Get Active with your Learning

12 September 2017


Active learning is generally defined as any instructional method that engages learners in the learning process. In short, active learning requires learners to do meaningful learning activities and think about what they are doing. The core elements of active learning are learner activity and engagement in the learning process. Active learning is often contrasted with the traditional lecture where learners passively receive information from the instructor.

The Rationale for Active Learning

According to recent studies, an instructor generally says 100- 200 words a minute and a learner only hears 50-100—half. Worse yet, in a typical lecture-style class, learners are attentive just 40 percent of the time. One study concluded that learners retain about 70 percent of what they hear in the first ten minutes of class—and just 20 percent during the last ten minutes.

When learners are passive, their brains don’t do an effective job of processing or retaining information. By undertaking active learning activities learners can apply what they have learned and support the retention of language. Additional benefits include improved critical thinking skills, increased retention and transfer of new information, increased motivation, and improved interpersonal skills.

Active Learning & Common Challenges in Asian Classrooms

Some common challenges facing Asian teachers in order to make that step to a more Active Learning type classroom include maintaining control of your classroom during Active Learning, overcoming learner resistance to Active Learning, managing time pressures when using Active Learning and handling dysfunctional groups.

Top Tips for Making Your Classroom ‘Active’

Here are some tips to help you overcome those challenges and upgrade your classroom:

Start small and be brief: integrate Active Learning at different points in your lesson. It doesn’t have to be a complete change in teaching style. Pause frequently during the lesson, once every fifteen minutes or so, to give learners a few minutes to work with the information you’re providing. Introduce Active Learning early in the year so learners grow used to this approach.

Reflect: Give learners time to reflect, to connect what they’ve just learned with what they already know, or to use the knowledge they’ve gained in any way. Allowing learners to pause for thought, to use their new knowledge to teach each other, or to answer questions on the day’s topics is one of the simplest ways to increase retention. Similarly try using graphic organizers so learners can summarize what they have learned and tell a friend at the end of class or the start of next class.

Make individuals accountable: When setting up group work ensure you create activities that involve all learners in a group, so you don’t have just one or two learners dominating. Either give a role to each member of the group so they are fully engaged (time keeper, writer, presenter etc.) or give each learner a worksheet task with an end outcome that they all need to complete in order to fulfil the task.

Plan your Active Learning:

Answering the following questions will help you clarify your goals and structure for an Active Learning activity:

  • What are your objectives for the activity?
  • Who will be interacting? Will learners pair up with someone beside them or someone sitting behind/in front of them? Should they pair up with someone with a different background? Someone they don’t know yet?
  • When does the activity occur during the class? Beginning? Middle? End? How much time are you willing to spend on it?
  • Will learners write down their answers/ideas/questions or just discuss them?
  • Will learners turn in the responses or not? If they are asked to turn them in, should they put their names on them?
  • Will you give individuals a minute or so to reflect on the answer before discussing it or will they just jump right into a discussion?
  • Will you grade their responses or not?
  • How will learners share the paired work with the whole class? Will you call on individuals randomly or will you solicit volunteers?
  • What preparation do you need to use the activity? What preparation do the learners need in order to participate fully


John Cruft is the Regional Professional Development Manager for Macmillan Education, Asia. He has been working in Asia for over 16 years as both a teacher and teacher trainer. John has taught in both the public and private sectors. He has also designed and delivered professional development workshops across the Asian region in many different contexts, including government INSETT projects in Thailand, Japan, Vietnam, Malaysia, Myanmar and Sri Lanka.

John holds a Master’s degree in Education and International Development from the Institute of Education in London, where the focus of his study was on education systems across Asia. He also holds a PGDip TESOL from the University of Nottingham, UK.