(3). Permalink.svg Permalink
  • Cameron, J. B. (1999). Active learning (green guide no. 2). Halifax, Canada: STLHE.Ubc-elink.png
  • Davis, B. (1993). Supplements and alternatives to lecturing: Encouraging student participation. In Tools for teaching. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. Ubc-elink.png
  • Harmin, M., & Toth, M. (2006). Inspiring active learning: A complete handbook for today's teachers (Expanded 2nd edition ed.). Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.Ubc-elink.png
  • Hiler, W., Paul, R., & Foundation for Critical Thinking. (2006). The miniature guide to practical ways for promoting active and cooperative learning. Dillon Beach, CA: Foundation for Critical Thinking. Ubc-elink.png
  • Institute for Learning and Teaching in Higher Education (Great Britain), & SAGE Publications. (2000). Active learning in higher education. Ubc-elink.png
  • Johnson, D. W., Johnson, R. T., & Smith, K. A. (1998). Active learning: Cooperation in the college classroom. Edina, MN: Interaction Book Company.Ubc-elink.png
  • Michael, J. A., & Modell, H. I. (2003). Active learning in secondary and college science classrooms: A working model for helping the learner to learn. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. Ubc-elink.png
  • Neal, E. (1995-1996). Active learning beyond the classroom. Teaching Excellence: Toward the Best in the Academy, 7(1). Permalink.svg Permalink
  • Silberman, M. L. (1996). Active learning: 101 strategies to teach any subject. Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon. Ubc-elink.png
  • Tileston, D. W. (2007). Teaching strategies for active learning: Five essentials for your teaching plan. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press. Ubc-elink.png

Empirical Studies

  • Buckley, G. L., Bain, N. R., Luginbuhl, A. M., & Dyer, M. L. (2004). Adding an "active learning" component to a large lecture course. Journal of Geography, 103(6), 231-237.Ubc-elink.png
  • Cherney, I. D. (2008). The effects of active learning on students' memories for course content. Active Learning in Higher Education, 9(2), 152-171.Ubc-elink.png
  • Curtis, S. (2013). In the eye of the storm: A participatory course on coastal storms. Journal of Geography, 112(4), 133-142.Ubc-elink.png
  • Hankins, K. B., & Yarbrough, R. A. (2008). Positionality and active learning: Confronting privilege in field-exercise design. Journal of Geography, 107(4-5), 186-193.Ubc-elink.png
  • Kim, K., Sharma, P., Land, S. M., & Furlong, K. P. (2013). Effects of active learning on enhancing student critical thinking in an undergraduate general science course. Innovative Higher Education, 38(3), 223-235.Ubc-elink.png
  • Kindon, S., & Elwood, S. (2009). Introduction: More than methods--reflections on participatory action research in geographic teaching, learning and research. Journal of Geography in Higher Education, 33(1), 19-32.Ubc-elink.png
  • Oberle, A. P. (2004). Understanding public land management through role-playing. Journal of Geography, 103(5), 199-210.Ubc-elink.png
  • Oliver-Hoyo, M., Allen, D., Hunt, W. F., Hutson, J., & Pitts, A. (2004). Effects of an active learning environment: Teaching innovations at a research I institution. Journal of Chemical Education, 81(3), 441-448.Ubc-elink.png
  • Revell, A., & Wainwright, E. (2009). What makes lectures "unmissable"? insights into teaching excellence and active learning. Journal of Geography in Higher Education, 33(2), 209-223. Ubc-elink.png
  • Srivastava, S. K., & Tait, C. (2012). An activity-based learning approach for key geographical information systems (GIS) concepts. Journal of Geography in Higher Education, 36(4), 527-545. Ubc-elink.png


  • Beaumont, E. S., Rowe, G., & Mikhaylov, N. S. (2012). Promoting interactive learning: A classroom exercise to explore foraging strategies. Bioscience Education, 19.Permalink.svg Permalink
  • Buehl, D. (2009). Classroom strategies for interactive learning. Newark, DE: International Reading Association. Ubc-elink.png
  • Motavalli, P. P., Patton, M. D., & Miles, R. J. (2007). Use of web-based student extension publications to improve undergraduate student writing skills. Journal of Natural Resources and Life Sciences Education, 36, 95-102.Ubc-elink.png
  • Passig, D., & Schwartz, G. (2007). Collaborative writing: Online versus frontal. International Journal on E-Learning, 6(3), 395-412. Ubc-elink.png
  • Tatzl, D., Hassler, W., Messnarz, B., & Fluhr, H. (2012). The development of a project-based collaborative technical writing model founded on learner feedback in a tertiary aeronautical engineering program. Journal of Technical Writing and Communication, 42(3), 279-304.Ubc-elink.png
  • Theoret, J. M., & Luna, A. (2009). Thinking statistically in writing: Journals and discussion boards in an introductory statistics course. International Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, 21(1), 57-65.Ubc-elink.png
  • Vie, S. (2008). Tech writing, meet "tomb raider": Video and computer games in the technical communication classroom. E-Learning, 5(2), 157-166. Ubc-elink.png

Online Rerources

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