Active Learning: Connecting Teachers and Learners

Think about the last time you either taught or learned something. Was the experience passive or active? Did the strategy achieve the learning objective(s)? What would you have done differently to further enhance the experience?

Although we don’t always have a choice of how a new learning experience is delivered to us, as a teacher or facilitator, we typically do have a choice of how the content is delivered. Choosing the right instructional method and learning activity can determine the overall success of the experience for both you and the learner(s).

Active learning is an instructional method that engages learners to actively participate in their own learning process. It provides an opportunity for learners to think, collaborate, and/or practice skills to apply, synthesize, or summarize new material. Learners engage in meaningful learning activities while thinking about what they are doing (Prince, 2004).

Incorporate Active Learning into an Existing Lecture

When you decide to give active learning a try, don’t even think about throwing out an already prepared lecture and starting over. Instead, integrate a learning activity into your lecture by creating pauses or breaks throughout the lecture. These breaks, which should only be two to four minutes, become the learning activity. Examples of learning activities to incorporate into your lecture include:

  • Personal Response System: Bring real-time interactions and results through voting, opinions, or ranking to connect with your learners. This may be achieved using a variety of platforms including Poll Everywhere or Turning Point.
  • Minute Paper: During pauses, ask learners one or two open-ended questions based on the material being covered. This is a way for learners to self-asses their learning while you gauge learner understanding of the content.

Incorporate Active Learning into a New Classroom or Training Sessions

As you prepare to teach or facilitate in a learning environment, rather than putting a traditional lecture together, plan an active-learning strategy to ensure learners are participating directly in their learning. Examples of learning activities include:

  • Think-Pair-Share: After introducing content, learners are asked to think about an idea, solve a problem, or answer a question based on the material. Then learners are paired or placed in small groups to further discuss their thoughts. Lastly, one or more groups share back their ideas with the entire class.
  • Jigsaw Discussion: A general topic is divided into smaller pieces. Each member of a team is assigned to become an expert to each small piece of the general topic. Once each person becomes the expert, he or she teaches the other team members about that piece of the puzzle. After each person finishes teaching, the puzzle has been reassembled, and everyone on the team knows something important about every piece of the puzzle.

Benefits to active learning continue to be supported by literature (Lynch, 2016). Not only do these strategies encourage learner engagement, but they promote higher-order thinking while reinforcing materials and concepts (Gifkins, 2015). They also address different learning styles while allowing learners to practice important skills such as collaboration and communication.

The next time you are planning to teach or facilitate, bring some creativity into the mix by thinking outside the traditional teaching styles by using active-learning strategies. Encouraging your learners to engage in the content and with their peers creates a positive learning environment while enhancing their learning experience.

Additional Resources

7 Active Learning Strategies that Connect Teachers with Students by Poll Everywhere


Gifkins, J. (2015). What Is "Active Learning" and Why Is It Important? E-International Relations. Retrieved from

Lynch, J. (2016). What Does Research Say about Active Learning? Pearson. Retrieved from

Prince, M. (2004). Does Active Learning Work? A Review of the Research. Journal of Engineering Education, 93(3), 223-231. Retrieved from

Active Learning (2018). Center for Education Innovation. University of Minnesota. Retrieved from

Introduction to Active Learning (2016). Center for Research on Learning and Teaching, University of Michigan. Retrieved from

Cindy Gosse

Cindy Gosse is an Education Specialist II in the Department of Laboratory Medicine and Pathology at Mayo Clinic. Her responsibilities include curriculum and faculty development for graduate medical education. She is on the Well-being Committee and the Technology Sub-Committee within the department and is a well-being champion and a member of the Blackboard Education Steering Team at Mayo Clinic.