Active and Interactive Learning

Although there is considerable value to be found in traditional lecture formats, what added value might be obtained from large lecture environments where significant interaction is seriously lacking and only a handful of students attempt spontaneous interaction [1]?  How might lectures be improved for both the tutor and learner if planned activities and interaction is introduced?


http://pegasus.cc.ucf.edu/~tbayston/eme6313/learning_pyramid.jpg

What is active learning? 

Active learning has been described as a process whereby students engage in higher order thinking tasks such as analysis, synthesis and evaluation [2].

So why make teaching active and interactive?  

The simple answer to this question is to improve learning outcomes.  Active engagement and interaction are two important aspects in promoting deep approaches to learning and are essential to achieving quality learning outcomes [3, 4].  If you consider the traditional lecture, one of the drawbacks is the lack of active participation on the part of students.  Ordinary active and interactive learning methods such as re-reading until a concept is understood or asking peers what something means are inadvertently discouraged by the traditional lecture.  The resulting passivity is not only an obstacle to deep learning but it also makes it difficult for lecturers to gauge the degree of understanding that is taking place.  Therefore it is argued that to maximise the student learning experience and improve the learning outcomes, a degree of activity or interactivity should be incorporated into teaching where possible. 

The pedagogic theories underlying active learning and its benefits have been well documented.  As mentioned students must do more than just listen.  Research has shown that greater learning is achieved;

  • when students are exposed to active learning methods [5]

  • where knowledge is obtained by sharing, problem solving and creating due to higher levels of active student engagement [6]

  • when students must utilise higher order thinking tasks such as analysis, synthesis and evaluation [7]. 

Various active learning methods allow students to learn by discovery, processing and application of information rather than passively listening [8].  Active learning has been defined as, the amount of time learners spend thinking, checking their understanding repeatedly, then improving it in the light of feedback from their last attempt (iteration) and genuine teacher learner interaction as both parties actions depend on what the other did last (contingent teaching) [9].  Draper (2005) [9] also lists three distinct classes of pedagogic benefit which may be obtained by interactive techniques. 

These include:

  • They benefit the learner directly by eliciting and/or (re)processing content, which deepens understanding and lengthens retention; and by getting feedback that shows them what they do and do not understand to guide study later.

  • They benefit the teacher as it allows feedback that can improve learning.

  • The defining difference is that the teacher doesn't just get information from the learners' actions, but changes her own actions because of it; and then learners change theirs and so on.

Activity and interactivity can assisted by technology or be technology free and it be can be introduced in most teaching and learning scenarios from the lecture theatre to the field and even alone away from campus.  If appropriately designed to match the required learning outcomes it can enhance learning experiences for both the student and the tutor.

 

References

[1]  Jackson, R. (2007).  The Promises and Challenges of Integrating Interactive Technologies into University Pedagogy, Campus Technology.  Available from http://download.101com.com/CAM/conf/2007/T07.pdf 

[2]  Centre for Research on Learning and Teaching, University of Michigan; Available from http://www.crlt.umich.edu/tstrategies/tsal.html  

[3]  Freeman, M. and Blayney, M. (2005).  Promoting interactive in-class learning environments: A comparison of an electronic response system with a traditional alternative.  Proceedings Of The 11th Australasian Teaching Economics Conference; pp 23-33. 

[4]  Ramsden, P. (2003).  Learning to teach in higher education. 2nd ed. London:Routledge

[6]  McKinney, K. Active Learning.  Available from Illinois State University;  Available from http://www.cat.ilstu.edu/additional/tips/newActive.php 

[7]  Durham University; Available from http://www.dur.ac.uk/alic/  

[8]  Chickering, A.W. and Gamson, Z.F. 1987.  Seven Principles for Good Practice.  AAHE Bulletin, 39; 3-7

[9]  Illinois State University; Available from http://www.cat.ilstu.edu   

[10]  Draper, S. (2005).  Interactive Lectures. Available from University of Glasgow; Available from http://www.psy.gla.ac.uk/~steve/ilig/il.html