Active learning is generally defined as any instructional method that engages students in the learning process. In short, active learning requires students to do meaningful learning activities and think about what they are doing. While this definition could include traditional activities such as homework, in practice, active learning refers to activities that are introduced into the classroom. The core elements of active learning are student activity and engagement in the learning process. Active learning is often contrasted to the traditional lecture where students passively receive information from the instructor.

There are two easy ways to promote active learning through the discussion. The first method is the mini lecture format in which the instructor talks ten to twenty minutes about a particular topic and then pauses for students to consolidate their notes, find gaps, and work with classmates to fill in gaps. The second technique is an active listening lecture where students just listen to a lecture without writing notes and then, after ten to twenty minutes, the student works with a classmate or small group to recall, clarify, and elaborate on the lecture's content.

Other active learning strategies can include:

  • Class discussions: A class discussion may be held in person or in an online environment. It is best that these discussions be centered on an open-ended topic (e.g. one that has no right or wrong answer). 
  • Small groups: A small group discussion is a similar activity between individuals, groups, or teams of individuals. 
  • Think-pair-share: A think-pair-share activity is when learners take a minute to ponder the previous lesson, later to discuss it with one or more of their peers, finally to share it with the class as part of a formal discussion. 
  • Short written assignments: A short written exercise can be done at the end of class to look for clarity where students are asked to summarize the day's discussion in a short paper to be turned in before the end of class. This is a good way to review materials. 
  • Peer review: A peer review where students review and comment on materials written by their classmates.
  • Role playing: A role play where students look at the topic from the perspective of a character, who will affect and be affected by a chosen topic.
  • Problem solving using real data: students use a variety of data to explore scientific questions.
  • Just in time teaching: students read assigned material outside of class, respond to short questions online, then participate in collaborative exercises the following class period.
  • Game-based learning: uses competitive exercises, either pitting the students against each other or through computer simulations.

Further Reading & Resources:

 10 Key Points about Active Learning from Inside Higher Ed

 Active learning increases student performance in science, engineering, and mathematics (PNAS 2014) 

 Active learning narrows achievement gaps for underrepresented students in undergraduate science, technology, engineering, and math (PNAS 2020)