Learn Better With Active Learning

Learn Better With Active Learning

What is active learning and how can it help you?

There are two ways of learning. Passive and active. You might tell from the words it self that passive learning is not as effective as active learning.

What is passive learning?

Passive Learning

You learn passively all the time. Every time you sit in a lecture, read a book or watch a YouTube video. Passive learning means that you don't do anything while learning. You just sit there and listen.

When we compare that to some sport, say golf, the shortcomings of passive learning become much clearer.

When you want to learn golf, you have to swing the club once in a while. You don't get better by just sitting in your chair and watch a video of someone who explains to you how to swing. I'm not saying that you learn nothing by doing so, but it is far more effective to go out on a golf course and actively practice your swing.

What is active learning?

It's just the opposite of passive learning. When you actively learn something, you'll directly participate in the learning process instead of just listening to someone explaining things to you.

I'm going to explain this one with learning to write code. You only get better if you do the work every day. Just sit down at your computer and create stuff. This is far more effective that just read about coding.

Why active learning works so well?

When you're learning something, your brain asks itself two important questions:

  1. Can I understand?
  2. Do I need to know?

Can I understand?

Use your brain

When the brain asks itself "Can I understand?" it tries to put the new information on the foundation of existing knowledge. If you don't have existing knowledge in regards to the thing you're trying to learn, your brain has no idea where to put the new knowledge. The result is, that the new knowledge is thrown away.

In other words: Your brain needs to build neural connections for new information to attach to. This is why active learning requires more mental work.

Do I need to know?

When we ask our selfs: "Do I need to know?" our brain separates between material it finds worth to remember and material it can forget.

For example if the brain thinks it's unlikely that you'll ever need that information again, it throws it away.

But when it's information that can be helpful to you somewhere in the future, it stores it in your long-term memory. If you want the information to stay there, you need to use it from time to time or think of it.

Active learning in the classroom

So how does active learning work in a classroom? Here is an example:

First, the teacher asks a question and the students can pick one of three answers. By doing that, you, as a student, have a stake in the outcome of that questions. In this step, the results of vote are not shown to the students.

Next, the students debate with each other. Preferably with a other student that disagrees with them. By doing so, you'll think about the question on a deeper level and come up with ways and arguments to defend your standpoint.

After that there is a second vote. This time, the results are shown to the students. Most of the time, the second vote is better than the first one.

Now, the teacher leads a round of discussion on the problem and the class, together, explores which of the answers is correct and which is incorrect.

Only after that the teacher explains the correct solution to the problem. By now the students have so much invested in the problem and the solving of that problem that they keep the solution in mind way better.

Better grades through active learning?

I'd say: yes! Active learning is a learner-centered technique. You become your own teacher. You explain information to yourself by repeating and working with it.

The new information is stored more deeply into your brain and you'll have no trouble retrieving that information when you need it. For example in an exam.

Methods of active learning

Love to learn


Say you have written a test and get it back: Reflect on what you did right and what you did wrong. Really go through there, page by page, and get a better understanding of the subject.

Then, rewrite the test under timed conditions. Next, reflect again. See if you did better this time and why.

Exercise, exercise, exercise

In other words: repeat over and over again. Wether you want to learn to write better, code better, play better golf. It all comes down to repetition.

It's fine to read about or watch a video about certain topics you want to understand better. But you need to do the work. Work actively with the information you've just absorbed. Only this way it becomes part of your long-term memory.