What is Active Learning?

Active learning is widely accepted as a necessity. (See Kathleen Korgen’s introductory blog.) But, what constitutes active learning?  How can you tell if a teaching technique qualifies as “active?” A simple way to distinguish active learning is to ask the question, “Who is doing the intellectual work?”  If the answer is the faculty member, then active learning techniques are not in play.  If the answer is the students, then active learning techniques are being used. Learner- centered classes provide the most effective learning environment (Weimer 2013 Lumpkin, Achen, and Dodd 2015).

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But, many of us still depend primarily on lecturing, a teacher-centered technique. About 80 percent of STEM faculty rely on lecturing techniques (see Lesson learned? Massive study finds lectures still dominate STEM ed) and there is no reason to believe that sociologists differ.

Why do we depend so heavily on lecturing? Perhaps the most common reason we lecture more than we use active learning activities is simply that lecturing is easiest for us. Lecturing is the way we were taught, we may not have been given much training to teach, and creating active learning activities is time consuming.

Sociology in Action can help you move toward a more active learning environment.  Built right into the text are numerous active learning activities to suit every type of class including large classes and online classes.  It also comes with many other teaching resources, including videos, reading quizzes, discussion questions quizzes to check for reading, and multiple choice questions organized by level of critical thinking required to answer. And, the teaching resources can all be downloaded into your learning management system. In the blogs that follow we, and other instructors using Sociology in Action, will describe how we have used some of these tools in our classes. So, stay tuned!


Maxine P. Atkinson is professor of sociology at North Carolina State University and co-editor of Sociology in Action.

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