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Active Learning 

Students engaging in the learning process because they are actively doing something – analyzing, brainstorming, discussing, problem solving, reading, etc.

Why active learning?

  • Students employ the "learning by doing" approach while the instructor is present to offer guidance and answer questions.
  • Retention from doing-type activities, including practice and application, can be higher than retention from more traditional teaching methods.
  • Active learning can be used to engage students in:
    • Application of concepts or skills
    • Critical thinking
    • Reflection


Active Learning Examples from UW-Eau Claire Instructors

Ideas for active learning in higher education

Books available from CETL

  • Active Learning: 101 Strategies to Teach Any Subject by Mel Silberman
  • Classroom Assessment Techniques by Angelo and Cross
  • Collaborative Learning Techniques by Barkley, Cross, and Major
  • Engaging Ideas by John Bean
  • Learner Centered Teaching: Putting the Research on Learning into Practice by Terry Doyle
  • McKeachie's Teaching Tips by Svinicki and McKeachie
  • Student Engagement Techniques by Elizabeth Barkley
  • Tools for Teaching by Barbara Gross Davis


  • While some active learning activities are spontaneous, many require that the instructor design and/or prepare the activity prior to the class period.
  • Motivation for active learning often needs to be shared with the students as many are used to a more passive classroom environment.
  • Instructors may struggle with giving up some control over what is happening in the classroom.
  • Active learning activities can take up a significant portion of a class period.

Suggestions for getting started

  • Begin small and integrate active learning activities gradually.
  • Incorporate active learning into something that already happens in the classroom.  What changes could be made so that students are actively contributing to that process?
  • Look around for existing activities from your discipline; many instructors share examples online and in journals focused on student engagement.