Active Learning

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Active learning is a student-centered approach, in which learners engage in and reflect on activities that make subject matter relevant, rather than passively listening to and/or watching delivered content.  Research shows that this activeness on the part of the student stimulates cognitive structures that deepen understanding and challenges misconceptions (Zull, 2012).  Such strategies for active learning include introducing collaborative project-based learning, flipped classes, group problem-solving sessions, use of clickers, multimedia content creation and peer teaching.  Millis (2012) provides a nice overview of strategies for incorporating active learning into lectures, discussions, or other course formats. Basic considerations include:

  • taking into consideration learner attention: research reports that attention starts to wane after 10-20 minutes of passively listening to (see Cornell U site for great info)
  • mapping changes to concrete learning goals – we are here to assist you in thinking about how and why certain technology-enhanced interventions can improve learning outcomes
  • starting small – first incorporating a single activity throughout the semester will allow you to gauge what works best with your teaching style and class
  • thinking about what can be done outside of class – if you find yourself running out of time to cover essential content, then think about what students can prep before and/or after class
  • incorporating group activities – allowing students to learn socially can increase motivation and challenge students to confront difficult information
  • introducing multimedia content – enhance straight lectures with videos, images, and audio to stimulate attention

Suggestions for making lecture-based courses more active involve:

  • introducing project-based learning: have students work in small teams to complete a common learning goal (see Group work page)
  • flipping content selectively:  relegate fact-based lectures to online modules that students do outside of class
  • having small groups of students recap core lecture materials for the class
  • using clicker technology to poll students and allow for in-class question and answer (see Student Response System Guide)
  • creating active problem-solving opportunities

Suggestions for making discussions more active include:

  • forming small groups of students to lead class discussions and generate discussion questions
  • breaking out class into small groups to discuss first and then revert to whole class discussion
  • using techniques such as think-pair-share and knowledge mapping to articulate what students have learned
  • having students take turns in different roles in the discussion process.


  • General Physics 1 and 2: Prof. Andre Adler discusses the use of student response system to promote group work and engagement in large lecture [NYU CAS – Physics]
  • General Chemistry: Prof. John Halpin uses peer review and clicker technology to engage students in large lecture [NYU CAS – Chemistry]
  • Introduction to Physics: Prof. Eric Mazur uses of clicker technology and active problem solving [Harvard – Physics]
  • Introduction to Microeconomics: Prof. Marc Lieberman is currently developing interactive modules and animations to increase learning and promote engagement [NYU CAS – Economics]
  • Social and Cultural Foundations: various sections of Social and Cultural Foundations use a collaborative website for peer teaching and content creation [NYU Liberal Studies]
  • Visible and Invisible Cities (log in with NYU credentials): Prof. Virginia Cox has students complete creative projects to connect more deeply with literary texts [NYU FAS – CORE]

Templates & Guides

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