Active Learning for the Win: Even (Especially!) in Hybrid and Digital Contexts
Take a moment to recall a time when you were asked to passively take in a significant amount of new information. No really - take a moment.
- Perhaps a friend detailed how to set up an online payment portal for your nonprofit, but over the phone while you were both driving so you couldn’t follow along in a browser.
- Perhaps you were given a thick three-ring binder to read on how to serve on Vestry at your church but without any sort of follow-up exercise or learning check.
- Perhaps you attended a faculty meeting that consisted of a 90-minute presentation with no time for questions or discussion built in.
Do you have a passive learning experience firmly in view? Good!
That means that the learning you’re engaged in *right now*—while reading this blog post—will be that much more active. Rather than counting on me, the author, for an info dump, you’re allowing me to prompt you to draw connections between things you already know so you can forge new conclusions (and with them new neural pathways) that will (I hope!) bear out in informed actions and creative applications.
I could boost the active learning dimension of this blog post further by asking you to rank the effectiveness of your passive learning experiences on a scale from one to five, then write two sentences explaining your answer. I could even go on to invite you to share your sentences with two colleagues, friends, or family members, and in conversation with them develop an alternative version of the same learning experience, but with active learning built in.
Does this sound like a lot of work? It might! By definition, active learning involves what psychologists call ‘effortful processing’. Forging new neural pathways takes effort!
Just like we want to be good stewards of people’s money, time, and attention, we want to be good stewards of their efforts. Not everything we go about conveying should include a multi-step active learning component. However, everything we hope learners will understand deeply, retain, and use, should be offered in as active a learning framework as possible.
This is especially the case in hybrid and digital contexts where it is so easy to default to passive learning frameworks (e.g. talking head videos, walls of text).
Read through the following list of ideas for integrating active learning into your hybrid or digital teaching:
- Incorporate time for questions and discussion in your content delivery; for large groups, use a ‘pair and share’ model via breakout rooms, shared docs, or asynchronous correspondence.
- Bookend your content with pre- and post-quizzes so learners can track their own progress (bonus: you’ll have some analytics to work with to track the effectiveness of your teaching).
- Build interactive elements into your content flow (flip cards, matching games, reflection prompts, Jamboard).
- Invite learners to take responsibility for portions of the content by assigning presentations.
- Provide learners with opportunities to apply what they’re learning in their own contexts and then report to the group about their applications.
Now on a sheet of paper or in a blank doc write down which ones are most appropriate in your context. Ask yourself:
- In what learning contexts do I stand to gain from a more active approach?
- How might I activate my own learning using the methods above?
- In what teaching contexts do I struggle to incorporate active learning methods?
- What tools and technologies might help me build active learning into my teaching—even (especially!) in hybrid and digital spaces?
Consider the steps you’ll have to take to put it into action. Write these steps down in order and determine an appropriate deadline for each of these . . . (see what I did there?).
Share your ideas and questions in the Learning Hub Commons and/or join us for Learning Live on September 12 at 1:00 pm Eastern as we discuss this topic in more depth.
Active learning requires more of learners, but it also yields stronger results: deeper understanding, more lasting retention, and greater utility across contexts.
written by Carly Lane
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