Active Learning and Student Engagement

What is Active Learning?

It is important for faculty to engage students in on-campus courses or online courses so that their students can actively participate in his/her own learning. Active learning is one teaching approach that is encouraged to engage students in the learning. Active learning involves “students’ efforts to actively construct their knowledge”, as simply defined by the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) and the Australasian Survey of Student Engagement (AUSSE) (Carr, et al., 2015). Students can actively construct their knowledge in different ways, including:

  • participating in a community-based project, such as hand-on learning opportunities provided at FHSU
  • working on group assignments; 
  • discussing with peers; 
  • tutoring peers  

Active learning involves students’ high-order thinking skills that are directly related to learning outcomes. Also, taking the active learning approach can improve student engagement and engage students in deeper learning (Brame, 2016).

Active Learning Techniques

An active learning technique is one type of activity that requires students to do something, think critically, solve problems, and communicate with their peers. The following are some widely used active learning strategies: 

  • self-reflections
  • problem-based learning or project-based learning in which students apply what they learned to solve real-world problems
  • peer learning through discussions, collaborative projects, peer review activity. You can explore how peer learning is implemented in an online course by visiting Active Learning in Online Teaching provided by Center for Teaching Innovation at Cornell University;
  • peer teaching, asking students to teach a concept or skill to peers, which can help themselves reinforce their knowledge and skills and their peers see different perspectives;
  • think/pair/share, Jigsaw, Muddiest Point ( the following handouts in PDF format about the three strategies are provided by Purdue University )

But there are more active learning techniques you can consider in your face-to-face courses or online courses. The following Figure 1 shows a range of active learning techniques from, simple to complex, that can be used in classes.

Figure 1 Active Learning Techniques Diagram Created by Chris O’Neal and Tershia Pinder-Grover, Center for Research on Learning and Teaching, University of Michigan

The above range of active learning techniques might be exhausting. It might be helpful to classify these techniques. Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning at University of Connecticut puts a series of active learning techniques into four categories: Individual Activities, Paired Activities, Small-group Activities, and Whole-class Activities. They provides four tables that respectively describes active learning techniques in four categories.

Most of active learning techniques were proposed for classroom teaching. However, you can always adapt these techniques to your online courses. The Center for Research on Learning and Teaching at University of Michigan provides a general guideline for how to incorporate each active learning technique in the classroom. As you can see, some activities can be implemented in classrooms while others can be implemented outside of classroom. For instance, you can pause your lecture to let students reflect on what they have learned in class. But students will need to visit sites for experiential learning. When you implement more complex techniques such as inquiry learning, you would need more time to plan the activity.

Recommended Resources

Active Learning Cheat sheet

The cheat sheet for active learning can be downloaded and refer to when faculty design a new and time-consuming active learning activity. 

Downloadable Examples of Active Learning Strategies

K.P. Cross Academy provides a range of downloadable examples of active learning strategies, including but not limited to Digital story, Jigsaw, Case Studies, Dyadic interviews, Think-Pair-Share, Fishbowl, Think-aloud-pair problem solving.


Brame, C. (2016). Active learning. Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching. Retrieved 1/19/2023 from

Carr, R., Palmer, S., and Hagel, P. (2015). Active learning: the importance of developing a comprehensive measure. Active Learning in Higher Education 16, 173-186.

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