Educators today know more about what happens in the brain when a person learns something new. We know that learning occurs when our brains are active. We have seen how active learning strategies, which replace traditional lectures, engage teens more fully in the learning process.
What is active learning? Think of an approach to education in which students engage with the material, participate in the discussion and collaborate with each other on projects. They are encouraged to make mistakes, analyze problems and learn from errors. Active learning is an alternative to the type of traditional instruction in which teachers do most of the talking and students are passive. Students are at the center of active learning.
A variety of teaching strategies that utilize discussions, problem-solving, and structured learning groups can be employed to actively engage students in the learning process.
In collaborative learning, students work together in small groups to complete an assigned task. The student interaction becomes a means of learning. Group discussions are one of the most common methods of using collaborative learning in any classroom. The process of discussing review questions or trying to develop a group argument helps to engage each student in the learning process.
Project-based learning is a process of teaching and learning in which a problem is presented regarding a topic to provide the student with motivation for learning. In many cases, the students try to find solutions to the problem which become the primary means of instruction. Project-based learning removes some of the instructional elements and asks students to create their own learning experience.
Another strategy for replacing the traditional lecture is through experiential learning which relies on real-world problems and situations. Frequently the students leave the classroom to explore a new environment. The key is that students are immersed in the problem and the discovery of a "solution.” This approach to learning also increases student engagement and their ability to retain information. Through reflection, discussion, and analysis students develop knowledge, skills, and values from the direct experiences.
Why are active learning strategies effective? Many students develop the maturity necessary to engage fully in their education through these kinds of learning experiences. They gain a deeper understanding of the world around them, a desire to be a member and contributor to their communities, and independent, confident learners. When used to enhance a curriculum, experiential learning enriches and strengthens the learning experience.