What does active learning mean for learning environments?
Active learning represents a wide variety of learner behaviors – there is no one way to do active learning. One instructor may prioritize peer collaboration and facilitate frequent class discussions in small groups. Another instructor may engage in problem-based learning, with students solving new problems each day under a teacher’s guidance. An instructor working in a large introductory class may use clickers to allow every student to respond to class polls. A graduate program may ask students to conduct critical, comparative readings between multiple texts. In each of these cases, the emphasis is on students doing the intellectual heavy lifting while the instructor plans, facilitates, troubleshoots, and otherwise responds to the students’ needs throughout the class meeting.
The shift in what educators and learners are doing when they move from passive learning to active learning demands a change in how we think about classroom design as well. A highly efficient lecture hall often orients many students to easily see and hear a single lecturer, but how useful is that when students are spending each day seeing and hearing each other instead of one speaker at the front of the room? Flexible classroom spaces make it easy and intuitive for students to engage with problems, materials, or classmates when they need it. Similarly, the instructor is no longer spending all their time at the front of the room. Instead, they can easily circulate the space, engage student groups, and even share group material broadly… sometimes with little forewarning due to the responsive nature of good active learning.
Our research as part of this series looks at the impact of these supportive classroom spaces for active learning.