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Strategies for Helping Students Learn

Click the titles below to read about some of our recommended learning strategies.

[accordion openfirst=false tag=h2] [accordion-item title=”Active Learning”]

“Active learning is anything that involves students in doing things and thinking about the things they are doing” (Bonwell & Eison, 1991, p. 2).

Active learning can be incorporated in a face-to-face classroom as well as a hybrid or online course. Research suggests that audience attention starts to wane every 10-20 minutes. Incorporating active learning techniques will encourage student engagement by reinforcing important material, concepts and skills; addressing different learning styles; giving students an opportunity to process course material and allowing students to collaborate and build community.

Examples of active learning include:

  • Incorporating pre-class assignments that require critical and creative thinking
  • Working in small groups to explore different perspectives
  • Expressing ideas through writing and reflecting upon provided content prior to informed perspective by the instructor.

Peer Learning

Peer learning, or peer instruction, is a type of collaborative learning that involves students working in pairs or small groups to discuss concepts or find solutions to problems. Students are introduced to course material through readings, lectures and/or videos before meeting in class or in an online forum for peer engagement and problem solving.

Examples of peer learning include:

  • Presenting students with a qualitative question that is carefully constructed to engage student difficulties with fundamental concepts.
  • Students consider a problem on their own and contribute their answers in a way that can be determined and reported within a group.
  • Issues are resolved with a discussion and clarifications from the instructor.

The response system gives us much better information about the distribution of knowledge among our students. This method also offers significant opportunity for engaging the students in discussions of reasoning and epistemology.

Collaborative Learning

Collaborative learning is based on the view that knowledge is a social construct. Group work or collaborative learning can take a variety of forms, such as quick, active learning activities or more involved group projects that span the course of a semester. Students teach each other by addressing misunderstandings and clarifying misconceptions.

Collaborative activities are most often based on four principles:

  • Interaction and activity are of primary importance
  • Working in groups is an important mode of learning.
  • Structured approaches to developing solutions to real-world problems should be incorporated into learning.

Inquiry-Based Learning

Inquiry and discovery-based projects, including field studies and interactive laboratory activities, can engage introductory students, majors and non-majors alike. These experiences tend to be interactive and engaging for students, engaging the affective domain, which includes background information, definitions and relevance of the affective domain in teaching. This method generally increases students’ motivation to learn, confidence in their ability to learn, and their retention of knowledge and development of skills.

Several benefits to using inquiry and discovery-based projects include:

  • Students learn concepts more deeply than in lecture-based classes because they have more direct experience.
  • Students gain a better understanding of the processes of scientific inquiry because they do primary research.
  • Students learn field and lab skills that are difficult to incorporate into traditionally-scheduled classes.

Problem-Based Learning

In a problem-based learning (PBL) model, students engage complex, challenging problems and collaboratively work toward their resolution. PBL is about students connecting disciplinary knowledge to real-world problems—the motivation to solve a problem becomes the motivation to learn.

Some best practices for problem-based learning include:

  • Focus on very real, very local problems or ask students to identify problems.
  • Provide a reasonable scope for an activity by considering students’ age and prior experience with problem-based learning.
  • Discuss project goals, deadlines, and materials to brainstorm student driven action steps.

Experiential Learning

“Experiential learning occurs when carefully chosen experiences are supported by reflection, critical analysis and synthesis.” (American Experiential Education)

Experiential learning is an engaged learning process whereby students “learn by doing” and by reflecting on the experience. Activities can include, but are not limited to, hands-on laboratory experiments, practicums, field exercises, and studio performances. Service-learning is also a form of experiential learning in that students engage in a cycle of service and reflection.

Dewey (1938) noted that education was a six-step process of:

  • Encountering a problem
  • Formulating the problem as a question to be answered
  • Gathering information to answer the posed question
  • Developing a hypothesis
  • Testing the hypothesis
  • Making warranted assertions

Reflective Learning

“A person’s ability to learn is mutable, not fixed. In fact, understanding this fact alone can have a profound impact on students’ learning.” (Lovett, 2008).

Courses focusing on students’ application of effective learning strategies can improve students’ performance in those courses, but can also improve long-term performance and retention of students considered to be at risk.

Metacognition is broadly defined as thinking about thinking, and includes activities such as:

  • Learning about how people learn
  • Developing an awareness of one’s own learning processes
  • Monitoring one’s learning strategies and assessing their effectiveness (this is called self-regulation, self-monitoring, or self-assessment)
  • Consciously managing one’s own motivation and attitudes toward learning
  • Making adjustments to one’s learning strategies when appropriate