Active Learning Strategies​

Active learning is a student-centered approach to learning that focuses on how students learn, not just what they learn.

Active learning strategies​

Active learning is a student-centered approach to learning that focuses on how students learn, not just what they learn. It was first defined by Bonwell and Eison (1991) as: “anything that involves students doing things and thinking about the things they are doing”.

Based on this definition, active learning is comprised of two key aspects:

Doing things

Involves activities where students take a participatory role in the learning process to deepen and challenge their understanding. This is opposed to modes of instruction where students are passive recipients of knowledge from an expert.


Involves students thinking about their own learning, which is a concept known as metacognition. Metacognitive activities can include planning and identifying strategies to complete a learning task, evaluating progress, monitoring comprehension, and reflecting on personal habits, knowledge, and approaches to learning. Metacognitive practice helps students construct meaning and draw connections between new information and their existing knowledge, experiences, and ideas.

Theoretical basis​

Active learning is based on constructivist learning theory, which posits that learners play an active role in their learning journey, and construct their knowledge based on the interaction of prior knowledge and new experiences, rather than just passively taking in information. As new experiences occur, learners develop schemas (mental models) to organise and integrate the new information with their pre-existing knowledge. 

Benefits of active learning​

21st Century Skills

Active learning helps foster skills such as communication, collaboration, critical thinking, creativity, innovation and problem-solving, which are skills that are highly desired by employers.

Lifelong ​Learning

Active learning is not only about the content that is learned, but also about the process of learning. This helps develop students’ ability to learn and is a skill they can continue to use throughout their lives.

Active Learning Strategies​

3-2-1 Response

Following an activity, students write:

  • 3 things learned – ideas, issues, insights.
  • 2 examples of how to apply the ideas, issues, insights to a scenario or problem.
  • 1 unresolved “something,” which you can express as a question, name as an area of confusion, or point to as a difficulty.

Application cards

After teaching about an important theory, principle, or procedure, ask students to write down at least one context-specified application for what they have just learned.

Audience response systems 

Audience Response Systems (ARS) allow instructors to get immediate feedback from their students using technology. Questions or problems are presented to students, and they respond using an electronic device. The software collects and aggregates the responses, which can be used for formative assessment. Eg: Polls, word clouds. 

Background knowledge probe 

Before introducing an important new concept, students respond to questions that will probe their existing knowledge


Brainstorming is a collaborative problem-solving strategy that involves generating possible solutions, establishing criteria by which to evaluate them, and then applying the criteria to select the best solution. Ideas can be generated using either a structured or unstructured method; however, it is important to note that during the brainstorming phase, the focus should be on generating ideas, and not on evaluating them. Evaluating during that period can stifle creativity. 

Case studies 

Case-based learning presents students with situations from the real-world that require them to apply their knowledge to solve a problem/reach a conclusion about the situation.

Chain notes 

Write an open-ended question on a piece of A4 paper, hand the paper to the first student to write a response. The paper is then passed to the next student to add their response and so on, creating a chain of notes on the one piece of paper. 

Concept mapping 

Concept maps allow students to create a graphical representation of their understanding of concepts and theories, with a strong focus on relationships between different ideas. 


This technique explores and analyses similarities and differences between content including people, places, and things such as ideas, theories, approaches, themes, etc. 


Debate is an oral public discussion in which multiple sides use evidence to argue for a position on a selected topic— including supporting a position they may not necessarily agree with. This allows students to view multiple perspectives, new evidence, and challenge their assumptions. 


Students demonstrate to the class or a group how to perform a task. Demonstrations allow students to practice what they are learning and develop a certain level of proficiency. 


Students engage in classroom material through a discussion. This allows students time to learn from each other as they process the concepts/learning material 

Exit ticket 

Students respond to a question or apply the objective they learned in class. Students must submit tickets—usually written on paper but could be done online—before they leave class. Exit serve as a formative assessment tool for the instructor to determine how well student understand the material and where there are gaps. 


Fishbowl is a strategy for organizing medium to large group discussions. Students are separated into an inner and outer circle. The facilitator poses an initial question, and those in the inner circle discuss the question among themselves while all others in the outer circle listen attentively. Participants in the inner circle may choose to step out, at which point anyone in the outside circle is free to take the empty seat in the inner circle and join the conversation. After all students have rotated through the fishbowl, invite students to debrief. The following discussion starters may facilitate the conversations:

  • What did you observe during the discussion?
  • What is one thing you heard that is similar to your point of view?
  • What is one thing with which you disagree?
  • How did you feel while on the outside of the fishbowl?
  • How did you feel while on the inside of the fishbowl? 

Four corners

Choose four aspects of a topic that your class is currently focusing on. Assign each of these aspects to a corner (or an area) of your room. Present the topic and the four related aspects to the whole group and give the students some "think time." Students can then choose a corner to discuss and document the topic. Representatives from each corner can share what their respective groups discussed. 


A concept is broken into smaller topics, and each topic is assigned to a different group. Each student in the group works to become an “expert” on their assigned topics.  ​​

The students are then regrouped so new groups include one student from each of the previous groups. Next, each “expert” teaches their topic to the rest of the group or groups complete a synthesis activity that can only be answered once all the team pieces are together. When completed, and the puzzle is put back together, every team member will have learned something about each topic. 


Infographics are tools that help students create a visual representation of their understanding. They give students a medium to synthesise their knowledge and express ideas to others. 

Inquiry-Based Learning 

Students use an investigative process to discover concepts for themselves. After the instructor identifies an idea or concept, a question is posed that asks students to make observations. 

KWL Chart

A K-W-L Chart, tracks what a student knows (K), wants to know (W), and has learned (L) about a topic.

Minute paper

Ask students a question that requires them to reflect on their learning or to engage in critical thinking. Have them write for one minute. Ask students to share responses to stimulate discussion or collect all responses to inform future class sessions. 

Muddiest point

Students are asked, “What was the muddiest point today?” In other words, where are they having difficulties understanding the course material. Students can write their response on paper or online and/or engage in face-to-face discussion. 

One sentence-summary

Students summarize knowledge of a topic by constructing a single sentence that answers the questions, “Who does what to whom, when, where, how, and why?” The purpose is for students to define features of an idea. 

Panel presentations 

A small group of individuals are given time to prepare an argument for a selected topic. The group then discusses different perspectives on the same topic and may also answer questions from a moderator. This allows participants and audience members to think through the various sides of an argument and challenge their assumptions. 

Pause procedure

Throughout a lecture, particularly after stating an important point or defining a key concept, stop presenting and allow students time to think about the information. After waiting, ask if anyone needs to have anything clarified. Ask students to review their notes and ask questions about what they’ve written so far. 

Peer-led instruction 

Have students prepare and present course material to the class.

Problem-based learning

Students learn about a concept through the experience of solving an open-ended problem. Working in groups, students identify what they already know, what they need to know, and how and where to access new information that may lead to the resolution of the problem. The role of the instructor is to facilitate learning by supporting, guiding, and monitoring the learning process. 


Quizzes can be an effective way to measure how well students understand course concepts and also help students understand how well they understand the material. EgMCQs, True or False.


Students use brief written or audio reflections to track their understanding over time. Reflections can be open, but guidance (in the form of a prompt or question) can be helpful, especially for students who are new to the concept. It can also be helpful to make sure that they are looking back at their older reflections and referring to them in newer reflections. This improves students’ metacognitive skills, as they become more aware of their own learning process.

Retrieval practice 

Throughout a class, pause at key intervals and have students write everything they can remember from the preceding class segment. Encourage questions. This approach prompts students to retrieve information from memory, which improves long-term memory, the ability to learn subsequent material, and the ability to translate information to new domains. 


Role-play involves students acting out the role of a person or people who must make decisions about the content they are learning such as policy, ethics, medicine, finances, etc. Instructors observe the role play to gauge how well students can apply course content, and students watching the role play can view multiple perspectives and evaluate their own understanding.


RSQC2 guides students and provides students with a comprehensive framework for reviewing classes/units/concepts.

  • Recall: Students make a list of what they recall as most important from a previous activity, concept, or unit. 
  • Summarize: Students summarize the essence of the previous activity, concept, or unit. 
  • Question: Students ask one or two questions that remained unanswered. 
  • Connect: Students briefly explain the essential points and how they relate to the goals of the class. 
  • Comment: Students evaluate and share feedback about the previous activity, concept, or unit.

Six Thinking Hats 

A thinking tool that supports the exploration of a problem from different perspectives. Each hat represents a different lens for thinking and can be accompanied by question prompts which provide a scaffold for a variety of viewpoints to be shared. These are: 

  • White hat – facts, data or information 
  • Red hat – feelings and emotions 
  • Black hat – problems, caution or judgement 
  • Yellow hat – benefits or a positive view 
  • Green hat – new ideas or creative thinking 
  • Blue hat – process or thinking about thinking. 

Socratic method 

An approach that involves a teacher asking probing questions to stimulate deeper thinking and require students to draw out ideas. For example:

  • What do we already know about this subject?  
  • What assumptions have we made?  
  • Why did we come to this particular conclusion?  
  • What would be a relevant example?  
  • What would be an alternative option?

Speed Dating

Students arrange themselves in two rows so that each person is sitting across from one other person. Students exchange ideas for 3–5 minutes. When time is up, one row moves 1 person to the right and students exchange ideas with their new partners. These exchanges allow students to practice communicating their ideas and get to know their classmates better. It also provides an opportunity for all students to share their ideas. 

Strip Sequence 

Give students the steps in a process on strips of paper that are jumbled; ask them to work together to reconstruct the proper sequence. This approach can strengthen students’ logical thinking processes and test their mental model of a process.


This type of activity first asks students to consider a question on their own, and then provides an opportunity for students to discuss it in pairs, and finally together with the whole class. The success of these activities depends on the nature of the questions posed. This activity works ideally with questions that encourage deeper thinking, problem-solving, and/or critical analysis. The group discussions are critical as they allow students to articulate their thought processes. 

Technology to support active learning​

Answer Garden

Answer Garden is a free web-based tool that can be used to instantly collect short text-based feedback from students which is then displayed in a word cloud.


Engageli is an online learning environment that fosters active, collaborative learning with integrated polls, quizzes and peer-to-peer elements. Currently being piloted by RMIT.

Microsoft Teams

Microsoft Teams enables educators to create digital classes to collaborate with students while seamlessly integrating assessments and applications.


H5P makes it easy to create interactive content such as quizzes, hotspots, and drag-and-drops. Available as a plugin through Canvas.


Kahoot! is a game-based learning platform that makes it easy to create, share and play learning games or trivia quizzes in minutes. Create a free account. RMIT is looking into a paid version.


Miro is an online whiteboard for team collaboration. You can create a free education account.


Padlet allows students to curate information on virtual boards called Padlets. RMIT has a license.

Poll Everywhere

Poll Everywhere is an online tool that allows users to create and collect responses to a range of activities. Create a free account

downloadable resource