Active learning is interactive learning that gives students the opportunity to participate in activities that enhance their understanding of a subject matter. Barkley (2010, p. 4) stated that “the greater the student's involvement or engagement in academic work or in the academic experience, the greater his or her level of knowledge acquisition and general cognitive development.”
It is beneficial to use active learning strategies in a classroom because it encourages students to collaborate, promotes critical and creative thinking skills, and increases engagement.
The K. Patricia Cross Academy is a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting faculty. They offer free instructional videos and downloadable resources that clearly outline how to implement high-impact, evidence-based teaching techniques that improve students' learning.
Here is a selection of some example of active learning from E.F. Barkley’s “Student Engagement Techniques: A Handbook for College Faculty”. We have a copy of this you may borrow in AEI (Room 3110) and she invites you to visit her website at
The K. Patricia Cross Academy.
Background Knowledge Probe
Instructors develop short, simple, focused questionnaires that students fill out at the beginning of a course, at the start of a new unit, or prior to introducing a new topic. These probes help teachers identify the best starting point for the class as a whole. They also identify students for whom scaffolded work may be needed and extremely well-prepared students who may benefit from tasks that are more challenging.
Instructors provide groups of students with photos, specimens, charts, graphs, drawings, or objects that represent key ideas about a topic. Students then discuss the items in relation to instructor-designed prompts.
Focused Reading Notes
Prior to giving students a reading assignment, instructors identify 3-5 themes or concepts they want students to look for in the text and then choose corresponding keywords or phrases. Students use these keywords as headings for columns on a sheet of paper and enter reading notes in the appropriate column. The column headings direct students’ attention to what is important and provide them with an organizational framework for writing notes about new knowledge and understandings.
Students select a slip of paper from a container filled with quotes from an assigned reading. They are given a few minutes to think about what they want to say in response to their quote, and then each student reads his/her/zirs quote and comment on it.
Stations engage students by requiring them to move around the room and interact with learning materials in an active way as they examine, question, exchange ideas with peers, respond to prompts and formulate their own thoughts and commentary. Exhibits can be simple (flip-chart paper with a question written on it) or elaborate (an interactive multi-sensory presentation), displayed items or documents (such as letters, content summaries, quotes), visual documents (charts, photographs, art work reproductions), objects (cultural artifacts, biological specimens), or media (audio and film recordings). Learning interactions also vary and can include solving exhibit-posed problems, discussing responses to a prompt, using exhibit information to complete worksheets, or writing group or individual reflective essays.
“Analytic Teams” is a collaborative learning, technique in which team members assume roles and specific tasks to perform when critically reading an assignment, listening to a lecture, or watching a video. Roles such as summarizer, connector (relating the assignment to previous knowledge or to the outside world), proponent, and critic focus on the analytic process rather than the group process (which entails roles such as facilitator, timekeeper, and recorder).
The technique is useful for helping students actively engage in the different activities that constitute a critical analysis.
Book Club/Author’s Club/Theorist Club
The instructor selects 3 - 5 books on core course topics and develops reading guides with discussion questions specific to each book. Students are allowed to choose the book they wish to read and then join a “Book Club” of 5-7 students that meet to discuss the book.
Although discussion must address the instructor-developed guide, students are also encouraged to generate their own discussion topics as the participate in an open, natural conversation about the book. Discussions can be held during face-to-face class time, outside of class, or online. When finished, each book club gives a formal presentation to the whole class, using their responses to the reading guide as the basis for a synthesis of what they learned.
The instructor gives students a template of sentences that provides the shape of a short essay but not the content. Students complete the sentences, expressing their ideas in their own words, but they do so within a clear and organized framework.
Believing and Doubting
For the Believing portion of the Believing and Doubting, students are asked to read a text empathetically, making a conscious effort to understand and appreciate the author’s perspective and values. They make a list of reasons and arguments that support the author’s view point and use this list as the basis for a small-group discussion. In the Doubting portion of the Believing and Doubting activity, students reread the text and look for weaknesses – making a new list as they raise objections and resists being taken in by the text’s rhetorical force.
Sources: Barkley, E. F. (2010). Student Engagement Techniques: A Handbook for College Faculty. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.