Active learning strategies & approaches

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Active learning refers to activities in which students are applying and acquiring skills, dispositions, and knowledge through building, designing, process-solving, creating, reflecting, collaborating, and/or immersing themselves in a real-world or simulated real-world situation. Active learning is about the “how” of learning (process) as much as the “what” (content), and stands in contrast to passive learning, in which students are simply consuming content (e.g., reading an article, listening to a lecture, taking notes). Active learning can promote higher-order thinking skills, real-world problem-solving, creativity, metacognition, and systems-thinking, among other skills. It often asks students to apply their learning to multidisciplinary, unscripted problems and projects, and exposes them to the complexity and volatility that exists in our world.

There are many approaches you can take to create active learning assignments and environments. Below, we offer resources for you to explore some of these approaches.

Digital Storytelling

Storytelling facilitates connections between people and ideas, and links the past, present, and future. Storytelling also can advance understanding of complex ideas, facilitate language learning, and promote diversity, equity, and inclusion in the classroom.

Experiential Learning

Leadership, creative thought, and intellectual risk taking: these are skills many students are eager to develop. There are a multitude of experiential learning opportunities on and off the Middlebury campuses that immerse students in real-world situations, ideation, and problem-solving. Through career exploration, classes, funding competitions, symposiums, service learning, and volunteer opportunities, as well as workspaces for ideation and collaboration, experiential learning opportunities help students try new things and move their creative ideas forward.

Project-based Learning

Project-Based Learning (PBL) fosters deeper knowledge and skills by engaging students in meaningful projects that address a real-world problem or answer a complex question. PBL also encourages students to drive more of their own learning process through authentic, sustained, collaborative, and student-generated projects, empowering students to master course content while also strengthening essential life skills – communication, collaboration, critique, critical thinking, creativity, and project-management.

Game-based Learning

We think of games as being fun and playful, and using games (or gamified elements) in the classroom has been shown to be linked to increased engagement and motivation to learn. Students can use games to learn or review knowledge and skills, and immersive games can provide a context for applying skills and knowledge (see for example, Virtual escape room helps nursing students learn clinical skills).