Active Learning

Active learning

Definitions and Research on Active Learning

  • What is active learning?
    • Active learning is defined by Brent & Felder as student-centered instruction which “provides students with opportunities to learn independently and from one another and coaches them in the skills they need to do so effectively” (1).
    • Additionally, active learning has been defined by Bonwell & Sutherland as classroom experiences that “involves students in doing things and thinking about the things they are doing” which can be any set of tasks along a continuum from simple, short, and informal activities to complex, longer tasks that are more highly structured (2; see Figure 1 below).
    • Active learning can also be defined as an environment of learning where the students are “engaged in the process of building, testing, and refining their mental models” (Michael & Modell).

Examples of two active learning tasks

Bonwell Sutherland Active Learning Continuum
Source: Sutherland, T. E & C.C. Bonwell, Eds. (1996) Using active learning in college classes: A range of options for faculty. Jossey-Bass.
Pause Procedure Jigsaw Strategy
Involves takes breaks at appropriate times in the lecture or discussion, every 13 to 18 minutes, to allow students to compare and rework their notes for two minutes. This technique has led to statistically significant increases in student learning on free recall quizzes at the end of the lecture and comprehensive exams given 12 days later (Ruhl and others, 1987).  Students participate in small subject-specific groups to learn a new concept, then return to home base groups to teach the new concept to their fellow group members. Students working in their subject-specific group not only learn the concept themselves but also ensure that other group members learn it, and that all members of the subject-specific group understand the new idea well enough to teach it to others when they return to their home-base group. (Johnson, Johnson, and Smith, 1991). 


More active learning ideas and templates


  • Bonwell, C. C., & Eison, J. A. (1991). Active learning: Creating excitement in the classroom (ASHE–ERIC Higher Education Rep. No. 1). Washington, DC: The George Washington University, School of Education and Human Development.
  • Felder, R.M. & Brent, R. (1996). Navigating the bumpy road to student centered instruction. Retrieved, September 8, 2011 from  (Links to an external site.)
  • Michael, J.A. & Modell, H.I. (2003). Active learning in the secondary and college science classroom: A working model for helping learners to learn. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
  • Sutherland, T. E & C.C. Bonwell, Eds. (1996) Using active learning in college classes: A range of options for faculty. Jossey-Bass.
    • Updated 07.21.22 SR