Active Learning Techniques

Table of Contents

What are Active Learning Techniques?

Active learning techniques (ALT) are a variety of collaborative classroom activities that require students to actively engage with course content in a meaningful way. It also allows them to interact with each other to help process the new knowledge (McCarthy & Anderson, 2000). Examples of ALT include socratic seminars, journal writing, classroom simulations, and problem-solving exercises. Each interactive activity allows students to analyze learning content and listen to their peers’ perspectives regarding the learning content. Overall, integrating ALT within the learning environment provides students the opportunity to apply their knowledge (McCarthy & Anderson, 2000). 

How are they used?

With so many options available, choosing which ALT to employ comes down to the course learning objectives. Any activity you use should serve the students in reaching the module or course goals. Resources abound online, and we will highlight a few of the most successful techniques below: 

When active learning techniques are used, didactic sessions can be an effective tool to contextualize content, explain difficult concepts, and improve student learning from simply remembering to applying and analyzing” (Wolff et al., 2015, p. 85).

  • Role Play – Students are given a role to act out so they can summarize learning concepts.  
  • One Minute Paper – The instructor asks the students to take a minute to write out the important points of the day's lesson or to reflect on what point was the most unclear.  
  • Team-Based Learning – The instructor creates small group learning which allows learners to discuss and apply core learning content.
  • Thinking Hats – Learners are exposed to multiple metaphorical hats to approach the learning topic.  
  • Think-Pair-Share – The instructor poses a question to the entire class and provides a moment for learners to answer the question. Then, the instructor allows learners to pair with another student to compare or contrast their responses.  
  • Case-Based Learning – Learners use case studies to interact with pre-defined data and/or scenarios to reflect or generate a response.  


Read more about ALTs from the links provided below: 

226 Active Learning Techniques [PDF] - Iowa State University Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching

Active Learning Strategies – Berkeley Center for Teaching and Learning

Incorporating Active Learning into the Classroom [PDF] – University of Michigan, Center for Research on Learning & Teaching

Four-Step Strategy to Create Active Learning in Any Learning Space – Online Learning Insights 

Reflecting on Your Practice - University of Michigan, Center for Research on Learning & Teaching 

National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science – National Science Foundation 

Confessions of a Converted Lecturer [video] – Eric Mazur, Harvard University 

These books are available at KSU Library

Tobin, T. J., Behling, K. T. (2018). Reach everyone, teach everyone: Universal design for learning in higher education. West Virginia University Press.  

Misseyanni, A., Lytras, M. D., Papadopoulou, P., & Marouli, C. (2018). Active Learning Strategies in higher education: Teaching for leadership, innovation, and creativity. Emerald Publishing Limited

Wiggins, A. (2017). The best class you never taught: How spider web discussion can turn students into learning leaders. ASCD

  • McCarthy, J. P., & Anderson, L. (2000). Active learning techniques versus traditional teaching styles: Two experiments from history and political science. Innovative higher education, 24(4), 279-294. 

    Walker, S. E. (2003). Active learning strategies to promote critical thinking. Journal of athletic training, 38(3), 263. 

    Wolff, M., Wagner, M. J., Poznanski, S., Schiller, J., & Santen, S. (2015). Not another boring lecture: engaging learners with active learning techniques. The Journal of emergency medicine, 48(1), 85-93.