Active Learning: Theories and Research

Summer, 2009

Source: Jewish Education Leadership, Volume 7:3 , Summer, 2009


In this article, Jill Beloff Farrell surveys the literature on active learning to provide conceptual underpinnings, and provides both historical context and a look forward into the information age.


Among the points made in the article:


"Conceptually, active learning implies deep learning on the part of the student as they construct knowledge and create meaning from their surroundings. In educational contexts applications of active learning range from focusing activities to cooperative structures to the active engagement of thinking processes in the learning and application of knowledge."


"Contemporary views of learning, as put forth by the National Research Council’s approach to the new science of learning, recognize the importance of allowing children to take control of their own learning by engaging in active learning, meta-cognition and transfer of knowledge. This newer approach to learning favors curriculum methods and materials designed to allow students to apply concepts being learned to real-world contexts, build local and global communities of practice, and allow opportunities for learning in and out of the classroom."


"Active learning includes a variety of teaching methods such as small group discussion, cooperative learning, role playing, hands-on projects, and teacher driven questioning. Authors calling for a combination of teaching approaches to stimulate learning in students with different learning styles, advocate active learning techniques which include the visual, auditory and kinesthetic aspects of learning."


"Teaching strategies that promote active learning have five common elements. These include:

  1. Student involvement beyond mere listening;
  2. More emphasis on the development of skills and less on transmittal of information;
  3. Student involvement in higher order thinking skills;
  4. Student involvement in activities, such as reading, discussing, writing;
  5. An emphasis on students’ exploration of values and attitudes."


" Educators at all levels are recognizing the potential of active learning curricula, along with E-learning applications as scalable, transferable medium that allow students to explore subjects at length, both in and out of the classroom, while fostering greater learning with the technologies pervasive in our daily lives… The multiple concepts, methods and pedagogies associated with active learning, along with newly emerging technologies can lead today’s learners to apply tools and knowledge in new domains and different situations, but only if we are willing to rethink the how, what, where and when of learning."

Updated: Oct. 12, 2009