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How students learn

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Active learning

Active learning is the process in which students engage in activities such as reading, writing, discussion, or problem solving that promote analysis, synthesis, and evaluation of class content. Cooperative learning, problem-based learning, and the use of case methods and simulations are some approaches that promote active learning. 

Active learning pyramid [Source:]

When students are actively engaged, they think deeper about the course content, and enjoy their learning. This can be through a range of activities: group work, project work, interactive online activities, peer teaching, and so on. Students must be actively participating in and reflecting on the activities to enhance their higher order thinking capabilities. 

The key principles of active learning are:

1. The task has purpose and relevance to the students.
2. The students are able to reflect on the meaning of what they have learnt.
3. The students can negotiate goals and methods of learning with the teacher.
4. The students can critically evaluate different ways and means of learning the content.
5. The complexity of the learning tasks is comparable to professional contexts and real life.
6. The tasks are situation-driven: that is, the need of the situation is taken into consideration in order to establish the learning tasks.

Adapted from Barnes, D 1989, Active Learning, Leeds University TVEI Support Project. 

Putting it into practice: Applications in Health Sciences

1. Health educators can use questioning strategies to develop critical thinking, decision making, and problem solving in students. Word your questions so that they challenge the students to use a higher level of cognitive development (analysing, evaluating and creating). For example, asking a student to define a type of x-ray would test their ability to remember, but asking a student to assess a request to perform that x-ray on a patient with particular symptoms would test ability to evaluate, and prompts the student to think more deeply about the material. 

2. Self-evaluation is a type of self-directed learning which   allows students to assess their own performance. As a result, they become more independent, and are able to identify knowledge and understanding weaknesses.  The aim of the self-evaluation activity is to assist students to identify strengths and weaknesses in their learning, to set their own performance goals, and to increase their satisfaction with their learning - all key elements of the clinical and professional work environments. However, be aware that students can tend to be overly critical of their own performance 

Adapted from

Interesting resources

Active learning processes used in US Pharmacy Education

Wilson, L & Rockstraw, L 2012, Human simulation for nursing and health professions, Springer Pub Co, New York, NY.