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Dr Živa Veingerl Čič: Active learning

28. july 2021
Active learning is any approach to instruction in which all students are asked to engage in the learning process. It focuses on how students learn and not only on what they learn. It stands in contrast to "traditional" modes of instruction in which students are passive recipients of knowledge.

In active learning, the teacher’s role is to move students from the memorisation phase to a more active way of learning in which students understand the material at a deeper level and actively build new knowledge based on their own experience and previous knowledge.

Through active learning, students play an important role in their own learning process, while the role of higher education teachers is to stimulate student thinking.  Students build knowledge and understanding in response to the opportunities offered by their teacher. In active learning, students are encouraged to analyse, assess and synthesise ideas (thus achieving higher-order competencies according to Bloom’s taxonomy). Qualified teachers enable these deeper levels of understanding by providing learning environments, opportunities, interactions, assignments, and instructions that facilitate in-depth learning.

In the active learning process, students are active and metacognitive, i.e. they are able to assess their own knowledge and learning. Reflection is often used, as it enables individuals to learn from experience about themselves, their work, and society and culture at large.

As active learning encourages students to take over a central role in their learning, they are better prepared for future employment. By integrating activities such as case studies, problem-based learning, simulations, etc. into teaching, we enable students to acquire skills and competencies that are essential for jobs.

The key advantages of active learning include:

  • Improving student outcomes, as active learning improves the skills of critical thinking and the transfer of new information,
  • Improving motivation and interpersonal skills, and
  • Ensuring greater success of individuals in their studies.

In order to create efficiently and effectively, teachers must follow a structured process that includes five basic elements of active learning:

1. Continuous and real-time feedback

Feedback is essential to effective learning. Learning is the most effective if accompanied by feedback provided by an expert (higher education teacher, tutor), whose feedback helps solve challenges or problems and offers potential solutions. Process feedback, which focuses on improving the learning process and what to do differently so that the student achieves the learning outcomes, is important. Feedback should be seen as a discussion or constructive dialogue rather than as one-way information from tutor/teacher to student. This allows the students to take control of their own learning by becoming an active participant in the process. Feedback can improve students’ self-confidence, self-awareness and enthusiasm about learning.

2. Microlearning

Microlearning makes knowledge transfer 17 percent more efficient. If content is divided into small chunks, more focused and easily accessible, students can absorb it at their own pace wherever they are, and, most importantly, when they are “ready”. Learning in stretches of 3–7 minutes matches the working memory capacity and attention spans of humans. Microlearning creates 50% more engagement in students. By using microlearning, students better absorb and retain the key points by retaining the information and using it for their own benefit.

3. Using different learning strategies

Active learning involves applying a variety of learning styles. Using images, simulations, and prototypes, for example, can bring ideas to life, highlight different aspects of a problem, and challenge people’s thinking about possible solutions. Storytelling is also effective, as research shows that stories help people remember information and revise their beliefs, assumptions, and theories.

4. Teamwork

Teamwork increases engagement, learning and motivation. Through teamwork, students usually develop and improve problem-solving skills, are more motivated to learn, and present high-quality solutions. At the same time, a continuous targeted interaction within the team develops more effective communication and interpersonal skills.

5. Newly defined teacher-student relationship

Higher education teachers take on the role of moderators: moderating discussions, providing feedback, timing the discussion, preparing and proposing activities, and managing the assessment of students. Dialogue and social interaction, including moderation, guidance and feedback from peers, tutors and teachers, play an important role.   The role of teachers and tutors is also to promote self-reflection and the planning of own learning process (What do I know? What do I still have to learn?).

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