UMass Boston

What is Active Learning?

Active learning is a learner-centered, collaborative instructional strategy where students take an active and engaged role in their own learning. Focusing on meaningful learning experiences, learners participate in small group work and activities centered on doing and thinking.

Active learning also concentrates on complex problem-solving, as well as critical, entrepreneurial, and innovative thinking. This instruction often emphasizes learners' exploration of their own values and perspectives. These instructional techniques work to avoid passive listening and simple transmission of information, instead developing students' analyzing, synthesizing, and application skills.

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What is a learner-centered classroom?

In a learner-centered classroom, the instructor becomes a facilitator, instead of an information provider. When employing learner-centered strategies in the classroom, there is less time spent on information dissemination and more time spent helping students develop skills, higher order thinking and metacognition for deeper understanding. Information dissemination can be done through readings, videos, and homework so that the classroom time can focus on the strength of this instructional strategy, collaboration: “working with other students on projects during class; making a presentation; asking questions or contributing to discussions; participating in a community-based project as part of a course; working with other students outside of class on assignments; discussing ideas from a course with others outside of class; tutoring peers.” (Carr et al., 2015)  

Active learning not only can take place in the classroom, but extends beyond the classroom with technology and/or real-world connections.

What does a classroom designed for active learning look like?

Everything in an active learning classroom is designed to create a flexible learning environment. Chairs move. Tables move. Lectern moves. Technology moves. This unlimited flexibility allows for the classroom set up to physically disband and reorganize according to the activity. Groups can form, rearrange, use whiteboards, and computers with easy transformation within a 50 minute class meeting. Instructors can seamlessly shift from lecture to discussion groups with diminishing time lost. Wireless saturated spaces provide learners full access to technology enhanced pedagogies. Writing surfaces, some technology, and unlimited flexibility provide the design backdrop for active learning.

Active Learning at UMass Boston

At UMass Boston, rooms designed for active learning includes the Technology Enhanced Active Learning (TEAL) classroom in University Hall, as well as, The Active Learning Center (ALC) in Wheatley Hall.

To learn more about these rooms, visit the Active Learning Classrooms on Campus page.

Common Active Learning Strategies

Have you taught the same course for the last several semesters? Is there a conceptual sticking point for your students? That sticking point is a great place to add active learning strategies to smooth your students' mastery of course material.

There are many ways to employ active learning in the classroom, but it can take time to develop activities and strategies. Here are some ideas for active learning in the classroom, to help you get started.

Flipped Classroom

Making more time during class meetings for activities mean that lecturing takes a back seat.

The flipped classroom inverts traditional teaching methods, delivering instruction online outside of class and using the time in the classroom to apply that knowledge in practical ways. This could mean: projects, group assignments, case studies or any number of other learning activities.

In the flipped classroom model, students read, listen and watch materials online before coming to class to work together on learning activities. The instructor is present while students apply new knowledge and can offer instant feedback or instruction. It allows teachers to quickly identify and revisit concepts with which students have the most trouble. Here are some examples of flipped classrooms.

Community-Engaged Learning

Community-engaged learning is a direct impact teaching strategy based on the values of collaboration and reciprocity. Partnerships between the university and local community stakeholders bring collaboration to the classroom and reciprocity to local communities through service, research, outreach, and economic engagement.

Learners can better understand and address societal issues or concerns through applied, community-engaged, activities. Activities bridge the gap between the classroom and real world. Project-based projects range from investment in cultural, human, and social capital of local communities, to exploring possibilities for economic well-being, addressing specific societal issues through collaboration with public, private and civil sectors, and building community capacity or addressing public concern through the utilization of scholar, practitioner, and student skills.

Learn more about community-engaged activities.

Learning Design Services is in partnership with the Office of Community Partnerships to support faculty with community-engaged teaching pedagogy and curriculum design. In the curriculum design stage, Instructional Designers pair with faculty and practitioners to ensure the curriculum utilizes the tenets of community-based learning. Prior to the semester, Learning Design Services facilitates partnership building for instructors across sectors through our Professional Development Institute.

Learn more about how faculty can collaborate with community stakeholders.

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