What Are the Best Tips for Active Learning in Higher Education?

Emily Daw
Emily Daw
The most familiar type of cooperative learning is group projects, in which students are assigned a topic for more in-depth research than what will be specifically addressed in class.
The most familiar type of cooperative learning is group projects, in which students are assigned a topic for more in-depth research than what will be specifically addressed in class.

Traditionally, much of higher education has consisted of courses in which professors impart information to their students by means of one-way lectures to hundreds of students. Many universities, however, have begun promoting active learning in higher education, which engages students in their education and involves critical thinking and problem solving, rather than simply retaining information. Two primary ways that this can be done are increasing teacher-student interactions and introducing cooperative learning models.

Professors may find it challenging to interact directly with each of their students in a class of several hundred, so they may resort to passive classroom strategies that consist entirely of lectures or other one-way communication methods. One way colleges and universities can increase active learning in higher education is by reducing class sizes, allowing for potentially more one-on-one interactions. When this is not possible, however, instructors can use alternative methods of teaching to interact with their students. Classroom discussions led by the teacher can involve a few students, but in large classes the majority of students may not be willing or able to participate.

Some universities have begun incorporating a type of technology known as clickers into their classrooms to encourage active learning in higher education. Clickers allow students to respond to professors' questions, either by multiple choice or written responses, through mobile devices. These can be used to give the professor real-time feedback on how well the material is understood by all students, rather than only the few who are willing to participate in group discussions. They also give students motivation to remain intellectually engaged with the lecture. Professors can also ask opinion or survey questions in addition to comprehension questions, in order to encourage critical thinking.

Another popular method of enhancing active learning in higher education is through some form of cooperative learning. The most familiar type of cooperative learning is group projects in which students are assigned a topic for more in-depth research than what will be specifically addressed in class. Other types of teaching add variations to the traditional lecture style of teaching as well. Students may, for instance, divide into groups for a few minutes midway through the lecture in order to compare notes. The professor may provide specific questions or talking points for this time period, or the students may decide among themselves on the most effective use of their time.

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    • The most familiar type of cooperative learning is group projects, in which students are assigned a topic for more in-depth research than what will be specifically addressed in class.
      By: Michael Flippo
      The most familiar type of cooperative learning is group projects, in which students are assigned a topic for more in-depth research than what will be specifically addressed in class.