Those are fine places to start, but as interest in active learning has grown—and with its value now firmly established empirically—what gets labeled as active learning continues to expand. Carr, Palmer, and Hagel recently wrote, “Active learning is a very broad concept that covers or is associated with a wide variety of learning strategies.” (p. 173) They list some strategies now considered to be active learning. I’ve added a few more: experiential learning; learning by doing (hands-on learning); applied learning; service learning; peer teaching (in various contexts); lab work; role plays; case-based learning; group work of various kinds; technology-based strategies such as simulations, games, clickers, and various smart phone applications; and classroom interaction, with participation and discussion probably being the most widely used of all active learning approaches. Beyond strategies are theories such as constructivism that have spun off collections of student-centered approaches that promote student autonomy, self-direction, and self-regulation of learning.
What qualifies as active learning remains largely unchallenged. An example of why that’s an issue has become clear in the lecture vs. active learning debate. By comparison, lecture is a much more discrete, observable thing. If we stand active learning up against it, then we’ve got a crate of fruit—oranges, bananas, pears, peaches, and grapes—laid out opposite an apple. That makes comparisons and contrasts difficult.
Beyond figuring out how and where the strategies and approaches belong in the active learning domain, is the mostly absent critical analysis of which ones are best. Let’s not imagine a definitively right answer here, but more a sorting of the options with some guidelines that might allow us to determine what strategies fit well with what kinds of content, and what approaches promote learning most effectively for which students.
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