What students do in their studies has the biggest impact on what students learn. Our teaching methods are critical in influencing what students do and their experience at UQ.

Active learning can essentially be defined as “students doing things and thinking about what they are doing” (Bonwell and Eison, 1991).

The aim of active learning is to provide opportunities for learners to think critically about ideas through a range of activities that deepen and challenge students’ understanding. Active learning approaches are supported by the Higher Education Learning Framework (PDF, 1.4 MB) and a range of studies of practice including Freeman et al. (2014) (PDF, 784.5 KB) and Hake (1998) (PDF, 428.4 KB).

Active learning activities include:

Active versus passive learning

Listening to someone talk is less effective for learning than doing things yourself (e.g. practicing, reflecting, testing, and discussing). It is also much harder to know if someone you hope is listening is learning, you have more evidence someone is actually learning with active learning approaches.

Active learning can be facilitated through a range of teaching approaches that encourage learners to actively engage with course materials, one another, and/or lecturers. It contrasts with passive learning of just reading or listening – the 'talking head' style of instruction.

When a student is sitting in a passive lecture, their mind is likely to wander. With learning tasks make few demands on the student, the learning environment then maximises the opportunity for what Rummel & Boywitt call 'task-unrelated thought' (2014). This mind-wandering has been linked to poor outcomes in a wide range of tasks, such as comprehension during reading (Jackson & Balota, 2012) and during lectures (Farley et al., 2013). In contrast, when students are engaged in time-sensitive, active learning, their mind is less likely to wander.

Research connecting active learning classrooms with student learning has been documented by Baepler et al. (2016) and shows that students in active learning:

  • outperform their peers in traditional classrooms
  • exceed their own grade expectations as predicted by standardised test scores
  • show significant student learning gains over using a lecture-based approach in the same space.