Active Learning

Active Learning Theory vs Interactive Reinforcement

In Ed lessons, interactive questions can come in two forms – Interactive Reinforcement and Active Learning (Note – we’re not counting tests as lessons in this article, as these focus more on checking learners’ knowledge than teaching them new concepts).

What is active learning?

Active learning involves engaging students with the course material through discussions, problem-solving, case studies, role plays and other hands-on methods. This method places a greater degree of engagement on the learner than passive methods, such as lectures and seminars. It calls for student participation that involves meaningful engagement with the content, both from the perspective of an individual student to the collective classroom. A key component of successful active learning sessions is having a teacher who acts as a guide, orchestrating the instruction without focusing on gaining factual knowledge. Instead, they help in developing the ability of a student to understand ideas and concepts by keeping them engaged with the course material.

Interactive Reinforcement involves asking a question on information previously covered in the lesson. It reinforces the lesson’s content by forcing learners to recall and revisit what they’ve been previously told.

For example, if this was an Ed lesson and I wanted to offer some interactive reinforcement, I might present you with the following question:

Active learning is a different concept. It asks learners to figure out the correct answer to a question, using their own knowledge, and clues provided to them in the lesson, following the “show, don’t tell” principle of education. It lets them makes mistakes, and challenge themselves, while always making sure they understand the correct answer once they’re done.

As an example, I might ask you to circle the correct answer in the following question:

Having learners figure out the answer to a question means they are more likely to agree with and remember the answer, as they are able to understand the factors which contribute to the situation (and if they didn’t understand, you can explain it in the takeaway anyway).

Does that mean you should always use Active Learning over Interactive Reinforcement? Not necessarily – there are of course unique benefits to both question types.

Interactive Reinforcement is great when you need to reinforce difficult concepts (perhaps in one of the earlier times a learner has been exposed to content), where learners might not be expected to be able to “figure out” the answer. Active Learning, in this case, may even frustrate the learner, as they don’t feel like they’ve had enough support to complete the question they’re being asked.

In fact, this is a major challenge of using Active Learning – you need to know your learners’ capabilities well to ensure they don’t give up on trying to answer a question because they feel it’s unfair. Done poorly, Active Learning runs the risk of losing learners’ attention and negatively impacting retention.

active learning theoryAlong these lines, another benefit of Interactive Reinforcement is that it is easier to create, and can be made in a shorter timeframe. EdApp’s rapid authoring tool allows learning to be created reactively, and respond to new trends faster than any other learning management system. Spending too long trying to bring your lesson from a 9/10 to a 10/10 by perfecting your “clues” and “Active Learning” can mean missing out on a lot of potential benefits. And if we can learn anything from pop culture today, it’s that something that’s imperfect but finished (Game of Thrones TV series) is probably better than something that’s perfect but never sees the light of day (Game of Thrones book series).

However, there are cases where Active Learning should absolutely be used over Interactive Reinforcement.

Interactive Reinforcement can be thought of as refreshing learners’ memory – asking them to draw information from their short-term memory back up to the top of mind for an extra round of repetition. If the content never left top of mind, the Interactive Reinforcement won’t be drawing back anything. The concept is still sitting right there at the top of their head. If you squint you can see it.

In this case, Active Learning is more appropriate. The learner has just been told the “clue” to the answer and it is top of mind, meaning they don’t have to expend resources trying to draw in all the relevant information, and can instead put their mind to the task at hand – puzzling out the answer you want them to.

Therefore, if you’re going to use Interactive Reinforcement, there shouldbe a mental break between the learner the reading a concept and being asked about that concept. That could come in the form of reinforcing a different piece of information or could simply come in the form of more knowledge transfer.

What are examples of active learning?

One of the most prominent examples of active learning is game-based learning, where students may be having such a great time with the material, they don’t realize they are learning something. Reciprocal questioning, in which the student is encouraged to create their own lessons or ask their own questions about a topic, is also a good strategy. Pausing during a lecture and giving students time to digest information, as well as ask questions or solve problems, is another popular method.

Working in groups are also good active learning strategies – in peer teaching activities, students are encouraged to explain concepts to their peers. A more succinct peer teaching technique, known as rotating chair group discussions, is also a way of ensuring students are engaged by having each explain a concept, and then having the following participant summarize the points made by the previous student.

Active Learning Theory

Active Learning Theory refers to the ability for learners to construct or built their own understanding of particular concepts or topics. It works by making meaning, enabling learners to develop understanding in different stages.

To summarise, Interactive Reinforcement is a type of question that directly covers information previously provided in the lesson, while Active Learning asks learners to figure out the answer you want them to. If you’re on the lookout for new ways to improve your lessons, you might do it through the introduction of some quality Active Reinforcement.

EdApp’s completely free global library of high-quality and informative lessons boasts a plethora of content that promote active learning. Discover the editable library here, or take an EdApp lesson for free to experience first-hand the type of content that’s hosted on the learning platform.

EdApp course by UNITAR: Sustainable Development Goals

You may also be interested in other learning theories:
Cognitive Theory
Social Learning Theory
Andragogy Learning Theory

To see more ways information about how to improve your EdApp lessons, check out our webinar on Microlearning Best Practices, or send us your questions to hello@edapp.com.