The Office of Faculty Development

Active and Experiential Learning

Active learning are learning activities that center the student in their learning.  It is a means to directly engage students in the learning process.  A counterexample would be a traditional lecture during which students passively listen to the instructor.  Types of active learning activities may include (but are certainly not limited to) group projects, inquiry activities, small- or large-group discussion, socratic seminars, live performances, or construction of a robotic device that performs a task.  Often, active learning activities fall somewhere along the task authenticity spectrum.  Authentic learning activities are activities in which students are required to develop, use, or demonstrate the knowledge or skills that are required in the activity’s authentic analog.  Experiential learning opportunities are authentic learning experiences where students gain knowledge or develop skills by actually doing.  Some examples of experiential learning may include residencies or internships.  Experiential learning may also include structured or sheltered experiences.  For example, in a Spanish class, an assignment where the class has a lunch field trip to a local Peruvian restaurant and order in Spanish and have Spanish conversation over lunch would be experiential learning.

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    Examine selected research on active and experiential learning: 

    Markant, D. B., Ruggeri, A., Gureckis, T. M., & Xu, F. (2016). Enhanced Memory as a Common Effect of Active Learning. Mind, Brain and Education10(3), 142–152. in new window)

    Hao, Q., Barnes, B., & Jing, M. (2021). Quantifying the effects of active learning environments: separating physical learning classrooms from pedagogical approaches. Learning Environments Research24(1), 109–122. in new window)

    Kim, K., Sharma, P., Land, S. M., & Furlong, K. P. (2013). Effects of Active Learning on Enhancing Student Critical Thinking in an Undergraduate General Science Course. Innovative Higher Education38(3), 223–235. in new window)

    Linton, D. L., Pangle, W. M., Wyatt, K. H., Powell, K. N., & Sherwood, R. E. (2014). Identifying Key Features of Effective Active Learning: The Effects of Writing and Peer Discussion. CBE Life Sciences Education13(3), 469–477. in new window)

    Taraban, R., Box, C., Myers, R., Pollard, R., & Bowen, C. W. (2007). Effects of active-learning experiences on achievement, attitudes, and behaviors in high school biology. Journal of Research in Science Teaching44(7), 960–979.

    Meltzer, D. E., & Thornton, R. K. (2012). Resource Letter ALIP-1: Active-Learning Instruction in Physics. American Journal of Physics80(6), 478–496.


    Ready to apply active, experiential learning to your teaching? Here are some ideas and strategies to get you started:

    1. Adapt a lesson in which you typically lecture to include a student-centered activity.  See examples from UC, Berkeley(opens in new window) and Queen’s University(opens in new window)
    2. What, why, and how to implement a flipped classroom(opens in new window) model.
    3. Identify real-world situations to which your content applies and develop an activity for students to engage in that real situation or a model of that situation in order to learn the content.
    4. Plan a service learning or field experience activity to implement into your course.