What Is Active Learning?

Passive learning invites the student to sit back, consume information, and click through content without collaboration, critical thinking, or feedback. Nothing is produced. No results (except completion) can be measured. 


Active learning requires the audience to take an action within the lesson, module, or training exercise to increase attention, engagement, and skill retention. When you consume information passively, the only skill you are developing is memorization. You’re not actually developing the skills you’re learning about in real time.


How would you personally try to get good at playing the piano (let’s pretend for a moment that’s your aspiration).  Would you take the passive learning approach and read piano textbooks, attend piano lectures in large classrooms, and watch powerpoints, YouTube, and other consumable media?


Or would you practice the piano, get feedback on your output, and continue to improve your skills over time. 


If you were actively learning the piano, you would be recording yourself playing, trying to write your own songs, and actually performing in front of people. 


It seems obvious doesn’t it?


That this active learning approach would be more effective?


Yet formal education, online education, and education in the workplace all take a passive approach to participant success. This is why students often say, “School isn’t practical. It’s not helping me prepare for the real world…” because it’s not.


Think of anything you’re good at … maybe it’s talking to people, maybe it’s building wooden birdhouses, maybe it’s your job … how did you get good at it?


By passively learning about it?


Or by actively taking the action required to build skills?


To be fair, passive learning can be valuable for stimulating interest, generating inspiration, and getting the confidence to take the first few steps forward, but actively learning is the only way to truly get to the finish line.


Want to see more examples?