Pedagogy Market Research | Review #5


Active Learning
By Cambridge Assessment, International Education

Review Summary by Diya Jaishankar
Grade X Student, Market Research Intern, Adaptive Instruction

Diya Jaishankar is a tenth grade student in Bangalore. She is curious and observant and enjoys playing the piano, watching crime shows, solving puzzles and chatting with her friends.

This is a summary of an article by Cambridge Assessment International Education about Active Learning. The article talks about the meaning of Active Learning, the theory that supports its validity, related approaches found by educators like Maria Montessori, its advantages, common misconceptions about its application and how schools and teachers can make use of it to improve student learning. Below, I have highlighted the important ideas and terms explained in the article.

1. Meaning of active learning

It is an active process of connecting foundational knowledge with new information to process and comprehend the study material which requires students with a strong foundation to think deeply and imaginatively. However, it differs from the passive approach of teaching where material is lectured to students without testing their understanding.

2. Theory behind active learning

Constructivism – This theory was founded by psychologist Jean Piaget. It says that students create meaning by building upon basic knowledge, and that for comprehension, students alter their prior knowledge with a more thorough understanding.

Schemata – Learning is defined as the addition of cumulatively detailed and complex mental models (schemata) to move knowledge from short term to long-term memory.

Social Constructivism – According to this theory, learning occurs by social interaction with individuals like teachers and peers. As per Lev Vygotsky, the ZPD (Zone of Proximal Development) is the area where learning activities should be concentrated. The ZPD lies between a student’s independent achievement and their achievement with expert guidance.

Scaffolding – Developed by psychologist Jerome Bruner, it is a technique where support given to a student to help them reach a learning goal, is gradually removed to help them develop independent student achievement.

Bloom’s Taxonomy – It is a classification of types of knowledge and cognitive processes used in the learning process, in which active learning is beneficial. Furthermore, it helps students to make and build upon their basic knowledge that is rooted in factual knowledge.

3. Terms associated with active learning

An Activator is one who teaches students effective strategies and metacognition along with direct instruction (producing effect size of 0.60). A Facilitator Is one who provides an apt learning environment and is helpful for problem-based learning (producing effect size of 0.17)

Student/Learner-Centered Learning – Here, teachers act as activators of learning instead of instructors.

Inquiry/Problem-based Learning – Students learn by asking questions, connecting evidence to previously learned knowledge and reflecting on inferences.

Experiential learning – Students learn from first-hand experience.

4. Advantages of active learning

It strengthens the knowledge and comprehension skills of the student making application easy and helpful in the long term. It promotes metacognitive thinking as learners take active part in the learning process. Most importantly, it is even applicable to large groups at a low cost due to minimal requirements. Students scoring high grades in high-quality exams that require higher order thinking skills learn by active learning.

5. Common misconceptions clarified

About the teacher’s role: Teachers must teach various learning strategies, understand the starting points of individual learners and do scaffolding along with testing understanding. In addition, they should know when to act as an activator or a facilitator.

About active learning strategies: They involve thoughtful instruction and interacting with all learners, and linking old and new knowledge. However, it may not involve group work or moving around in the learning environment.

Approach to learning for different learners is the same: For younger learners, more focus on strategies ad activities is required and teachers should do plenty of activities and scaffolding for teachers and students to be confident of their understanding.

It’s easy to know the extent of learning of a student: As learning happens in the mind, it is hard to know how much a student has learnt. Additionally, due to confirmation bias, students may favor knowledge that agrees with their past knowledge. Consequently, many misconceptions may arise which can only be corrected by periodic testing.

6. How schools can make use of it

The school atmosphere should also encourage understanding, independent learning as well as good academic performance. Teachers can also share inferences about active learning and effectiveness of other strategies, how they put a strategy into effect and develop their teaching material depending on the age group of the learners.

7. How teachers can make use of it

Teachers can help students link a their past knowledge with the material and give feedback on learning to be utilized in future classes. They should also teach material over a period with plenty of scaffolding and review. Another useful practice is to give students sufficient time to process and understand the material completely as they need to process the material in several ways to remember it. Students should also be encouraged to develop skills to plan, monitor and test their learning. Teachers can also allow learners to develop language skills such as reading, speaking and writing to process the material and stimulate understanding.


Active learning is clearly a very useful learning strategy that must be inculcated into a student’s education carefully to make learning easy and to make them lifelong learners.

Link to the publication: Active Learning