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.

Active learning is proving to improve learning outcomes for all students, while decreasing the achievement gap for underrepresented minority students.

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.