Active vs. Passive Learning

Wed, 9 Jul, 2014    active learningpassive learning

There are various schools of thought when it comes to learning in the modern world, but today, let’s take a look at two of them.  Many people believe that the traditional, lecture-style classroom is still a very viable form of educating and learning.  On the other hand, there is a second camp that believes that instructors should no longer be the center of the classroom (sage on the stage), but rather our classrooms should be student-centered and instructors should take more of a facilitator’s role in the process.  These different types of learning are called active and passive learning.  Let’s quickly examine the two learning approaches. 


As mentioned before, passive learning is more of the traditional approach.  In this method of teaching the instructor is verbalizing information and the students are passively taking notes on the subject matter.   Instructors that use this method typically see students as an empty vessel that needs to be filled with knowledge.  The majority of the time in this type of learning environment the instructor believes that he/she should only need to know the subject matter and not how to actually teach it to their students.  This is not to say that students cannot learn in a classroom like this, however, when an instructor uses this approach students are not as engaged. 


In comparison, active learning looks much different.  An active learning environment has an instructor that knows the current subject matter and is a facilitator to student learning.  Students engage with one another and the subject matter in a way that translates to real world learning.  Students monitor their own learning and collaborate with their classmates.  In this model, the instructor does not merely know the subject matter, but he/she also knows the pedagogical principles behind HOW he/she teaches.  The catch with the active learning model is that an instructor cannot simply compile their notes year after year and regurgitate those notes to their students.  This learning model is more complex and may take more time to plan, but the reward for the students will be worth it.  This model is dynamic and ever changing.  Revisions must be made constantly in order for this model to be most effective for students. 


As you can see, the extra effort that it takes to pull off an active learning environment in ones classroom is well worth it to students and instructor.  Students not only get a better grasp of the subject matter, but they also have more experience interacting and collaborating with their peers.  Furthermore, this model of teaching and learning puts students in a position to be better informed with how they are learning and gives them a better chance to engage in their own education.  So the question remains, “Are you engaging your students in active or passive learning?”