Four ways active learning can transform learning experiences

Edtech has facilitated a teaching approach that ties student success to collaboration, consistency and contribution. Paul Hopkinson breaks down its advantages

Paul Hopkinson's avatar
Zayed University
17 Mar 2023
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Forward-thinking educators are engaged in a constant quest not only to meet students’ educational needs but also to find new ways of enhancing students’ learning, stimulating deeper cognitive skills, such as critical and creative thinking, and boosting knowledge retention. Since the pandemic, when online and blended education became commonplace, educators have increasingly turned to technology to encourage greater interactivity and opportunities for experiential learning.

Active-learning pedagogies facilitated by edtech are a common feature of today’s classrooms. Here are four ways we have found active learning has transformed our students’ learning experiences.

Active learning drives engagement

Active learning is designed to ensure that students are active participants in the learning process as well as to increase engagement. On a practical level, it helps lecturers to maintain students’ attention during class time and reduces the chances of students becoming bored or disengaged. An interactive online platform, such as is used by Zayed University, coupled with carefully constructed learning plans, can encourage students to remain active throughout the learning encounter. Interactive polls, breakout sessions and focus activities such as concept mapping, jigsaws and debating are orchestrated to ensure that students apply what they have learned from their reading in a flipped-classroom environment.

Analytics that monitor class participation, coupled with dynamic grading through activities such as quizzes, presentations and group projects, give the instructor the information they need to maximise engagement. Students are provided with a great opportunity to keep their learning experience fresh and exciting. Most students and educators find the programme to be interactive, dynamic and fast paced, with 83 per cent reporting in a survey that it has been either extremely effective or effective for keeping them engaged in learning.

Active learning encourages deeper learning

Active-learning strategies facilitated by technology, such as group work, problem-based learning and peer-to-peer teaching, help students to move beyond knowledge accumulation and surface-level learning towards developing the higher-order cognitive skills in demand in today’s society. As well as applying their knowledge to practical work problems, students have constant interaction with instructors and fellow students, which allows for differing opinions to be discussed. Not only does this encourage high-quality learning, but it also creates an open, dynamic and friendly relationship between instructor and students.

Active learning promotes learner agency

The teaching method encourages students to take responsibility for their own education, challenging ideas and coming to their own understanding of ideas and concepts. Our students often comment that it feels as if they are constantly held accountable in the classroom, as the format requires regular interactions and shared activities with classmates and tutors. In our interactive online classroom, the edtech enables students to see and experience their classmates’ contributions and reactions in real time, and to share feedback and thoughts on the views expressed by their peers.

Students must contribute – and if they don’t take the responsibility to do this, they will find themselves unable to take part in the real-world, problem-solving scenarios that the method involves. They can’t just turn up, without engaging, and then cram for exams. There is constant and ongoing assessment and flipped classrooms, where students do reading before class, which is then subject to enquiry during class time.

For example, the structure of a typical class involves pre-class workbooks (including readings, videos and other resources), followed by a preparatory poll, collaborative activities, take-home messages and a reflection poll. This requires the students to be dependable and collaborative to be successful. The co-creation of ideas is thereby central to promoting learner agency.

Active learning prepares graduates for the workplace

Traditional lecture environments do little to prepare students for the realities of the modern workplace. In today’s disruptive environment, graduates who are adaptable and can work collaboratively, think critically and think on their feet are increasingly in demand. New graduates entering the workplace can expect multiple changes in careers during their lifetimes, and many of the jobs that those starting university will secure on graduation don’t yet exist.

Our feedback from leading employers is that undergraduate programmes that help students develop and practise these transferable skills and offer them opportunities to engage in experiential leading through real-world challenges and work-based assignments are more likely to be “workplace-ready” and fit for the jobs of the future.

Adopting an active-learning pedagogy requires that both learner and educator adjust. There will be challenges, as with any process of change. However, our experience has been that this will lead to better outcomes for both faculty and students, while building resilience in the next generation of employees as they equip themselves for the future of work. At a time when edtech is readily available to assist in a move from passive to experiential learning, there has never been a better opportunity for educational bodies to adopt this transformational approach to learning.

Paul Hopkinson is dean of the College of Interdisciplinary Studies at Zayed University, UAE.

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