There is a lot of talk about active learning in education circles but what is it, and why is it so important? Active learning literally means actively thinking about how the subject relates to you, your life, your environment and your world. To understand active learning better, think about what the opposite of this — passive learning — involves. Passive learning could mean listening to the teacher without thinking about what is being said, or absorbing facts without attempting to put them into context.
Students who learn passively are often found in more traditional classrooms — the chalk and talk style of teaching — which had its place in the teaching of previous generations.
Recently, the University of Cambridge unveiled the findings of a five-year study on student-centred learning. Sue Swaffield, Senior Lecturer at the University of Cambridge Faculty of Education, presented her findings to a conference of educators from Cambridge schools, held in Mumbai. Student-centred or active learning produced documented results in the form of higher examination grades; greater fulfilment in class and entry to more prestigious universities.
Student-centred or active learning encourages students to take more control of their learning and actively engage with what they are being taught. Teachers, in essence, become facilitators in the learning process, guiding students in their quest for knowledge.
Active learning is based on three guiding principles. They are: making learning explicit so that students know what is expected of them; promoting learning autonomy, and focussing on learning rather than on grades, marks or performance. This approach is supported by teachers who recognise the power of active teaching in promoting an educational culture where a love of learning is more important than grades and exam results because, ultimately, this approach will develop more successful students.
In order for active learning to work effectively in the classroom, teachers and students become partners in knowledge acquisition. For example, students can use the traffic light system to let their teacher know their level of understanding during a lesson by holding up red, amber or green cards. These sorts of tactics put students in the driving seat during their lessons, and help to raise their confidence levels.
A curriculum should be designed to promote active learning and put the student at the heart of the learning process. It can be tailored to give students alternative routes through international education systems by offering core and extended syllabuses and teaching students how to develop skills in critical enquiry, evaluation and analysis.
It should be designed to allow students to experience success and to develop critical thinking skills that make them ready for new challenges and tasks. It should enable the student to become an an autonomous learner, who recognises the importance of life-long learning and whose intellectual curiosity is stimulated for life.