Three people standing around a table working on a project. On the table are papers with brightly coloured post-its on them.

What is active learning? The benefits (and challenges). Part 2

Implementing active learning strategies in our classrooms   

In my last article, I outlined the benefits and challenges to active learning strategies. Hopefully, I’ve convinced you and you’re ready to try these out in your classroom. You don’t need to create a whole new curriculum. Try easing into active learning by changing one thing at a time. That way you can see what works for you and your students, and adjust as you go.  

  • Start by identifying things that students can do rather than be told. Instead of delivering information, you could put them in groups to find, assess and present a recommended resource, then have the class vote on the best resource.  
  • Before an assignment, have students grade three sample assignments using the same rubric (grading criteria) you’ll use to grade theirs. Sharing their results in class often leads to wonderful discussions. This activity helps students understand how to use rubrics and typically results in better grades. 
  • After a presentation or team project, ask students to reflect on their performance. What did they do well, what would they do differently next time, what did they learn? 
  • Ask students to identify their goals for preparation and participation for this course, then create a plan to achieve those goals, and (at the end of term or periodically throughout) evaluate the plan and their progress.  

If you’re looking for other ideas or activities, the Lecture Breakers podcast is an excellent place to start; and our own TCDC workshops help you from idea to implementation. Queen’s University has some excellent suggestions; so does University of Toronto (scroll to bottom of that page). And Google can help you find other wonderful resources.  

After you implement a new activity, reflect on it – what worked, what would you do differently next time? Were students engaged? What were the results? Ask students to honestly reflect on their experience. It helps improve your curriculum and models your willingness to learn and grow. Teaching is a lifelong learning activity, so don’t expect to be perfect on the first attempt.  

How to talk about active learning with your students  

When introducing active learning methods, talk to your students. Tell them what to expect and what you expect from them. Share the research findings: that it’s a more engaging way to learn; they’re likely to learn more and retain it longer. And remind them that it prepares them for their careers.  

A good analogy is that it’s like going to the gym: you can sign up to the best gym or workout class, but you won’t benefit if you don’t participate. In active learning situations, the instructor is like a trainer at the gym: you’ll provide equipment, encouragement and workout routines, but students are the ones who need to do the work.  

Clear, plentiful information is key to success in the active learning environment. Share lots of information about the structure of the course and each class, and the in-class activities. Tell students how to prepare for class, and how they will be assessed.  

  • Communicate in multiple ways. For example, to introduce an in-class activity you can display written instructions while simultaneously explaining what to do. Post info students can return to after class. 
  • Use clear and brief activity instructions, assignment briefs, rubrics and feedback. Make scheduling as transparent as possible.   
  • Provide clear, consistent LMS (Brightspace) spaces.  

Active learning is a research-based strategy that improves learning, increases retention, and supports today’s learner. You’ll find that students are more engaged and develop a sense of empowerment. It’s a better way to learn, and a much more engaging way to teach. If you want help with active learning or any other teaching strategies please contact We’re here to help!  

Learn more at our active learning strategies workshop on April 21. Register at the TCDC website. 

Further reading 

What is active learning? The benefits (and challenges). Part 1 (TCDC Blog)

Lectures aren’t just boring, they’re Ineffective, too, study finds (, May 12, 2014

How students learn (Yale University’s Poorvu Center for Teaching and Learning)