What Is an Activity-Based Education?

Dan Cavallari

Teachers often use a variety of strategies to convey ideas and information to students. One such strategy is activity-based education, in which students are engaged in various physical activities or other structured activities in order to learn complex concepts. There are two general types of activity-based education: teacher-led projects and student-led projects. In a teacher-led project, the teacher will take the lead and guide students through a problem-solving activity; a student-led project allows the student to choose the problem and figure out ways to approach it. The teacher acts as a guide, but does not lead the activity.

Woman holding a book
Woman holding a book

The point of activity-based education is to offer students different ways to connect with complex materials. Many students learn better by doing rather than by listening or reading. The activity-based education learning model therefore presents information in such a way that students are allowed to use their senses to comprehend information. Students may be allowed to manipulate learning tools physically, listen to information, read information, and combine these actions to come to logical conclusions about the information. Throughout the process, the teacher will help guide the activity without preventing the student from processing the material independently.

There are both fervent supporters and detractors of activity-based education, since this teaching and learning method can be either very effective or completely wasted, depending on the teacher's planning and the student's response to an activity. Supporters cite a student's ability to use problem-solving skills as well as creativity to process information, while detractors note that activities can end up being fruitless unless they are meticulously planned and exceptionally executed, which may not always be possible given the teacher's availability of resources and support. Activity-based education can become problematic with larger groups as well, especially if the teacher is working independently without additional support. Students must also adequately prepare for such activities; the outcomes of the activities are often dependent on a student's level of preparation.

Like other learning strategies, activity-based education must produce measurable outcomes that a teacher can refer to when assessing a particular student's performance. This can be more difficult, especially if the activity does not include any written documents or physical evidence of success or failure. A teacher can, however, assess progress as the activity takes place; this means this type of education is best used for small groups, unless the teacher has assistance.

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