Active Learning

What is Active Learning?

Active learning occurs when learners are engaged in the instructional process through activities such as exploring, analyzing, communicating, creating, reflecting, or actually using new information or experiences. In contrast, passive learning occurs when content is simply “delivered” to the learners for them to absorb.  They are not asked to do anything with the content but merely to know it.  This type of approach limits development and retention of knowledge by students, as the diagram below, based on Edgar Dale’s Cone of Experience (1969), illustrates:


[Retrieved from on April 12, 2012]

As Chickering and Gamson (1987) wrote, “Learning is not a spectator sport”.  Students cannot simply “absorb” content.  In an online learning environment, incorporating active learning strategies becomes even more crucial because learners can become easily bored if all they are doing is reading a book, listening to lectures, and taking a test.  Engaging stiudents not only with the content but with one another enhances the learning experience.  This document, Active Learning Challenges and Solutions, lists many of the various issues and related resolutions that all instructors face in incorporating active learning strategies in an online environment.


Chickering, A.W. & Gamson, Z.F. (1987). Seven principles for good practice. American Association Higher Education Bulletin, 39:3-7.

Dale, E. (1969). Audiovisual methods in teaching. New York:  Holt, Rinehart, Wilson, Inc.

McKeachie, W.J. (1998). Teaching tips: Strategies, research and theory for college and university teachers. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company.

Vogt,  Susannah Poll. (2011, Jan. 28).  “Talking to Teach” versus “Doing to Learn”.  Retrieved from