PSJA Early College Express

November / December 2015

This month: Active Learning

Active Learning

According to the University of Michigan's Center for Research on Learning and Teaching, "Active learning is a process whereby 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. This section provides links to bibliographies, research summaries, articles, and other resources about active learning." This stands in sharp contrast to traditional teaching, which primarily features lecture and low cognitive level worksheets.


The six strategies of the Common Instructional Framework mesh perfectly with active learning. Classroom talk, scaffolding, collaborative group work, literacy groups, questioning, and writing to learn are all active learning strategies.


Numerous studies have shown evidence to support active learning, given adequate prior instruction. (For more information or for full bibliographic references, please contact Scott Hollinger.) Following are several examples:

Richard Hake (1998) reviewed data from over 6000 physics students in 62 introductory physics courses and found that students in classes that utilized active learning and interactive engagement techniques improved 25 percent points, achieving an average gain of 48% on a standard test of physics conceptual knowledge, the Force Concept Inventory, compared to a gain of 23% for students in traditional, lecture-based courses.

Similarly, Hoellwarth & Moelter (2011) showed that when instructors switched their physics classes from traditional instruction to active learning, student learning improved 38 percent points, from around 12% to over 50%, as measured by the Force Concept Inventory, which has become the standard measure of student learning in physics courses.

Michael (2006), in reviewing the applicability of active learning to physiology education, found a "growing body of research within specific scientific teaching communities that supports and validates the new approaches to teaching that have been adopted."

In a 2012 report titled "Engage to Excel," the United States President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) described how improved teaching methods, including engaging students in active learning, will increase student retention and improve performance in STEM courses. One study described in the report found that students in traditional lecture courses were twice as likely to leave engineering and three times as likely to drop out of college entirely compared with students taught using active learning techniques. In another cited study, students in a physics class that used active learning methods learned twice as much as those taught in a traditional class, as measured by test results.

What is active learning?

Watch this brief YouTube video (click on the image below) produced by Northwest Iowa Community College to get a quick overview of active learning.
What is Active Learning?
Active Learning Strategies for the Classroom

CLICK ABOVE to read this article

November / December Webinar: Active Learning

This webinar explores the purpose and power of Active Learning. Please watch this webinar with your department prior to your school's face-to-face professional development session (see schedule below). Please click on image below to view the webinar.

Webinar feedback

Please click on the image below after you've watched the webinar to give us your feedback.

PSJA December Professional Development Schedule

Memorial HS: Monday, November 30, during CLCs

Yzagguirre MS: Tuesday, December 1, during Team Time

PSJA ECHS: Wednesday, December 2, during CLCs & POP

Alamo MS: Wednesday, December 9, during CLCs

Murphy MS: Friday, December 11, during Team Share

Austin MS: Wednesday, December 16, during CLCs

Scott Hollinger

PSJA Professional Development Specialist