Active learning strategies to boost student engagement
Ibham Veza and Vorathin Epin provide practical advice on implementing active learning strategies in the classroom for enhanced learning outcomes
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The traditional, lecture-based method of instruction has been increasingly criticised in recent years for failing to actively engage students and for its passive nature. Active learning practices, which encourage student participation and enhance learning outcomes, have emerged as a possible alternative to address this issue.
Why active learning?
Active learning shifts the focus from passive absorption of information to a more interactive and engaging experience, fostering critical thinking, collaboration and improved retention of course material. By incorporating active learning techniques, lecturers create dynamic learning environments that cater to students’ diverse learning styles and preferences.
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What to expect from active learning
When implementing active learning strategies, lecturers can expect enhanced student engagement, better knowledge retention and a more dynamic classroom environment. These strategies cater to the evolving needs of students and prepare them for success beyond the classroom.
How to implement active learning strategies
Focusing on a more dynamic and engaging experience rather than passive absorbing of knowledge, active learning techniques have gained popularity in recent years. Strategies include “think-pair-share”, small group discussions, interactive lectures, problem-based learning and the flipped classroom model, all of which are outlined below to get you started. By incorporating these methods, educators can create a dynamic learning atmosphere that fosters critical thinking, collaboration and improved retention of course material.
Think-pair-share encourages individual reflection and collaborative problem-solving. Instructors pose a question or problem to the class, allow students time to think individually and then have them pair up to discuss their thoughts. Afterward, pairs share their ideas with the entire class, promoting a deeper understanding of the subject matter.
2. Small group discussions
Small group discussions also play a crucial role in active learning. By dividing the class into groups of three to five and assigning a specific topic or question for discussion, instructors can foster peer-to-peer learning and help students develop communication skills. Providing guidelines and a time limit for the discussion ensures that the conversation remains focused and productive.
3. Interactive lectures
Interactive lectures, on the other hand, break up the monotony of traditional lectures by incorporating short activities or questions throughout the presentation. Utilising technology such as polling software, instructors can gather real-time feedback from students and adapt the lecture based on their responses. This method maintains student engagement and encourages active listening.
4. Problem-based learning
Problem-based learning brings real-world relevance to the classroom. Instructors present students with a problem related to course material and assign roles and tasks to students or groups to explore potential solutions. By monitoring progress and providing guidance as needed, educators can help students apply theoretical knowledge to practical situations.
5. Flipped classroom
The flipped classroom model challenges the conventional teaching structure. Instructors provide course materials such as readings and videos for students to review before a class, with class time instead used for discussions, group work or hands-on activities. This approach encourages students to take responsibility for their learning outside the classroom, allowing for deeper exploration of topics and increased participation during class.
Active learning in diverse educational environments
The above five strategies can easily be tailored for different contexts, including in-person, online or blended learning environments. Educators should consider the specific needs of their students and the course objectives when selecting the most appropriate active learning methods.
While incorporating active learning strategies into the curriculum can be challenging, the benefits are undeniable. Lecturers must adapt to the shifting demands of their students and continually seek ways to enhance their learning experiences. Offering practical advice and potential solutions for implementing these methods will bring greater value to our teaching and help prepare students for success in the real world.
As we move forward in the ever-evolving landscape of higher education, it is crucial to focus on innovative teaching methods that truly engage students and promote active learning. By embracing these strategies, we can create a more dynamic and effective learning environment that prepares our students for the challenges they will face beyond the classroom.
Ibham Veza and Vorathin Epin are lecturers in the mechanical engineering department at Universiti Teknologi Petronas, Malaysia.
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