In active learning, the teacher provides activities that promote analysis, synthesis, and evaluation of the course content. When students are actively engaged, they think deeper about the course content, and they enjoy their learning. Their higher order thinking is advanced is they are actively participating in and reflecting on the learning activities.
There are several other learning styles which are associated with active learning - for example, 'cooperative learning', and 'problem-based learning'.
There are a range of activities which can promote active learning: case studies, simulations, discussion, problem solving, group work, project work, interactive online activities, peer teaching, and so on. When setting learning activities, the key principles to keep in mind are:
1. Set tasks which have purpose and relevance to the students.
2. Encourage students to reflect on the meaning of what they have learnt.
3. Allow students to negotiate goals and methods of learning with the teacher.
4. Encourage students to critically evaluate different ways and means of learning the content.
5. Set learning tasks with the same level of complexity as in professional contexts and real life.
6. Keep tasks situation-driven: that is, consider the need of the situation.
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.