Active learning focuses on how students learn, rather than just what they learn. By engaging students in the learning process, universities can reduce failure rates across STEM subjects, as well as upskilling our future workforces.
Here we will take a look into how integrating active learning strategies into education course structure can offer a range of benefits. From encouraging student engagement and arming students with transferable skills that will be vital to their future careers.
The benefits of active learning
Studies have shown that active learning in classes can improve exam results by around 6%. Furthermore, students that learn through traditional lectures are 1.5 times more likely to fail compared to those who have participated in active learning.
That said, the expectation of the next generation entering the workplace not only focuses on educational results, but also the transferable skills acquired during their time at University. Utilising technology is key to encouraging active learning, and preparing students for the workplace.
Here we look at five active learning strategies which can develop core skills such as effective communication, collaborative working, problem solving, data analysis and research skills.
Investing in virtual laboratories
Virtual laboratories give students the opportunity to apply course concepts to new situations and contexts, as well as develop data analysis skills.
Research has found that combining the use of the virtual laboratory with teacher-led learning, increased learning effectiveness by 101%. Virtual laboratories are in use at world-class universities — Harvard, MIT, University of Hong Kong, and Stanford are already using lab simulators to support open-ended investigations.
The technology gives students the opportunity to perform experiments that may be too dangerous or impossible to perform in a real lab. It can also save an institution money, as students can practice experiments before using real resources. Opening up more opportunities for all students to experiment with fewer limitations in turn improves experimental and analytical skills.
Using interactive projectors effectively
Interactive projectors and interactive flat panel displays (IFPD) have been found to have a positive impact on students' motivation, engagement and self-esteem. By using an IFPD in an interactive way, rather than just as a way of transmitting information to students, institutions will achieve the best results.
An IFPD is the ideal tool for research or used as a central hub for brainstorming. Asking students to work collaboratively during seminars to complete games or tasks related to their subject of study will facilitate deep learning and promote knowledge retention.
Students can also put together their own lessons or presentations and lead a lecture. Embedding video, images, links to further reading or tools enhances peer-to-peer learning. This approach encourages real-life research skills and prepares students for the challenges of professional life.
Employing the Think-Pair-Share approach
Think-Pair-Share is used at the University of Berkeley to activate students’ prior knowledge and encourage them to share what they know with their peers. Working in this way helps students to help organise their own ideas in their own minds first, before sharing with others in a group.
How it works: Ask students to Think individually about the question or idea that they’d like to propose. Then, Pair them up with someone to discuss their thinking. Finally, give them the opportunity to Share their conversation and debate within small groups before presenting to the wider group.
When facilitating a whole group discussion, ask students to expand their thinking by supporting their thoughts with evidence or further explanation. Ask questions that encourage students to think about the wider context of the subjects such as: what makes you think that? Can you give me an example?
Not only does this strategy encourage collaborative working and analytic thinking – both essential transferable skills for a range of careers; it also gives student confidence in presenting.
Using case studies
Setting students a real-life, current issue to tackle encourages them to explore case studies and relevant sources to find a solution. The research skills they will develop are essential in a range of career roles. What’s more, by using a real-life scenario students get into the headspace of an employee in that field.
Asking students to work in small research groups before presenting their findings to the rest of the group. Working in this way bridges the gap between theoretical concepts and practice, as well as promoting active learning. Students will also develop key skills such as effective communication, group working, presentation skills and problem-solving.
Research has shown that learning through the use of case studies increases student motivation and desire to expand their knowledge in their subject area.
Making lectures interactive
Reflect back on your time at university and you will likely remember lectures as dull hours spent being talked at. By breaking up lectures with interactive elements, lecturers can drastically improve the learning experience. Best of all, this can be achieved with minimal technology. Many universities have clickers installed in their lecture theatres, lecturers can make best use of these by posing multiple-choice questions to the class.
University College London (UCL) is one such institution making good use of interactive technology in lectures by using free apps, such as Socrative. Socrative lets students record their answers on smartphones or tablets. The results can then be shared with the class.
A competitive advantage
For recent graduates job competition is strong so arming them with strong transferable skills will give them a competitive advantage.
Graduates fresh from university and armed with relevant skills on the job spec checklist is win-win for both parties. For an entry level role, the high level of candidates applying for an opening is a great opportunity for businesses to secure the best possible graduates.
Katy Crouch, Marketing Executive at Selesti
Image Credit: Brooke Cagel / Unsplash