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4 Tips to Build Active Learning in the Classroom

4 Tips to Build Active Learning in the Classroom

We’re surrounded by passive learning and ways to consume information. Streaming shows on different devices, scrolling through social media feeds, and listening to podcasts are easy ways to tune in while checking out. It’s great to disconnect and relax at the end of the day. But in classrooms and virtual learning forums, it’s important to cultivate active learning with instruction that engages students’ minds.

As any educator knows, this is something more easily said than implemented. Active learning is a complex and multivariate practice that can involve many parts in and out of the classroom. Changing your teaching to embrace the complexity of active learning can be overwhelming. Let’s break down the concept so that you can begin to adopt some active learning practices in your class.

The basics of active learning

First, what is active learning? Active learning, also known as student-centered learning or evidence-based teaching, is a broad educational strategy, and it can mean many things. In a nutshell, active learning focuses on what students are doing rather than what the teacher is doing.

So, what’s the first step to introducing active learning into your classroom? Instead of planning your time, focus on student actions.

Start by asking open-ended questions like, “What do think will happen and why?” or “How do we measure progress?” to direct students forward and set a target. Big questions like these are called focus or herding questions. They guide learners.

Active learning is also important for professional development for teachers. “Sit and get” professional development has proven to be less effective than active training for educators.

Putting it into practice

Here are four things to consider when incorporating active learning techniques in your classroom:

1. Develop class projects that reflect real-life problems

Project-based learning (PBL) can boost classroom engagement. Edmentum Courseware has 14 prebuilt PBL activities that enhance student learning in STEM curriculum.

In this video, we run through some of the best practices for project-based learning and share a live demo of Courseware’s PBL capabilities.

2. Partner with your students to create self-assessments

By partnering with students to create assessments, they learn about themselves and think about how they’ll be graded. Self-assessment builds assessment literacy. When students develop understanding of their own knowledge, they’ll also be able to examine the work of others. When they design their assessments, they’ll find the feedback to be more meaningful. Developing self-assessments with students is also a nice strategy for developing trust and building relationships.

3. Help students build thinking skills with in-class discussion

Classroom activities like “think-pair-share” or “turn and talk” are opportunities for open-ended thinking through discussion. Such activities develop conversational skills like listening and reflection. They are also a way to evaluate students’ thought processes.

4. Go slowly

Getting started with a new instructional strategy is exciting, but don’t overreach! Start slowly. Limit learning projects to one or two per academic year, and build your active learning chops year by year.

It takes time to develop your skills, and active learning is a journey. The goal is to create lifelong learners.

Let’s recap!

Fostering autonomy and creating ownership of learning builds relationships and trust.

When educators democratically explore student interests in class projects, learners become invested in their education. Students begin to think beyond snapshot assessments or grades by applying what they learned, and when a community solves problems together, it lifts everyone up.

This is not easy. Developing these skills takes time and planning for you and your classroom, but the payoff is big. Active learners become engaged and develop skills for life.

Are you looking for easy-to-implement project-based learning? Edmentum Courseware has 14 plug-and-play STEM PBL activities available through the Custom Course Builder and Flex Assignments. Learn more about our PBL STEM collection here.'s picture
Adam Burke

Adam Burke is a Marketing Specialist at Edmentum. He previously worked in marketing at ACT and as an education reporter in eastern Iowa. Before that, he was also a classroom teacher at every level from K to college. Adam has a BA from Macalester College and an MFA from the University of Iowa.