Putting the ‘learning’ back into active learning

There is much ambiguity surrounding the concept and interpretation of ‘active learning’ in higher education. The extent of this ambiguity varies from institution to institution, discipline to discipline and even from teacher to teacher.  “Shouldn’t all learning be active?” some skeptics have argued.

The literature often presents active learning as a contrast to the lecture mode of delivery where students are positioned as passive recipients of information that is transmitted from an instructor (Prince, 2004). However, perhaps there are more nuanced ways for understanding the different concepts for teaching and learning – not all lectures are necessarily passive experiences that lead to little or no learning. Similarly, there is little guarantee that high-engagement team-based activities such as role-plays and gamification will lead to student learning.

In this recording, Anselm Paul, Senior Learning Designer, unravels the mysteries of active learning. Bloom’s Taxonomy and ‘flipped learning’ are presented as theoretical lenses through which active learning may be better understood. Specifically, he argues that active learning consists of two components: ‘active’ and ‘learning’. In designing for engaging and meaningful student learning experiences, there should be an equal emphasis placed on both elements.

Explore the slides below:

To continue the conversation about active learning, contact Learning and Teaching Services, or share your thoughts and ideas about the different ways students can engage in learning via YammerTwitter or LinkedIn.


  • Bergmann J., (2016, April 17). Reframing the Flipped Learning Discussion [Blog post]. Retrieved from http://www.jonbergmann.com/reframing-the-flipped-learning-discussion
  • Gomes, L., & Paul, A. (2018, September 13). Scaffolding learning and maximising engagement out of class [Webinar]. In Learning and Teaching at Navitas Series. Retrieved from https://learningandteaching-navitas.com/playagain/scaffolding-learning-maximising-engagement-class
  • Mariani, L. (1997). Teacher support and teacher challenge in promoting learner autonomy. Perspectives: A Journal of TESOL Italy, XXIII (2). Retrieved from http://www. learningpaths. org/papers/papersupport. htm.
  • Prince, M. (2004). Does active learning work? A review of the research. Journal of engineering education, 93(3), 223-231.
  • Wilson, K., & Devereux, L. (2014). Scaffolding theory: High challenge, high support in Academic Language and Learning (ALL) contexts. Journal of Academic Language and Learning, 8(3), A91-A100.