Digital Learning Blog

Why we should embrace active learning

by | Aug 29, 2022 | Bo Choi, Digital Learning Blog

Why we should embrace active learning

Three good and three bad reasons to embrace active learning, with reflections on a changing world.

Many of us have either heard or experienced how active learning is a more effective way to learn compared to passive learning. Yes, this is yet another article/blog sharing the impact active learning brings to the classroom and students’ learning!


Recently, I read an article by Robert Talbert, Professor of Mathematics at Grand Valley State University, Michigan and author of Flipped Learning: A Guide for Higher Education Faculty (Stylus 2017). In the article, he introduces three good reasons and warns against three bad reasons for embracing active learning. To share his reflections, I summarize his most interesting points below.


First, Talbert lists his three good reasons as science, equity, and integrity. In regards to science, Talbert points out that active learning is scientifically proven to make a positive difference in student engagement and comprehension. He adds that there is a body of research to guide instructors in how to best practice and implement active learning in the classroom. Talbert also claims that active learning promotes equity in learning. To support this point, he references a 2006 study that showed that incorporating active learning strategies eliminated the gender performance gap in university physics classes. Finally, because active learning supports equity, Talbert argues that embracing active learning is the best way to maintain the integrity of colleges and universities. With equity and equal opportunity at the heart of most institutions’ mission statements, implementing active learning strategies to support these ideals is important for upholding the integrity of these institutions. 


Talbert also warns against three wrong reasons for adopting active learning. First, he states that you should not adopt active learning because you believe that students will automatically love it. He shares a study on measuring actual learning versus feeling of learning in response to being actively engaged in the classroom to back up this point. His second bad reason is the incorrect assumption that active learning has to involve technology and that students love technology. Many active learning strategies do not require the use of technology, and even when they do, there is plenty of evidence that students aren’t wowed by flashy tech tools. So, instructors who are hoping to rely on technology, rather than the communication and engagement that active learning actually entails, will be in for a surprise. Finally, his last bad reason for adopting active learning is doing it just because others are doing it. Without a clear purpose or goal for adopting active learning, there is little reason to bother. Active learning has to have a clear purpose that must be transparent to students. Think about your course objective(s) and how the activities and projects you assign will help students to meet/measure that objective(s). By doing this, you will avoid your attempts at active learning becoming more busy work for your students. 


Read the full blog, visit “Why we should embrace active learning” on Robert Talbert’s website. For help with incorporating active learning into your classroom, check out the DTEI’s 12 Digital Active Learning Strategies or contact us for additional support. 


About the Author

Bo ChoiBo Choi, M.A.Ed
Instructional Designer, Division of Teaching Excellence and Innovation (DTEI)

Bo is an instructional designer at at Division of Teaching Excellence and Innovation, University of California, Irvine (UCI). She has been serving in higher education as an instructional designer over a decade, with training and many years of experience in creating effective teaching and learning experiences and materials for technology-infused, hybrid and online learning. Bo uses campus learning technologies to great effect, with attention to universal design principles that provide meaningful and inclusive learning opportunities for students with different strengths and abilities. She joined the DTEI team in August 2019 after serving as an instructional designer at Cal Poly Pomona for 12 years. She has a BS in Engineering Technology and a MA.Ed in Multimedia Education.