What does active learning look like?
Why doesn't everyone use active learning?
How to create a "safe" classroom for active learning
Active learning techniques
Links to Active Learning Lesson Plans

   Active learning is best described by contrasting it to traditional lectures. In a lecture, the instructor stands in front of the class and "gives" information for 50 minutes. Members of the audience may "take" the information or they may not. Lectures are sometimes considered to be "passive learning." However, educators know that learning can never be a passive activity. Obviously, very little learning takes place during a traditional lecture. Active learning is an educational technique that de-emphasizes transmitting facts. Students learn by doing activities, thinking about the subject, solving problems, and relating information to their everyday life. According to Bonwell and Eison (1991), a person's attention span in the class room is about 10 -15 minutes. This active learning lesson will give you a variety of techniques to help you change activities several times during a presentation & keep your audience tuned in.


What does active learning look like?

* Trainees are involved in more than passive listening. They are engaged in
   activities such as reading, discussing, and writing.
* Less emphasis is placed on information transmission.
* More emphasis is placed on developing skills and exploration of attitudes
   & values.
* Trainees receive immediate feedback from the speaker.
* Trainees are involved in higher order thinking: analysis, synthesis, and 
* Active learning involves people in doing things and thinking about the 
   things they are doing!


Why doesn't everyone use active learning?

"I can't cover as much material."

Studies show that 8 weeks after a traditional lecture, students retain only 25% of the material. However, if the instructor adds one active learning activity, such as a pop quiz, students retain 50% of the material after 8 weeks. Yes, it is true that it takes more time to teach the same amount of material using active learning as it does to teach that material through lecture. But, if the speaker uses active learning and covers only 50% of the subject content, students will retain 25% of the subject (.5 X .5 = .25) - the same amount as with lecture. If the speaker picks the most important concepts for the active learning lesson, the students will retain 25% of the most important concepts. If the speaker covers even slightly more than 50% of the subject, then more than 25% of the subject will be retained.
"It takes preparation."
Any new lesson requires preparation whether it is traditional lecture or active learning. Once an active learning lesson is prepared, no further prep time is needed. Once a speaker tries active learning, the techniques become second nature.
"My classes are too large."
There are successful techniques for working with classes of hundreds. Trainees can answer the instructor's questions on slips of paper that are collected, read & recorded on an overhead. Trainees can discuss a concept with the person next to them for 2 minutes. Large classes can be divided into smaller work groups with facilitators.
"I'll loose control of the class."
After group discussions, there are ways to get the trainees' attention. You may use buzzers & timers or turn lights on/off.
"I don't have materials & resources to do active learning."
Today there are many resources available for speakers who want to use active learning. Check out your university instructional assistance center. Then share your successful lessons with the rest of us.
"People resist non-lecture styles and won't participate."
Experience does not show this to be true, especially with the adult learner. People appreciate being treated like intelligent partners in the learning process.
How to create a "safe" classroom for active learning
  • Provide name cards or badges for everyone. If the speaker uses his/her last name, members of the audience should also.
  • Get people started talking to each other early in the class to create a comfortable atmosphere. Pair people up. Give them 2-3 minutes to "Tell the person next to you what you do in your work with pesticides."
  • Never criticize an answer. You can always say, "That's not exactly what I was looking for. Does anyone else have an idea?"
  • Reward trainees' efforts. Use this phrase often: "That's a very good point (or question, or idea)."
  • Have the audience write answers to your questions on slips of paper instead of saying answers out loud. Collect the papers and pick the answers you wish to read.
  • Whenever you ask for a show of hands, be sure to put your hand up too. Even if it means that you vote both ways on "yes/ no" questions!
Active learning techniques
  • Ask questions during your presentation, but remember to wait for the answers.

  • Pause procedure.  Take a "2 Minute Critique."  Tell the audience to write on a slip of paper: "What was the most important point from the last presentation, demonstration, video or slide show?" or "What didn't you understand about the last presentation?" or "Write an test question based on the last presentation."
  • Vote.  Make a statement, such as "Your pesticide storage facility should be locked." Ask who votes "yes", who votes "no." Or ask for a "thumbs up" vote if in agreement; "thumbs down" if against. No one can see how their neighbor is responding -- the question is ungraded and it only takes a second to do.

  • Ungraded quizzes.  Pass out short quizzes. Review the answers. Do not collect the quizzes - let the audience take them home.

  • Think-pair-share. Ask the audience to take notes for a short time. Then ask them to tell the person next to them how the information from the last presentation will help them in their work.  Put members of the audience in pairs. Assign roles to each - one person is an applicator and the other the Governor of the state. Ask them to "Tell the governor how EPA registers pesticides."
  • Brainstorming.  Present a problem to the group. Ask for suggestions to solve the problem. Example: "What questions do you ask yourself before you can make a pesticide application?" Members of the audience can write their answers on index cards.
  • Demonstration. Show a "right" pesticide storage facility and a "wrong" one. Ask the audience to contrast and compare the 2 rooms.  Show PPE & pass around room. Dress an applicator for a specific job.
  • Multi question Worksheet.   Distribute copies of a pesticide label to the audience. Have members of the audience break into small groups and complete a worksheet in their group.
Bonwell, C.C. and J.A. Eison. 1991. Active Learning. Creating Excitement in the Classroom. ASHE-ERIC Higher Education Report No. 1.
Active Learning Lesson Plans: 
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