Active Learning: the big and the small

One conversation at last weekend’s APSA Teaching and Learning Conference  centered on the different levels of complexity in the simulations presented on the simulations and games track (see here, here, and here for other reflections on the conference, including a podcast). Simulations can be daunting if you believe that Model United Nations is the gold standard of simulations. But simulations can also be simple and effective.

Beyond simulations, there is a wide range of complexity in active learning techniques. In the midst of this conversation at TLC, I remembered this Active Learning Continuumdocument developed at the University of Michigan’s Center for Research on Learning and Teaching. It a straight-forward two-page typology that briefly summarizes a range of active learning techniques and includes this figure that arranges them on a spectrum of simple to complex. Even something as simple as a “clarification” pause encourages students to actively listen and gives them an opportunity to ask clarification questions.

For those of us who are already aboard the active learning train, it’s helpful to remember that we don’t have to reinvent the wheel. This document can serve as a handy reference guide when you know you want to use active learning, but may be at a loss for what technique makes sense for you learning objectives. For others who are considering whether to hop on board (perhaps I took the train metaphor too far), I think it helps to de-mystify the idea of active learning and provide some easy “off-the-shelf” ideas for incorporating active learning in the class.

As mentioned, it’s a brief document that simply highlights various techniques. There are other resources that include more detail on implementing these techniques (for example, Amanda has been blogging recently about different techniques here, here, here, and here; where she also cites some useful books on the matter), but this resource is handy for quick reference.