Active Learning in American Colleges

Provided by Columbia College

Consider your current job. Did you learn how to do everything from reading a training manual? Or did you learn over time by just doing it? Chances are, you learned from experience. This is known as “active learning,” and more colleges are implementing it in the classroom.

The method places some of the responsibility of learning course material on the student. Instead of simply absorbing information and then demonstrating mastery through a test or exam, students become active participants in what they’ll learn and how, such as by shaping the syllabus, planning a lesson to deliver to the entire class or collaborative research projects.

The idea builds on the notion that we learn better through active engagement versus simply being lectured on a certain subject. Students become participants in their education in ways beyond taking notes, reading chapters and gunning for high scores on exams. Active learning takes a real-world approach to education.

If we want to learn something outside of the classroom, how do we go about it? Generally, we just do it. Someone may instruct us how, but ultimately it is in the act of doing it ourselves that we attain mastery over a skill or subject. Active learning embraces this concept and moves it into the classroom. In this way, colleges just aren’t giving students the knowledge; they’re giving them the ability to apply it in a real-world setting.

The idea of active learning addresses another issue: Students generally only retain what is meaningful to them. In countless studies, some dating back to the 1880s, it has been shown that rote memorization, like the kind needed to pass a test, is ineffective at retaining information. In one study, students took a final exam. Then three months later they were given the same exam. The average scores on the first test were A-minus/B-plus. The second time? F.

When students help shape the subject matter they will learn, plan how it will be delivered and work together, they become engaged. This process breaks free from the lecture-study-test structure and creates an interactive, vibrant learning environment where students acquire skills they can use beyond the classroom and post-graduation.

Today, most colleges implement some degree of active learning. At Columbia College, for instance, students and instructors work to create a collaborative learning environment that facilitates active learning. Students are required to do more on their own than they would in a “traditional” classroom setting.

If you’re exploring college options, consider researching how committed a school is to active learning. Columbia College has embraced the approach and has implemented aspects of it in many of its classes. Remember, Edcor members receive a 10 percent tuition discount at Columbia College, making it a wonderful option for students who want to be in the driver’s seat of their education.