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Study Skills: Active Learning

This guide offers learning strategies, study skills, and resources to support student academic success.

What is Active Learning?


The majority of students are passive learners who internalize information by simply reviewing the same material later on.

Learning passively, however, doesn’t test knowledge or understanding of material. In addition, it is difficult to recall much information as a passive learner. 

Active learners engage with their education on a deeper level. Students who take an active approach are typically hands-on and take charge of their learning. These students will have a greater ability to understand, apply, and retain information.

Research has demonstrated that students who employ active learning strategies score much higher on assessments than those who are passive learners. 

Becoming an active learner takes time and effort.  We suggest you start by trying a few of the strategies outlined below.  Once you have begun to master some strategies consider adding another until you notice a positive difference in your ability to understand, apply, and retain information. 


According to ChatGPT here are some statistics highlighting the difference between active and passive learning:

Improved Exam Performance: A meta-analysis of 225 studies found that students in active learning classrooms were 1.5 times more likely to pass their exams than students in traditional, lecture-based classrooms. (Freeman et al., 2014)

Higher Grades: Another study found that students in active learning environments achieved exam scores that were 6% higher than those in traditional lecture-based courses. (Deslauriers et al., 2019)

Increased Conceptual Understanding: Students in active learning environments demonstrated a 10% improvement in conceptual understanding compared to those in traditional lecture-based courses. (Deslauriers et al., 2019)

Improved Problem-Solving Skills: Active learning has been shown to enhance students' problem-solving abilities by 12% compared to traditional methods. (Deslauriers et al., 2019)

Greater Retention of Materials:  Students who engage in active learning tend to retain information longer. One study found that students in active learning courses retained 35% more material than those in traditional lecture courses. (Freeman et al., 2014)

These statistics suggest that active learning can lead to better academic outcomes and a deeper understanding of the material compared to passive learning methods.

Become an Active Learner

Active and Passive Learning and Retention

There is a measurable difference between passive and active learning in terms of how much information students are able to retain. 

Our ability to recall information is reinforced when we employ higher order learning techniques such as applying, explaining, evaluating and creating. 

The diagram below, shared by Leibniz World of Math, neatly illustrates the difference between passive and active learning.       

Top 10 Active Learning Strategies

Consider some of the following useful strategies to actively engage your brain to improve your learning.

Previewing, prior knowledge, effective notetaking, summarizing, spaced repetition, making information meaningful, creating questions, explaining, contributing and reflecting.

Open the PDF to learn more. 

Active versus Passive Learning Strategies

Many students employ a passive approach to learning.  Why?  Internalizing information (reading/listening) and simply reviewing that material later requires less time and effort.  Learning passively also feels manageable because this method does not really challenge our brain.  Active learning requires intention, focus and energy, which feels more difficult.  In other words, thinking and learning actively requires more cognitive effort.  Critically thinking about information allows the learner to improve decision making, enhance problem solving skills, and allows for more creativity.  

The information below illustrates examples of passive and active learning strategies. 

The Power of Previewing: An Active Learning Strategy

It is important to preview course materials (chapters, articles, blogs, videos etc.) and the associated PowerPoint slides before each lecture or lab.  According to research, previewing materials helps increase retention and comprehension.  Proactively reviewing lesson content also prepares the learner to more actively engage when they are in class.  Students who have previewed content before a lecture are more stimulated and interested in what they learn. Previewing materials helps the student brain prepare to learn as it is a powerful method of bridging previously learned information with new concepts and ideas.

Active Learning Resources