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Dartmouth College Library
Dartmouth College Library Research Guides

Tools for Engaging Students: Home

This research guide focuses on creating student engagement and some of the tools that can be used along with active learning pedagogies. (Amanda Albright, JoAnn Gonzalez-Major)

Active Learning

Meyers and Jones (1993) wrote "Active learning involves providing opportunities for students to meaningfully talk and listen, write, read, and reflect on the content, ideas, issues, and concerns of an academic subject." While this statement was made in the early 1990s, the focus on active learning in higher education persists.

The move to active learning requires change on the part of both the instructor and student.

  • For the instructor, active learning shifts the focus away from what the instructor should teach the students to what the instructor wants to students to be able to do with the course content.
  • For the student, active learning shifts the focus away from passively attending class and having the information fed to them to being prepared for class (having read the assigned materials and reviewed class materials) and being ready to actively participate in class.

Applying active learning techniques within a course should support the overall instructional goals and learning objectives for that course. It is important to note that an instructor can expect to spend more time in preparation for a course employing active learning strategies. As such, a phased approach to integrating active learning into the course curriculum is highly recommended.

  • Clearly define the student learning outcomes for the course and, where possible, per lecture
  • Start with one activity or type of activity to integrate into the course for the quarter
  • Evaluate the effectiveness of that activity during the course of and at the end of the quarter
  • Refine the activity based upon the evaluations
  • If appropriate consider employing another technique

It is important to note that active learning is not the perverbial "magic bullet." Both the instructor and the students need to buy in to this instructional approach. The Instructor needs to feel comfortable relinquishing some of the control over student's learning to the students. Students need to see the WIIFM (what's in it for me) and be ready to put the work into preparing for class and actively participate in their own learning.

Learning -vs- Teaching

Active Learning Techniques

Image illustrating Bloom's Taxonomy in the rose pattern.

The challenge of designing instruction is to elevate the students' learning beyond knowledge acquisition, level 1 in Bloom's Taxonomy. While this is indeed a challenge, the greater challenge is to move beyond the application phase, level 3 in Bloom's Taxonomy, and strive to elevate student learning to levels 4 - 6.

When instruction is delivered strictly through passive lecture, moving student's knowledge beyond application phase is often difficult. Incorporating active learning techniques within a lecture, however, has the potential to increase the students ability to assimilate and synthesize the material in a way that transforms the student's knowledge, behaviors, and attitudes for the long-term. In order for active learning techniques to be successful, the technique(s) being implemented within the course should be modeled by the instructor and guidelines for engaging in such activities should be provided to the students.

The following are a list of active learning techniques in the broadest sense. Each technique can be implemented with a variety of activity types, not listed.

  • Active Listening - allowing students to verbally restate or explain in their own words the material or concept covered
  • Active Writing - allowing students to restate or explain in writing the material or concept covered; allowing students to submit questions in writing during or after class that will be used to guide class
  • Visual-based Active Learning - providing students with the opportunity during the course of a presentation, video, demonstration, etc to engage with/examine the content via discussions, Q/A sessions
  • Brainstorming - encourages students to freely generate ideas, questions, examples on a topic
  • Collaborative Learning - encourages students to work together on an activity with a common goal
  • Peer Teaching - affords students the opportunity to share their knowledge and understanding of a topic with peers where both peers benefit
  • Role-playing/simulations - engages students in scenario based learning where they can put theory into practice in a safe environment
  • Problem-based learning - engages students in a predefined problem that encourages students to develop questions and formulate solutions based upon their knowledge and the answers to their questions

Please feel free to contact DCAL and/or the Educational Technologies Group to discuss/explore how these techniques could be incorporated into your course(s).