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Top Misconceptions About Active Learning: Are They All Justified?

Active learning is an increasingly popular teaching approach that aims to engage students more deeply in the learning process. It improves students' engagement through interactive activities. Rather than passively receiving information from the teacher, active learning requires students to be more creative in their learning process.

While active learning is supported by substantial research, which has repeatedly shown improved educational outcomes, there are also some common misconceptions and criticisms surrounding this approach. In this article, we will examine some of the top misunderstandings about active learning and evaluate whether the concerns are justified or not.


10 Different Types of Active Learning Techniques

Here are some different types of active learning techniques.

1. Peer Teaching Activities

Peer teaching activities involve students teaching their classmates by explaining concepts and solving problems. There are many different peer teaching methods. Students can work in pairs or small groups to teach each other course material. One method is having students prepare short lessons to present to classmates, which helps develop communication skills. This type of approach helps both students improve their concepts. Explaining concepts reinforces learning for the student in the teacher role and enhances learning for the learners.

2. Devil's Advocate Approach

The devil's advocate technique involves having some students argue in favor of a point while other students argue against the same point. It should be noted that this approach is not a competitive debate, and there is no right or wrong. The only purpose of this activity is to develop critical thinking skills in students.

3. Game-Based Learning Approach

Educational games apply game elements like scoring, competition, rules, and role-playing to learning contexts. Incorporating games into active learning provides an engaging, rewarding, and interactive learning experience. The instructor's role is to design or select games suited to learning objectives and facilitate meaningful gameplay. Quiz-based games are some of the most common active learning gaming-based techniques.

For younger kids, games can be a great way to learn about new things. Read more here to find out more about the benefits of learning games for children.

4. The Muddiest Point Technique

The muddiest point technique allows instructors to identify challenging concepts requiring clarification. At the end of a class or topic, students are asked to anonymously write what point remains unclear or confusing to them, known as the "muddiest point." The instructor collects these responses and reviews them to identify areas needing re-teaching for the whole class or small groups.

5. Mind Mapping

Mind mapping is a visual learning technique that engages students in organizing and connecting course concepts. Students create mind maps by writing a core topic in the center of the paper, then branching related subtopics and ideas outward in a radial structure. Mind mapping helps students brainstorm ideas, take notes, and summarize topics in a visual way that aids retention.

6. Role Playing

This is one of the most effective active learning techniques. Role-playing activities require students to take on roles and act out scenarios connected to course concepts and also related to real-world scenarios. The instructor describes a scenario and assigns roles to different students. In most cases, there is also a problem discussed in the scenario, which the students have to solve while acting out the roles given to them by the instructor. When students act out the scenarios and think about possible solutions to the respective problem, it exponentially improves their learning of the concept.

7. Scavenger Hunt

In an educational scavenger hunt, the instructor creates a list of questions for the students to actively research and discover answers. Each answer has a clue to the next question. Students hunt for information or, in this case, 'clues' in their course material. There is usually a time limit to the scavenger hunt, which makes the activity more challenging and fun.

Read more about using scavenger hunts as an active learning technique.

8. Problem-Solving Activities

Problem-solving activities require students to apply knowledge and skills to solve real-world problems. The instructor presents an authentic scenario or case study with issues that need to be solved. Students have to analyze the problem and come up with solutions. In addition to coming up with the solutions, they also have to tell how to implement those solutions. Once all the students have handed in their papers with the solution, the teacher can then discuss how the respective problem was solved in the real world and which student provided the best resolution without undermining the efforts of other students.

9. Focus Groups

A focus group is a guided discussion with a small group of students focused on a specific course concept. The instructor serves as a facilitator, asking open-ended questions to draw out perspectives, ideas, and experiences related to the focus topic. However, the questions put forth by the instructor should only serve as a foundation for healthy and informative discussion among the student group. Through focus groups, students can build on each other's ideas in a collaborative way. If you have a class size of around 50 students, then it is best to divide the activity into five sessions, with around ten students taking part in each session.

10. Group Projects

Group projects have students work collectively on an assignment. The best way to do this is to assign a team lead who delegates different tasks to their teammates. Each group member plays a specific role in the project, but they should never forget that they can only achieve their main objective if they align their efforts with the rest of the group members. This is why they need to communicate with each other throughout the process. Group projects develop project management, teamwork, critical thinking, and communication skills.


11 Misconceptions About Active Learning and Are They Justified?

Now that we have discussed some of the major types of active learning techniques, let's take a look at some misconceptions about Active learning. We will also analyze if these misconceptions are justified or not.

1. It Takes Away The Influence Of The Teacher

This is not true. While active learning gives students more control and responsibility for their learning, teachers play an important role in facilitating the activities, guiding discussions, and providing feedback. Teachers have a great influence on the success of active learning.

2. It Makes Students Respect Their Teachers Less

This misconception is not completely justified. This misconception stems from the fact that active learning encourages students to speak up and share their opinions. Students might also have to assert their point of view in some of the active learning practices. This can result in students being outspoken and assertive in other lectures as well. In some cases, the teachers might feel disrespected by this. However, it should be noted that active learning encourages collaboration between students and teachers, which can build mutual understanding and respect.

3. Students Have To Move A lot Which Can Make Them Feel Exhausted

While some active learning techniques like role-playing do require movement, there are many activities like focus groups that involve thinking and conversation. The instructor can use a combination of active learning techniques so that the students don't get bored or exhausted.

4. It Just Focuses On Completing The Activity Without Any Proper Learning

This is a very common misconception about Active learning, which is totally wrong. A well-designed active learning lesson will have learning objectives and assessments to ensure students are acquiring valuable knowledge and not just completing activities. Before the active learning task, the instructor should tell the students that they shouldn't just take it as an activity that they have to get past. Instead, they should look at it as an opportunity to learn the concepts in a more creative and fun way.

5. Active Learning Is Better Than Traditional Teaching Techniques

This is somewhat true, but not completely. In some cases, active learning has been shown to offer better results than traditional teaching, but it is not something that you can use every day throughout the academic year.

Active learning complements rather than replaces lectures and reading. An ideal way to go about it is to have a balanced approach where you use a combination of traditional methods and active learning techniques.

Read more: Balancing Active Learning Methods and Passive Learning Methods

6. It Can Be Very Time-Consuming

It's true that preparing active learning lessons takes time initially. However, once the materials are ready, active learning can save time over lectures. In some cases, it has also been shown to provide a better understanding of concepts to students than traditional teaching methods. And when your student's concepts are clear, they wouldn't ask you to repeat your lectures. This means that you don't have to spend time explaining the same concepts over and over again.

7. Shy Students Might Not Want To Get Involved And Thus May Result In a Weak Grasp On The Concepts

This misconception about active learning is completely unfounded. In addition to learning and improving their academic concepts, active learning actually helps shy students develop confidence. Teachers should use strategies like group projects and peer teaching exercises to help shy students warm up to collaborating. Performing such activities regularly will gradually increase the confidence level of shy students.

8. Active Learning Is Not For Everyone

This is true to some extent. Overall active learning techniques can be great for students, but there are always some students in the class who might have difficulty grasping concepts through active learning methods. They might be used to the traditional methods as that is how most schools usually teach from the early school years. Some students might not be able to adapt to the more creative and innovative active learning methods.

Teachers should use a variety of techniques to accommodate different learning styles. A blend of active learning and traditional methods helps reach more students.

9. It Cannot Work In Large Classes

With proper planning, many active learning techniques can be scaled up for large classes. The use of technology can also aid in implementing active learning techniques in large classes. You can also break down the class into smaller groups and have them perform different active learning activities in their respective groups. Some active learning techniques can be easily implemented in large classes. For example, if you have a class of 60 students, you can just ask all the students to discuss ideas and concepts with the person sitting next to them. By doing so, you will be able to engage the entire class in active learning at the same time.

10. Active Learning May Only Be A Trend

Active learning isn't a trendy learning system that would just fade away with time. It is based on extensive research in learning sciences, which means that active learning is here to stay. There are some educators who have spent years in the education sector following traditional methods. They feel that what has worked for the students for years will also work in the present day. This is why some of them don't take active learning seriously and consider it to be a trend. A good educator will always try to adapt new techniques as new information comes to light as a result of research in the academic sector.

11. The Resources For Active Learning Are Always Very Expensive

While it is true that some materials and tech programs can be costly, most active learning techniques rely on inexpensive supplies like sticky notes, cards, and whiteboards. Simple techniques like discussions and role-playing require minimal to no resources.


The Verdict

Some misconceptions about active learning may be justified to some extent, but overall, the positives of active learning heavily outweigh the negatives. Most of these misconceptions about active learning are not justified, and they stem from a lack of understanding of the techniques and research behind it. When implemented efficiently, active learning techniques can help students improve their educational concepts without major costs or drawbacks. So, for the best learning experience for your students, it is crucial to incorporate active learning in your class along with traditional teaching techniques.

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Tutor City's blog focuses on balancing informative and relevant content, never at the expense of providing an enriching read. 

We want our readers to expand their horizons by learning more and find meaning to what they learn.

Resident author - Mr Wee Ben Sen, has a wealth of experience in crafting articles to provide valuable insights in the field of private education.

Ben Sen has also been running Tutor City, a leading home tuition agency in Singapore since 2010.