Active learning

The way that you engage with course content matters. Actively engaging in your learning is more powerful than passively receiving information.

Passive learning

Passive learning is when you receive information without interacting with it  or applying it. An example might be listening to a lecture or reading an article. It is often used when there is a large amount of disciplinary content to transfer at once. The problem with this style of passive transferral is that sometimes the information just doesn’t stick.

You may have noticed this as a particular problem at exam time. You can sometimes feel you are drowning in lecture notes when you start to revise.

Active learning

Active learning means taking information and critically engaging with it or applying it in meaningful ways. Your lecturers or tutors will use a number of active learning techniques such as practice quizzes, group discussions, playing games, getting you to apply information to real-world problems, or asking you to think about knowledge in terms of your own experiences and context.

Often tutorials are key places where active learning takes place. You will learn about something in a lecture and then be asked to apply it in a tutorial.

Active learning helps you make meaningful connections between difficult theories and concepts and their real-world applications. In active learning you drive your own understanding by engaging with, thinking critically about, or applying the knowledge you have acquired. This often means that knowledge sticks in a way it won’t with passive learning.

Be an active learner

  • Join a study group, either in person or online.
  • Engage in opportunities provided for group discussion.
  • Make sure you don’t just do the readings. Also do any associated activities. Often these are the sorts of examples included in exams.
  • Don’t cram everything at the end. Study as you go in small increments.
  • If you are overwhelmed by the depth or complexity of a topic first seek out a simple explanation via Google or YouTube. If still confused, speak to your tutor or lecturer. They are there to help.
  • Make an effort to ask questions.

Study actively

To study actively you need to critically engage with information you are receiving and then do something with it.

This might include:

  • Doing your assigned readings before your lecture, lab or tutorial.
  • Reflecting and asking questions about the information.
  • Rewriting or summarising the information in your own words.
  • Presenting the information in a different way, e.g., as a mind map,  through pictures or diagrams, or as flash cards.
  • Explaining the information to someone else such as a fellow student or family member.
  • Thinking about how this information might be surfaced in exams. You can check out exams to find practice examples.
  • Relating the information to your own experiences both as a student and in the real world.
  • Applying the information to your real life.
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