Rather than try to untangle the challenge of delineating the differences between cooperative and collaborative learning (which Weimer has already done quite well), I'd like to attempt to describe different options for how to engage students in active learning experiences. To do so, however, requires settling on a definition of the terms.
Differing definitions of active learning
- According to the University of Michigan Center for Research on Learning and Teaching, active learning is, "a process whereby students engage in activities, such as reading, writing, discussion, or problem solving that promote analysis, synthesis, and evaluation of class content."
- According to the Teaching Commons at Stanford, "'Active learning' means students engage with the material, participate in the class, and collaborate with each other."
- The Center for Innovation in Teaching and Learning at the University of Illinois suggests that active learning, "refers to the teaching approaches, strategies and learning activities that promote active engagement with the material and lead to deep learning."
Clearly, different folks view active learning in a variety of ways. I think the key common feature is a high level of student engagement in the learning task in ways that promote higher-level cognitive processes. When we consider the first parameter, we can contrast active learning with more passive learning modes that would include attending to a lecture, watching a video, or listening to a presentation. For the second parameter, we can contrast active learning with taking notes (at least in the traditional sense rather than more active approaches) and answering recall level questions.
Fortunately, this leaves us with a number of different ways to approach active learning in our courses. I've attempted to lay out a range of options in the Higher Education Learning Activity Types Taxonomy. In the following sections, we'll explore a few specific strategies according to three of the higher levels of Bloom's Taxonomy that encourage active learning for students.
Active learning for "Application"
When students apply what they learn in class to different concepts from the course, domains, or authentic problems they have to translate or transform the knowledge in new ways. In this way, they are forced to shift from consuming the knowledge at a recall or "remember" level to a more active, applied level.
A number of different learning activities challenge students in this way. One of my favorite ways to facilitate this application of knowledge is through simulation and role-playing. When students are immersed in a task where they must consider multiple variables or perspectives as they apply their knowledge, they must grapple with the complexity of real-world situations. As novice teachers interact with virtual students in the mixed-reality teaching environment of TeachLivE, they have an opportunity to virtually practice their craft. For even more authentic application, students can also engage in field work or service learning experiences.
Active learning for "Analysis"
When students work with data - either data they generate or extent data - they engage in deep levels of analytical thinking. In terms of cognitive level, this is the
third highest level in the taxonomy and can be challenging for students. In designing these kinds of learning opportunities, we need to be conscious of building in supports for students that can be gradually removed as they gain more experience.
Problem-based learning experiences are a robust way to engage students in analytical thinking. Often anchored in real-world problems and cases, these experiences require active learning, often in a collaborative context. Engaging students in inquiry and research is another approach. Even the lowest levels of inquiry experiences in which the instructor determines the question, scope and process for inquiry demand active learning on the part of students. The degree to which students are challenged to frame the question, process, and output from an inquiry experience only increases active learning.
Active learning for "Creation"
Creation is the highest cognitive level in the revised version of Bloom's taxonomy. Learning activities situated at this level require students to create new products that demonstrate their understanding. It is in this space that students create new knowledge and share it with others.
One powerful creation learning activity type is for students to develop a model. Whether it be a physical 2-D or 3-D representation of a course concept or a conceptual model that explains relationships, developing a model is a flexible and high yield strategy in your courses. Teaching others is the learning activity that is the most sophisticated in terms of cognitive level in the Higher Education Learning Activity Types taxonomy. I see it as a particularly robust and challenging active learning strategy because in teaching others, they must first deeply understand their topic, determine how best to present their understanding to help others learn the material, organize their ideas in a logical and digestible way, determine how to best convey the information, and prepare any materials and strategies to instruct their classmates.
How do you define and engage students in active learning?
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