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Defining Active Learning

What is active learning? Dr. Laura Bierema discusses her research from her co-authored book: "Connecting Adult Learning and Knowledge Management."
© Università degli Studi di Padova

According to Bierema (2020), “Active learning can be understood literally—it is the process of engaging learners with the topic and each other where they are talking, doing, and creating, together.”

Active learning is also known as guided instruction. Guided instruction helps learners construct meaning by interacting with the world and other learners as they discover new ideas, solve problems, and respond to challenges.

Active learning shifts the focus away from the teacher and places it on the learner. Although content is essential in active learning, it is not solely important. The process of how learners understand the lesson is just as important as the content. Learners have to think about and apply what they are learning. Active learning has several markers:

  • Active learning is fast-paced and engaging.
  • Learners do most of the work by using their brains, talking, and moving. Although learners do most of the work in active learning, that does not mean the instructor is idle. The instructor has prepared the lesson in advance so when learners are in class, they are the ones talking and engaging.
  • The instructor offers guidance and advice as needed, instead of lecturing endlessly to a restless classroom of learners who might not be paying attention.
Bierema, L. L. (2020). Incorporating active learning into your educational repertoire. In M. Fedeli, & L. L. Bierema (Eds.). Connecting adult learning and knowledge management: Strategies for learning and change in higher education and organizations, pp. 27-50. New York, NY: Springer.
© Università degli Studi di Padova
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Innovative Teaching: Engaging Adult Learners with Active Learning

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