8 Active Learning Elements That Make Modern Classrooms Great

by | Oct 15, 2017

The active learning classroom is alive with creativity, focus, and the desire to learn. There’s no classroom quite like it. You know one as soon as you walk into it because it doesn’t look or feel like a traditional classroom. That’s because the active learning elements that define such classrooms are hard at work.

Students are bustling around, chatting excitedly as they work together finding new possibilities. They’re uncovering hidden talents and knowledge while creating awesome solutions to real-world challenges. In fact, they’re having the time of their lives learning. There is also a technological flavour to the space with edtech being used to build, examine, and explore. The teacher moves around as a facilitator, guiding and bringing out the best in the kids. It’s the students, though, who are the real stars of the show.

There are a few crucial ingredients that are carefully combined in a recipe for an active learning classroom. Let’s take a closer look at the 8 active learning elements that follow. They are probably the most important.

1. Student-centered

An active learning classroom is largely student-centered. This means shifting the focus from the teacher (where it’s traditionally been) to the student (where it belongs). In this environment it’s the students who decide what they learn, how they’ll do it, and how they’ll assess it. Of all active learning elements, this is likely the most definitive of them all.

Student voice also becomes a primary focus, and their views and opinions carry great value and relevance to the overall teaching and learning experience. However, a student-centered classroom doesn’t minimize the importance of the teacher by any means; in fact, it enhances it.

In this classroom the teacher is a facilitator of learning which gives the teacher a new and more important role. As a “guide on the side” they encourage independent discovery and critical thinking skill development. This comes through scenarios that challenge students to explore and create solutions to problems. Ultimately, this is how students get ready to succeed and thrive in a global workforce.

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2. Focused on discovery and exploration

Exploring and discovering knowledge and solutions make the active learning classroom successful. Here we find inquiry- and project-based lessons that push our students to get amazing learning results. These results are measured using the most effective assessment approaches that empower the students.Strong active learning elements like this one ensure learning remains constructive and engaging. It’s meant to give the students really satisfying learning experiences.

3. Highly collaborative

Students love to work together and any chance to learn by collaborating is something they take to with enthusiasm. So an active learning classroom is built on collaboration and teamwork. When students collaborate, they’re working on more than just content-based projects—they’e also working on themselves.

Association, empathy, organization, accountability, understanding, listening, and being open-minded are all essential to balanced student development. These skills make all the difference as students move from school teams to workforce teams in their professional lives.

4. Values HOTS development

The HOTS (higher-order thinking skills) are at the top of Bloom’s Digital Taxonomy. These skills are the critical thinking skills of evaluation, analyzing, and creating. Mind you, the LOTS (lower-order thinking skills) still have a place in any active learning classroom—it’s just that they become supplemental in the journey of developing HOTS, rather than the focus of learning as they’ve been traditionally.

These higher-level skills are the new bread and butter for the Global Digital Citizen. A student entering the modern workforce must be a problem-solver, innovator, leader, and independent thinker. Thus, a focus on the HOTS skills gives our students what they need to be employable for the future.

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5. Global Digital Citizen Oriented

The role of the Global Digital Citizen plays a big part in employing active learning elements a classroom. For one thing, since active learning is highly collaborative there is a focus on mutual respect, nurturing relationships, and positive communication. Additionally, because technology is there as a tool, acceptable usage guidelines are respected and adhered to. Classrooms of the digital age are also culturally colourful. This means having an awareness and regard for different beliefs, heritages, and histories among peers.

The active learning classroom is a reflection of the digital world we all live in. There are no boundaries and no distance so you’ll find no separation between “them” and “us.” It’s a global classroom community with a global mindset, and a safe environment where everyone learns and prospers together.

6. Students own their learning

In modern classrooms, we shift the responsibility for learning to the student. A teacher can’t and shouldn’t do everything for their learners. At some point they have to trust they can let go of the wheel without their students crashing into a wall. That’s what the shift is all about—trust, respect, and belief in our children.

It’s as much giving our students permission to fail as to succeed. This means that part of shifting the responsibility for learning is teaching students to learn from mistakes. When students learn that mistakes can be positive experiences, they learn not to fear failure. It can then be seen as merely part of the journey to success.

7. Adapts to the needs of learners

Differentiated instruction is also one of our active learning elements, and with good reason. The truth is every student learns best just a little bit differently. The digital-age student certainly does because of technology’s presence in modern life.

Today’s students are also facing a world and a future that are changing by the second. As such, educators in an active learning environment must find new ways to adapt to the range of different needs their learners have. Differentiated instruction is a flexible way to teach that allows for plenty of customization in getting students to learn.

With differentiated instruction teachers can modify processes, content, assessment methods, and the learning environment itself. Ongoing assessment ensures students get the most valuable feedback and grading possible for such a dynamic environment. Some really great resources for differentiated instruction are available at ASCD, Edutopia, EduGains, TeachersFirst, and Reading Rockets.

8. Comfortable and organized

As was mentioned earlier, the active learning classroom also doesn’t look or feel traditional and it sure isn’t. It features larger gathering spaces, workstations, play areas, technology corners, screens, and comfortable chairs for reading and researching. Every bit of equipment and readable material is organized neatly and placed for easy access. The walls are covered with projects, visual aids, and student work. There is a sense of structure and fairness to the use of technology. You’ve got different groups in various areas all working on separate projects.

It’s an orderly, productive, and invigorating environment to be a part of. It’s more like a recreation area or lounge than the old classroom we’re used to. Don’t let this fool you, though—it’s also where some serious learning happens!

What can you do to start moving towards active learning?

What successes have you already had with active learning elements in your classrooms? Please share them with others and enjoy your time developing your own active learning classroom. Watch as your students thrive and your pride in them grows with every great learning adventure.




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