Guest Contributor: Dr. Jennifer Hurd.

Active learning is a teaching strategy used in many classrooms today. In active learning, the student constructs learning — often in collaboration with other students. The teacher becomes a facilitator of learning rather than a giver of knowledge. Active learning is a student-centered approach.

Let me share some personal background on my experience with active learning. Before I learned about active learning, I was a lecturer. I walked in the door talking and walked out talking. Then I met a man named John Parker. He conducted a workshop on active learning and showed many activities that could be used in class regardless of content. I thought those were fun and interesting, so I decided to use one or two a week in my class. Once I started using these active learning strategies, my students were so engaged that they did not want to go back to lectures. They were also learning the material at a much deeper level. So now I use active learning strategies all the time. Every time I am to present, I try to figure out how to do it actively.

Let’s look at what the classroom looks like in an active learning environment. Setting up the classroom is a key part of active learning. When students are in rows in classroom style, it is very easy for students to become passive learners. So sometimes, it takes some creative thinking to figure out how students will be able to get in groups to collaborate on a question or activity. I have used active learning in classrooms with movable chairs as well as stationary chairs. I have put groups at tables, moved four or five desks together to form a group, or put desks in a circle or a semi-circle to encourage collaboration.

Therefore, in an active classroom, students can’t hide. When students can see each other’s faces and are close enough in a small group to discuss the topic at hand, it provides an opportunity for all students to participate. For example, during one class, my students were in a circle having a discussion. I felt I needed to explain something using the chalkboard. As the students continued the discussion, I got up and went over to the board and drew the diagram I needed. They were so intense and involved in the discussion that I could not get their attention. It was as if the circle had created a wall that could not be penetrated. However, I viewed this as a positive: the discussion had everyone in the circle contributing. This is the type of classroom we all dream about and it can happen when you use active learning principles. I have experienced it not once, but every time I teach a class. Creating the environment is a key to making it work.

I see active learning as a win/win. Typically it is much easier to plan your lessons, the students are more engaged, and the students remember more from the activity than from my lectures.

An active member of several professional organizations, Dr. Jennifer Hurd is a Past-President of the Association for the Tutoring Profession. Jennifer served as president of the Arkansas Association for Developmental Education, conference chair for the 1996 NADE conference. Jennifer is the Past President of the Arkansas Tutoring Association. Jennifer earned her Ed.D. at Memphis State University in Curriculum and Instruction (Reading). She earned her B.A. in Elementary Education and her M.Ed. in Reading at Harding University. She is also qualified to teach English, reading, research, education, Early Childhood, and study skills.


Have you adopted active-learning strategies in your courses? Share your feedback with us in the comments section below.