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Active learning involves strategies/instructional activities that engage students in higher-order thinking tasks such as analysis, synthesis and evaluation. This issue of CDTL Brief on Active Learning discusses some strategies and offers some tips on how to incorporate active learning in the classroom.

January 2005, Vol. 8, No. 1 Print Ready ArticlePrint-Ready
Taking Charge of Learning
Ms Ma. Socorro C. Bacay
Senior Instructor, School of Management and Information Technology
College Registrar, DLSU—College of St. Benilde, Philippines
It is not uncommon to see the following scenarios where the teacher espouses the active learning approach:

In the classroom

  • Students actively responding to the teacher’s lectures, questions as well as challenging some of the ideas presented.

  • Students discussing the topic assigned by the teacher in small groups.

  • Students writing a reflection paper on what they have learned at the end of the lesson.

  • Students engaging in debates, passionately defending their positions.

  • Students performing a number of different tasks in groups: one group draws a concept map of the lesson, another group presents a case analysis while the rest of the class critique.

  • Students engaging in problem-solving scenarios where applicable (e.g. in a culinary arts class where cooking and food preparation is best taught through demonstrations and hands-on approaches as opposed to pure lectures).

  • Students conferring with each other, finalising their notes, reflecting about the lesson and raising whatever questions or issues they want clarified during the breaks in lectures.

Outside the classroom:

  • Students busy preparing for their lessons (advance reading, conducting library and/or field research for a course project).

  • Students preparing their portfolios (a collection of students’ materials showcasing an accumulation of their learning).

  • Students participating in college-wide activities (community service and on-the-job training or practicum).

  • Students actively seeking representation in a participative decision-making process in the institution.

What is active learning?

Active learning is an educational approach that allows students to participate actively, both in the determination of the course content and in the process of learning. Guided by the course syllabus, students collaborate with the teacher in determining specific topics to be undertaken in order to achieve the learning objectives. Process-wise, students give suggestions on possible teaching methodologies. They also help determine how the achievement of certain course objectives will be measured (e.g. the basis of their grades at the end of the term).

From the learning activities described above, students are actively learning by participating in the activities of the coursework, college or university, as well as the greater community. This is a shift from the traditional view that learning is totally in the hands of the teacher. Teachers now realise that students are not merely receptacles that will sit passively, imbibing whatever the teacher lectures. It is now recognised that students learn better when they realise and understand the importance and significance of what they are learning. Students are better motivated if their learning is applicable in the ‘here and now’ and relevant to their future roles in the society. Further, students learn better when they are consulted on matters that affect them directly, such as how their learning is assessed, what project papers are required, the teacher’s expectations on class participation and the like. The literature on active learning further shows that students’ active participation in their learning improves their retention of course materials. As students participate in class discussions, reflect on what they are learning, and help determine course coverage as well as the manner of their assessment, the teacher is in effect encouraging and requiring students to engage in higher order thinking, such as synthesis, analysis and evaluation.

What is expected of students?

The active learning approach therefore presupposes that students are willing and able partners in their education. It means that students are expected to be responsible students who take charge of their learning, manage their own learning, and be willing to invest their time and efforts in the attainment of learning goals. Being responsible learners means that students will take an effort to find out the required information, guided by their learning styles.

Effective learning requires learners’ active participation in the learning process. Education is not a one-way process where teachers deliver and students receive. Responsible students uplift the academic standards of the college.

What is expected of teachers?

There is a maxim that a good teacher makes himself/herself increasingly unnecessary. As the teacher becomes a facilitator of learning, he/she increasingly takes the back seat as students become progressively more responsible for their learning. However, this does not mean that the teacher become less of a leader or authority. On the contrary, for active learning to be effective, any teacher would intuitively have the inkling that much more is expected of him/her. Hence, resistance among the faculty may be expected.

There are a number of reasons why teachers may resist the active learning approach:

  • Students may not participate. Teacher might need to spend precious time motivating students to participate.

  • Teaching methodologies associated with active learning necessarily entail extra preparations.

  • Lack of facilities and other support mechanisms.

  • Lack of training on how to impart knowledge other than through pure lecture.

It is advised that active learning be introduced gradually to minimise perceived risk-taking and reduce anxiety for both teacher and students. Concerted effort among all teachers at all levels is necessary. As the classroom is a microcosm of college life, active learning must be supported college-wide. Learning should be an accumulation of experiences across all course curricula towards the acquisition of a college degree; active learning should be a concerted effort not only among teachers but of the administrators as well.

What is expected of administrators?

Continuous quality improvement—a quality philosophy that considers students as clients, and where the college solicits internal and external feedback as inputs to be considered for continuous improvement efforts—stresses active learning as an imperative for the improvement and maintenance of academic quality.

College is a preparation for citizenship. College education provides students with learning experiences that will prepare them to be productive and socially responsible members of society. By providing opportunities for personal and professional growth, college life equips students with knowledge, attitudes and skills necessary to face the real world. Inasmuch as we do not welcome passive citizens who do not seem to care less for either community or country, we likewise do not appreciate students who are passive learners who cannot be bothered about the academe. Since we propound participative decision-making at work, we should likewise advocate active student participation in the college programmes.

Administrators therefore play a vital role in the promotion, continuance and reinforcement of active learning. College newsletters can widely disseminate information related to efforts towards active learning and its relevance to academic standards. Faculty training should equip teachers with different teaching methodologies that foster active learning. Campus facilities should adequately provide, support and boost efforts towards the same.


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Inside this issue
Teaching Engineering Fundamentals by Using a Hands-on/Historical Approach
Active Learning: Scenario Thinking in an Uncertain World
Taking Charge of Learning
Sample Interactive Lesson to Promote Comprehension Skills
Active Learning: Engagement for Meaningful Learning