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Educational Innovation: Getting Started with Active Learning

Learning at its core is gaining information that changes their current knowledge and behaviour. Active learning is when one actively participates and collaborates with peers to apply concepts to the real world. The active learning process has student learning at its center and focuses more on “how” students learn, not just on “what” they learn. It also involves activities where the learners understand and gain knowledge of applying theoretical concepts in real-world applications. 

Active learning often requires significant mental efforts leading to increased retention and understanding of new knowledge that can be transferred to novel situations other than the one in which it was initially learned. Thus, students are encouraged to “think hard” rather than passively receive their teachers’ information. 

Active learning is “a learning activity in which the student participates or interacts with the learning process instead of just passively taking in the information.” Active learning draws from constructivism learning theory as in both philosophies. The learner is constructing new bridges of knowledge. Constructivism theory emphasizes that learners should construct and build their own understanding. Here, the learners develop their existing knowledge and understanding to achieve more profound levels of understanding. 

Active learning becomes more significant because, here, the students must participate in the teaching process that goes into the classroom. This means that learners can analyze, evaluate and synthesize ideas. Active learning involves students in various tasks requiring them to think about their actions. Additionally, the use of active learning will also make the classroom observe an inclusive environment. Research proved that the extensive use of active learning strategies in the classroom significantly impacts student learning, especially for female students, directly reducing gender bias. 

As a progressive educator, it becomes important to incorporate active learning strategies in classrooms. Following are a couple of techniques that can be used to indulge students in active learning:

Student-generated test questions: 

This is a great strategy that empowers the students and fosters students voices and choices. Developing a shared understanding of the lesson’s learning goals with the students is essential. 

Complex instruction for group work:

This is the most elaborately used and well-researched strategy to implement collaborative small-group learning. The strategy is such that all its activities are carefully designed, requiring different skill sets and reliance on group members to complete them. Teachers have a significant role in paying attention to unequal participation and assigning competence to select individuals with feedback is imperative. 

Group members should also have assigned roles like a recorder, reporter, materials manager, etc. Tasks and activities that require various skill sets, like research, writing, and visual representation, are well suited to this context. A complex instruction collaborative task resonates with the true nature of the mathematics discipline, such as asking students to reason with each other and convince peers. 

Such a task also demands that students share their thinking like real-world mathematicians. Some of the challenges that need to be addressed include appropriate teacher training to execute complex instruction in the classroom. Teachers often need more time, which could be a significant hindrance until they reap the positive benefits of this practice.

Research shows us that it is impossible to transmit understanding to students by simply telling them what they need to know and learn. Instead, teachers must ensure they challenge their students’ thinking and skills. With active learning, students play an essential part in their learning process. They build knowledge and understanding in response to opportunities provided by their teacher.