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Is Learning Ever Passive?

“We cannot think first and act afterward.  From the moment of birth we are immersed in action,and can only fitfully guide it by taking thought.”          Alfred North Whitehead

The learning strategy presentations this week were both on a specific method of active learning.  One was hands-on learning and one was effective learning in groups and teams.

Both presentations were well designed, modeling a good balance of instruction and guidance with engaging activity.  The Heimlich maneuver exercise demonstrated these benefits of active learning discussed:  engages a variety of senses, encourages interaction, provides immediate feedback, leads easily into reflective learning, and promotes evaluation and change of behavior as needed.  Not to mention, this was a practical exercise for the entire group.  (I will think twice before using the restroom in a restaurant again).   In addition, the learning in groups exercise promoted problem solving, critical thinking skills, interaction, and encouragement of additional questions.

Active learning strategies are definitely student-centered.  Designing effective lessons that provide both new learning and enrichment for diverse learners can be challenging, but definitely worth using in today’s classrooms where there is an expectation of engagement.

The listing of active learning strategies we received got me contemplating – is learning really ever passive?  Merriam-Webster’s Online Dictionary defines learning as:

  1. the act or experience of one that learns
  2. knowledge or skill acquired by instruction or study
  3. modification of a behavioral tendency by experience (as exposure to conditioning)

By definition, then, learning is active, not passive.  Is lecture passive?  Is reading passive?  Is watching a video passive?  If LEARNING is occurring, that is the active part, not the activity.

Side note:  The Phillips 66 Method:  Divide students into groups of six and give them six minutes to perform some task. Tasks may range from simple discussion to the solving of complex problems.


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