Making the Case for Active, Hands-On Learning in Higher Education  

December 6th, 2017


 While there’s something to be said for quickly absorbing information and spitting it back out in order to pass a test or class, there are plenty of scenarios where you actually need a firm grasp on concepts so you can use them after graduation. In these cases, it pays to take an active approach to learning.

The Value of Active Learning

 Are you familiar with Bloom’s Taxonomy of Educational Objectives? Developed in the mid 20th century by Benjamin Bloom and a handful of other collaborators, this framework contains six main categories in a pyramid.

Over time, the categories have been slightly modified to account for changes in learning. Today, Bloom’s Taxonomy looks like this: Create, Evaluate, Analyze, Apply, Understand, Remember.

 Active learning taps into the upper portions of Bloom’s Taxonomy and requires that students do more than just remember and understand content. It forces students to apply, analyze, evaluate, and create. According to several studies, the specific benefits include:

 Increased critical thinking and problem-solving, as well as more positive attitudes towards learning (when compared to lecture-based delivery).

 Enhanced enthusiasm for learning in both students and teachers.

 Development of superior interpersonal skills.

 Easier real-world implementation of knowledge

 Today, many leading institutions and educational organizations are using active learning and enjoying profound results. For example, Rush Medical College in Chicago is using active learning to improve memory retention and better prepare students for the real world. They recently redesigned their curriculum and increased their focus on group discussions and hands-on simulations.

Active learning is extremely popular in health and science because of how the human brain responds to hands-on learning.

“When students have a physical experience moving the wheels, they are more likely to activate sensory and motor areas of the brain when they are later thinking about the science concepts they learned about,” author and professor Sian Beilock explains. “These sensory and motor-related brain areas are known to be important for our ability to make sense of forces, angles and trajectories.”

The value of active learning is acknowledged by contemporary colleges. They gladly take on the responsibility of encouraging it. Some, like the Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine, make this type of studying mandatory.

Under these conditions, it’s the duty of college to establish an environment in which students can implement this learning technique. They accomplish this by using different methods, like:

Organizing debates to promote critical thinking.

Providing students with case-based exercises to teach them how to apply theoretical knowledge in real world.

Assigning group projects to promote collaboration and help students develop communication skills.

Setting up peer-to-peer discussions during which students can learn to evaluate the work of others.

 How to Become a Better Active Learner

 Active learning is clearly beneficial. The question is, how do you ditch passivity and become an active learner? It’s not easy to do, but here are a few suggestions to help you make some progress.


  1. Form Study Groups

 One of the best things you can do for yourself and your classmates is to form study groups. With these groups, you get a chance to work together to understand content and curriculum.


  1. Try Hands-On Tools

 If you were studying to be a pilot, do you think you’d learn more from reading books and taking tests or spending time in a flight simulator? If you were studying to become a doctor, do you think you’d learn more from flipping through notecards or getting hands-on experience with a cadaver?

The more hands-on tools you can use, the better off you’ll be in terms of actually understanding and remembering the content. Keep an eye out for these hands-on tools.


  1. Develop Your Own Lectures

 It’s easy to sit in class, listen to a lecture, and think that you grasp a concept. But when it comes time to actually write an essay or complete a project, you freeze up and realize you don’t. One hands-on activity you should try is developing your own lectures based on the content. It forces you to actually come to terms with what you’re learning.


Appeal to Your Learning Style

 Each individual has a unique learning style that’s most comfortable for them. As a student, it’s important that you identify the learning style that best fits your personality and needs. As you evaluate different styles, you’ll likely come to the conclusion that active learning is the most beneficial.

Respect this fact and discover ways to integrate more active learning into your study time.


David Gutierrez has worked in the field of web design since 2005. Right now he started learning Java in order to get second occupation. His professional interests defined major topics of his articles. David writes about new web design software, recently discovered professional tricks and also monitors the latest updates of the web development.


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