Active learning

ADMINISTRATION                        LEARNING & TEACHING SUPPORT
(Not relevant to this topic)       Engaging students  Some CELT resources
  Learning styles & strategies        Active learning resources
  Enquiry based learning  
  RELT  
  CELT  


Engaging students through active learning

Active learning involves students in doing things and thinking about what they are doing. This can include discussing, critical thinking, solving problems etc. Many studies indicate that students learn better from active rather than passive learning. Active learning strategies result in meaningful learning for the learner and thus are an important component to consider when developing a unit of study (UoS).

Active learning methods are an effective way to:

  • motivate and engage students in the topic or area of study
  • encourage them to acquire self-directed learning skills
  • develop their research & critical thinking
  • develop skills in problem identification and solution, or community-engaged learning to prepare students for real work contexts
  • help them to understand the processes involved in the ongoing construction of knowledge in their field of interest.


The Guidelines on Learning that Inform Teaching emphasise the importance of actively engaging students, and provide examples and suggestions on how to do this.


Active learning styles and teaching strategies

Active learning
  • Use a variety of learning modes and styles. You are more likely to effectively engage all your students in the unit subject when you use varied approaches, eg: visual and auditory presentations, group participation, podcasts etc. Different approaches to learning the subject addresses the fact that individuals learn in different ways and will find certain learning modes more engaging than others.
  • Offer the students some self-reflective material or tests - this helps them to discover more about themselves as learners.
  • Integrate enquiry based learning and research into your unit. This is an effective way of using active learning to motivate students to acquire generic graduate attributes. See our section on Research enhanced learning & teaching (RELT), below.
  • Integrate activities that occur in the workplace or the community. For students undertaking professional degrees, such experiences enable them to put theory into practice and use active learning to develop abilities that cannot be taught in an academic context. See our section on Community engaged learning & teaching (CELT), below.
  • Design activities that will build on their previous experience or work situation. If you have a more experienced cohort this method is a way to actively engage them to develop understandings of the connections between their current skills and what they are learning.
  • Articles and other resources for understanding how learning works and how to include varied learning styles in your unit in order to develop better teaching strategies can be found in the Learners and Learning section on the Merlot Pedagogy website.

Enquiry Based learning

Any form of learning where students learn to identify the area or problem to be investigated and the resources that are available to assist with their study can be called enquiry based learning.
Scenario based learning and problem based learning are examples of this approach to learning through investigation and research.

This method helps students to take a self-directed, active approach to learning through:

  • encouraging the development of their own understanding of the concepts
  • enhancing research skills
  • giving the topic a ‘real world’ relevance
  • supporting their ongoing learning in the field of enquiry.

RELT: Research enhanced learning & teaching

CELT: Community engaged learning & teaching

CELT promotes learning through engagement with communities, both formally and through co-curricular experience. The community encompasses other students and University staff, the local community, Australian society as well as the larger global community.

Some examples of CELT:

  • developing skills in the professional working environment, for example through clinical placements
  • bringing the work context into the learning experience through inviting professionals and employers into teaching situations
  • working in the community on community projects (possibly on a volunteer basis).


Some CELT Resources:

Group work

Group work approaches to learning and teaching use collaboration between students on set tasks or activities to encourage active learning.

See our section on Collaborative learning for more information.


Active learning resources

Active learning

Active Learning methods: for an overview of active learning methods in the classroom, and for suggestions on creating and planning activities see the Active Learning resources from Merlot Pedagogy.

Engaging students: good practice for engaging students using active learning techniques from The University of Delaware Centre for Teaching and Learning.

Improving students’ confidence: ‘Strategies for improving student self-efficacy – narrative-centred learning and creative problem solving’ from the Teaching@Sydney bulletin.

Approaches to active learning and clinical-based learning: The University of Western Australia Learning and Teaching website provides links for further reading on approaches to active learning and tips and tutorials for clinical education. Look for the links on “Active Learning” and “Clinical Supervision”.

Focusing on active learning: for a discussion of unstructured cooperative learning and critical thinking see IDEA Paper no.34 “Focusing on Active, Meaningful Learning” which can be found on the Idea Center website. While this is written from a biology perspective much of the information is broadly applicable.