A few thoughts inspired by the recently-concluded Political Studies Association-sponsored Workshop on New Pedagogies at the University of Surrey in Guildford, as I sit in Terminal 3 at Heathrow.
Active learning strategies present several advantages and disadvantages for teachers. First, they often recognize that people don’t necessarily all learn the same things at the same speed. Any classroom in which these techniques are employed can be thought of as an effort in differentiated instruction — which can be beneficial when students possess varying amounts of prior knowledge.
Second, these methods create spaces where students can and often must behave in different ways. Not only can this force students to figure out how to ask the important questions in the right ways, it can also increase their motivation, an important intermediary variable when it comes to learning.
Third, many active learning exercises include a meta-cognitive stage in which a student’s articulation of his or her understanding is what produces understanding.
Fourth, active learning can, if implemented properly, offer opportunities for students’ conceptual, skill, and emotional development. Integrating all of these dimensions into the classroom requires careful consideration on the part of the instructor, but the payoffs can be quite high.