Active Learning activities are highly important teaching tools that are often discarded by teachers because of the level of ‘risk’ involved in them. I would argue that the use of active teaching and learning techniques actually minimises the ‘risk’ by providing a greater variety of learning options to students: thus engaging them more and increasing their level of interest.
Active learning sessions cater for students whose learning preference fits into any, or several, of the Visual, Aural, Reading / Writing and Kinaesthetic styles. Through a range of carefully constructed questions and tasks students think critically, develop their empathy with the people involved in the ‘real’ events and, in my experience at least, form a much better understanding of how a range of complex factors can combine to cause further events. In addition to this active learning places the responsibility for learning in the hands of the student, and helps to develop their independent learning skills.
One model of active learning notes that through active learning students gain experience of doing and observing, and supplement this with dialogue with themselves and with others.
Dialogue with self is an important part of active learning. It allows the student time to reflect upon what they have learn and experienced and is a very effective method of assessing the outcomes of any active learning session.
Encouraging dialogue with others as part of active learning stimulates debate, is often more dynamic than teacher led discussion and allows students to engage in conversation with a range of people whom they may not otherwise have an opportunity to work with.
Observing is important as it allows the student the opportunity to learn from other peoples actions or demonstrations and may prompt them to look at issues in new ways. This experience is much more valuable if time for reflection is planned – and I’d have thought this is the thing that is most often left out of planning for this type of activity.
The doing is of course vital, though it an take many forms. In this seminar I would like to discuss different types of active learning, and ask people to share their own activities and thoughts on effective active learning.
L Dink of Oklahoma University suggests the following as a method of implmenting active learning in the classroom:
So, what can a teacher do who wants to use this model to incorporate more active learning into his/her teaching? I would recommend the following three suggestions, each of which involves a more advanced use of active learning.
Expand the Kinds of Learning Experiences You Create.
The most traditional teaching consists of little more than having students read a text and listen to a lecture, a very limited and limiting form of Dialogue with Others. Consider using more dynamic forms of Dialogue with Others and the other three modes of learning. For example:
Create small groups of students and have them make a decision or answer a focused question periodically,
Find ways for students to engage in authentic dialogue with people other than fellow classmates who know something about the subject (on the web, by email, or live),
Have students keep a journal or build a "learning portfolio" about their own thoughts, learning, feelings, etc.,
Find ways of helping students observe (directly or vicariously) the subject or action they are trying to learn, and/or
Find ways to allow students to actually do (directly, or vicariously with case studies, simulation or role play) that which they need to learn to do.
Take Advantage of the "Power of Interaction."
Each of the four modes of learning has its own value, and just using more of them should add variety and thereby be more interesting for the learner. However, when properly connected, the various learning activities can have an impact that is more than additive or cumulative; they can be interactive and thereby multiply the educational impact.
For example, if students write their own thoughts on a topic (Dialogue with Self) before they engage in small group discussion (Dialogue with Others), the group discussion should be richer and more engaging. If they can do both of these and then observe the phenomena or action (Observation), the observation should be richer and again more engaging. Then, if this is followed by having the students engage in the action itself (Doing), they will have a better sense of what they need to do and what they need to learn during doing. Finally if, after Doing, the learners process this experience by writing about it (Dialogue with Self) and/or discussing it with others (Dialogue with Others), this will add further insight. Such a sequence of learning activities will give the teacher and learners the advantage of the Power of Interaction.
Alternatively, advocates of Problem-Based Learning would suggest that a teacher start with "Doing" by posing a real problem for students to work on, and then having students consult with each other (Dialogue with Others) on how best to proceed in order to find a solution to the problem. The learners will likely use a variety of learning options, including Dialogue with Self and Observing.
Create a Dialectic Between Experience and Dialogue.
One refinement of the Interaction Principle described above is simply to create a dialectic between the two principle components of this Model of Active Learning: Experience and Dialogue. New experiences (whether of Doing or Observing) have the potential to give learners a new perspective on what is true (beliefs) and/or what is good (values) in the world. Dialogue (whether with Self or with Others) has the potential to help learners construct the many possible meanings of experience and the insights that come from them. A teacher who can creatively set up a dialectic of learning activities in which students move back and forth between having rich new experiences and engaging in deep, meaningful dialogue, can maximize the likelihood that the learners will experience significant and meaningful learning.