A Typology of the Impact of Active Learning

Higher Education
Simon Usherwood
University of Surrey
Simon Usherwood
University of Surrey

As the academic literature on active learning has shifted from presentation of individual cases towards more robust explorations of their design and implementation, so too has been a growing need to regularise means of comparing and evaluating specific instances of what has become a highly diverse range of activities. One striking area where literature is absent is the scoping of the range of potential impacts that active learning might generate: does the shift in focus to the student create new paths for learning, reweight existing ones, or simply replicate the patterns found in passive learning environments? To address this, it is necessary to consider what makes active learning a distinct approach, and especially the impact of placing much more of an onus on the student to develop their agency in constructing their learning. In so doing, there is a differentiation from more generic inventories of learning styles, which are more concerned with the multiplicity of constructions that individuals might place around their learning: Instead, by establishing a baseline set of dimensions of learning, it becomes more viable to generate evaluations of learning that can carry across cases. Broadly speaking, it is possible to identify three main areas of learning impact that can form such a base: substantive knowledge acquisition, measured by both existing and novel assessment regimes; skills acquisition and development, measured by assessment regimes and by self-, peer- and instructor-evaluations; and development of attitudinal capacities (such as confidence or engagement with learning), primarily measured by self-evaluation.
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