Why Active Learning?

In recent years, more and more evidence is accumulating about the difference in effectiveness between traditional lecture-style courses and courses designed with an active learning approach.

Increasing in-class interaction is associated with improved learning outcomes for all students, while often decreasing the achievement gap for underrepresented minority students.

In addition to the peer-reviewed studies cited below, a 2012 National Research Council report, Discipline-Based Education Research: Understanding and Improving Learning in Undergraduate Science and Engineering concluded the following: “Overall, the committee has characterized the strength of the evidence on making lectures more interactive as strong because of the high degree to which the findings converge, albeit from many studies that were conducted in the context of a single course using a wide variety of measurement tools.”

What is Active Learning?

“Active learning is anything that involves students doing things or thinking about what they are doing.” – Katherine Spilios

To view the full active learning module in the CIRTL online course “Introduction to STEM Teaching”, click here.

Active Learning Examples

Resources for Active Learning

Active Learning Activities by Effort

The following resource outlines several active learning strategies that you can use in your classroom, categorized by effort and research validation: Active Learning Activities by Effort

Framing active learning for students

Wondering how to introduce your students to this type of learning, and “frame” the classroom structure to them?


In this set of Expert Recommendations, you will find research-based (not necessarily research-tested) recommendations for helping students get introduced to and engaged productively in active learning, along with concrete examples of how to incorporate these ideas in your classroom. Compiled by Stephanie Chasteen of the University of Colorado Boulder in collaboration with Andrew Boudreaux of Western Washington University and Jon Gaffney of Eastern Kentucky University.

For a pdf summary, go here: https://www.physport.org/recommendations/files/Framing%20Summary%20and%20Checklists.pdf.

Active Learning Resources by Discipline and Course

Here is a collection of active learning materials for a range of STEM courses, curated by the Science Education Initiative.

Key peer-reviewed studies on Active Learning

Freeman et al. (2014, PNAS) performed a meta-analysis of 225 studies to find active learning associated with increased learning and decreased failure across the sciences.

Haak et al. (2011, Science) found that a “high-structured” active learning class (i.e. one with multiple weekly assignments and regular student engagement) decreased achievement gaps between “advantaged” and “disadvantaged” groups.

Ballen, Wieman et al. (2017, CBE-Life Sciences) found that active learning closed the achievement gap between underrepresented groups and non-underrepresented groups, mainly by increasing the self-efficacy of both groups of students.


The following resource provides multimedia resources, including apps, animations, videos, interactives, and virtual labs, to bring the excitement of scientific discovery into your classroom. BioInteractive

Diagnostic Question Cluster (DQC) Group

The following resource develops assessment that can inform instruction, in particular in assessing how undergraduates trace matter, energy and/or information through biological and geological processes at multiple scales. Diagnostic Question Cluster (DQC) Group

The Summer Institute

The Summer Institute on Scientific Teaching empower and inspire instructors to transform STEM education through evidence-based teaching practices. The following Summer Institute teaching tidbit materials assist in the use of incorporating the material in your own classroom. The Summer Institute 

Course Source

The following source is an open -access journal of peer-reviewed teaching resources for undergraduate biological sciences. Course Source

Jigsaw Newsletter

The following resource is a listserv that is distributed monthly, containing active learning of ecological concepts, reports and articles on stem education and science education research, as well as new resources in ecology education digital library.

Jigsaw Newsletter

National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science

The following resource maintains more than 700 peer-reviewed cases centered on STEM case studies for use at the undergraduate, graduate, and high school level. National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science