Active Learning Strategies


In higher education, the educational procedure of implementing a wide range of activities that involve students in meaningful things and thinking about the things that they are doing is referred as the use of active learning strategies (Bonwell & Eison, 1991; Prince, 2004). Active learning strategies are essential for enhancing student learning and require students to “do” something with what they have learned. Indeed, after spending over 15 years of findings from neuroscience, biology, and cognitive psychology, Doyle (2008), reached the following conclusion, “It is the one who does the work who does the learning.”


While there are hundreds of active learning strategies, in a meta-analysis of active learning strategies by Prince (2004), results that supported increased student learning included: 

  1. Strategies that introduced student activity into the lecture,
  2. Strategies that promoted student engagement,
  3. Collaborative learning,
  4. Cooperative learning, and 
  5. Problem-based learning. 

Practical Applications

  1. Before introducing active learning into your classroom, consider the physical layout of the room. If possible, rearrange furniture to facilitate pairs, groups, teams, or discussion. If the furniture is fixed, encourage students to seat themselves in the front, center section of the room. 
  2. Get buy-in from the students by explaining the benefits of active learning, beginning with the first day of class.
  3. Use an icebreaker as one of your first active learning activities to help students get to know each other and the course content. 
  4. Select a variety of active learning strategies to implement that align with the course session student learning objectives. For ideas that support instructional objectives, see “Bloom’s Taxonomy Wheel” shown here: 
  5. Depending upon your goals for the class session, consider implementing an active learning strategy after every 15 minutes of lecture.  View an example of “interactive teaching” in physics that implements this type of session plan.
  6. Utilize active learning strategies as quick, formative, classroom assessment techniques to inform teaching and student progress. Visit Iowa State University's website for a list of classroom assessment techniques and instructions how to implement them.

Recommended Resources

  • Active Learning for the College Classroom, Donald R. Paulson & Jennifer L. Faust: This resource describes 29 active learning techniques, focused promoting individual student engagement,  developing effective questions and answers, obtaining formative feedback, motivating critical thinking, and encouraging collaborative learning.
  • Think/Pair/Share and Variations, Adam Barragato, Central Michigan University: This provides a brief overview of active learning and offers instructions for implementing “Think/Pair/Share,“ a highly effective active learning strategy, along with six variations and additional resource recommendations.
  • Making Active Learning WorkCenter for Teaching and Learning, University of Minnesota: This page contains recommendations for implementing active learning in the classroom.

Recommended Video Tutorials

Related Texts

  • Active Learning: 101Strategies to Teach Any Subject by Mel Silberman
  • Active Learning: Cooperation in the College Classroom by David W. Johnson, Roger T. Johnson, and Karl A. Smith
  • Collaborative Learning Techniques by Elizabeth F. Barkley, K. Patricia Cross, and Claire Howell Major. 

Related Evaluation and Assessment Resources 


  • Merriam-Webster, Incorporated. (2014). Activity.
  • Bonwell, C. C., & Eison, J. A. (1991). Active learning: creating excitement in the classroom. ASHE-Eric Higher Education Rep, 1. Washington, DC: The George Washington University, School of Education and Human Development.
  • Doyle, T. (2008). Helping students learn in a learner-centered environment: A guide to teaching in higher education. Sterling, VA: Stylus. 
  • Prince, M. (2004). Does active learning work? A review of the research, Journal of Engineering Education, 93(3), 223-231.