Active Learning Toolkit

What & Why - What is Active Learning and Why is it Important?

What is Active Learning?

Active learning is an instructional approach that "involves students in doing things and thinking about the things they are doing," (Bonwell & Eison, 1991, p.2). Active learning engages students in activities beyond reading, listening, or watching to deepen their learning and connection with the material.

Students engaged in active learning often are:

  • talking with each other in small groups or large discussions
  • developing skills rather than memorizing information
  • using higher order thinking
  • doing something physical
  • constructing knowledge or artifacts

Why is it Important?

Active learning improves student success.

  • Students learn the material and perform better on exams and are 1.5 times less likely to fail than students in classes with traditional lectures (Freeman,, 2014)
  • The achievement gap for underrepresent student populations, including minorities and first-generation students, is decreased (Eddy and Hogan, 2014 and Haak 2001)
  • Students feel more personally invested in the material and their own learning when they are actively engaged. (Svinicki, 2016)
  • Inclusiveness is enhanced through active learning by engaging a variety of learning modes or styles

Active learning acts as formative assessment and can:

  • provide valuable feedback to instructors about what students do and do not understand.
  • help students become more self-aware of their own learning progress.

With roots in constructivist learning theory, the primary benefit of active learning is that it makes students an active, rather than passive, participant in the the process of assimilating new information (Bransford,, 1999) and leverages the power of social interaction, especially when students work with their peers to solve problems or create artifacts (Vygotsky, 1978).


Academic Research Articles

Articles for Educators

Relevant Books

How To - Getting Started Using Active Learning Strategies

Start Small

Choose a tool that seems comfortable for a single class session, or even just part of a class session, rather than trying to redesign an entire course. For example, you might first look for a tool that will help you make your lectures more interactive instead of trying to replace lectures with activities. Then work your way up to more immersive experiences for your students.

Also, feel free to alter ideas to suit your needs; think of instructions as guidelines or suggestions rather than rules. Adjusting tools to fit your own personality, as well as the content, class structure, and student demographics, will increase their potential for success.

Plan Ahead

Consider logistics like time, space, and materials. Determine how you will frame the activity, what explanations and directions you will offer, and what content students need prior to the activity in order to be successful. Think about using Flipped Teaching, where students access lecture materials through videos or online content prior to class, to free up time for active learning.

Provide a Framework

Explain to students what you are doing and why you are doing it. This not only helps build rapport and classroom climate, it enhances students’ metacognition and increases chances for success with the activity.


After the activity, let students discuss the experience with each other and with you. You’ll get feedback about both the process and the learning outcomes of the activity that can inform your next steps in the course content and instructional approaches.

Active Learning Ideas

  • Activity Information, List of several active learning ideas with at-a-glance descriptions, examples, and supporting research. Includes case study, concept maps, discussions, games, jigsaw, think-pair-share, role play, and more. ABL Connect, Harvard University.
  • Active Reading Documents, Active Reading Documents are carefully prepared forms that guide students through the process of critical and careful reading, a video provided by The K. Patricia Cross Academy.
  • Classroom Activities for Active Learning, Center for Faculty Excellence, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.
  • Teaching Methods Overview - Faculty Center for Teaching & Learning, University of Central Florida. List of examples of different teaching methods for use in classroom, including active-learning, case-based learning, collaborative learning, and interactive teaching. Includes a large section about halfway down the page covering various tips for active lectures.

Tools & Approaches for Interactive Lecturing

General Tips on Interactive Lecturing

Student Response Systems

ABCD Voting Cards

IF AT Cards

Mini White Boards


Pause Procedure

Muddiest Point

  • Muddiest Point Activities, (Pages 14-17) Texas Tech University

Exit Slips

Tools & Approaches for Active Assignments

Concept Maps

Student Presentations

Peer Instruction

Low Stakes Assignments

Collaborative Testing

Tools & Approaches for Facilitating Discussion

Gallery Walk




Speed Dating

More Ideas

Tools & Approaches for Immersive Experiences

Case Studies

How to Use Case Studies

  • Case Writing Guide, Schreyer Institute for Teaching Excellence, Penn State.
  • How to Lead a Case-Based Instruction, Eberly Center for Teaching Excellence & Educational Innovation, Carnegie Mellon University.
  • Quick Tips for Case Writing, Penn State Teaching and Learning with Technology.
  • Teaching with Case Studies, Penn State Teaching and Learning with Technology. Includes examples, strategies for writing cases, and teaching tips.

How to Write a Case Study

Samples and Examples

Role-Plays, Simulations and Games

Role Plays and Simulations


Project-Based Learning

Problem-Based Learning

Inquiry-Based Learning

Field Trips (Real or Virtual)

Service Learning (Civic Engagement)