Active Learning: What Is It, and How to Do It
Active learning is a term that often gets overlooked in favor of active listening. And while the former is not possible without the latter, that’s not close to all of what it entails.
In the following article, we’ll be discussing the concept of active learning and sharing tips for how you can become an active learner for life. We’ll also touch on why that matters to your life beyond school. Let’s get started!
What Is Active Learning?
Active learning is the act of being able to learn independently. Yes, your teacher is there to show you the ropes. But if active learning skills do not kick in at a certain point, all the lectures and tests and special projects in the world are not going to get you where you need to be.
Active learning also is a concept that is important well beyond the material in front of you. It’s a way your brain works that enables you to drill deeper into a subject, explore and experiment with a concept for deeper understanding, and ultimately become an expert at whatever it is you’re setting out to do.
In the next section, we’ll be talking about how you can make this concept your own. We’ll also be offering tips for honing this skill over the long haul.
How to Make Sure You Are an Active Learner for Life
Active learning isn’t just about being able to ace a chapter or unit. It’s about becoming a lifelong learner. It’s about learning how to learn so you can become a viable person and professional in whichever field you choose.
Some people are naturally gifted learners. Others need some help and guidance along the way. Wherever you fall on the spectrum, these tips should help to get you there.
1. Be Ready for ‘Zone Out’ Periods.
Not everything you learn in school or life will make it easy for you. Some things are complex or just plain dull but nevertheless necessary. When the zone-out periods set in, you’ll need to have tactics in place to bring yourself back from the brink.
Perhaps the best thing you can do is to call yourself out whenever it happens. Actually, say to yourself (aloud or in your head), “Okay, you’re zoning out now. What do I still have to do to accomplish the task at hand?”
Knowing when you’re zoning out will help you keep yourself in check. It also can shed light on why you’re zoning out specifically. If it’s one particular aspect of the material, you might consider setting that aside for a later study session when you can really focus on it.
If it’s personal drama or pressure, then consider taking care of what you need to take care of and coming back to the material later. Either way, don’t just allow yourself to wander aimlessly.
2. Follow What You Enjoy.
Active learning is simple — almost instinctual — when it’s covering a topic that you enjoy. So allow yourself the occasional detour as a break from what you’re doing. But while you’re enjoying that learning break, think about what you’re doing.
In particular, note the tactics you’re using to learn about what you’re enjoying. Ask yourself the question, “How can I better employ this tactic for something I don’t enjoy?”
3. Venture Down the Rabbit Hole.
When you do touch on an aspect of something you’re studying that seems interesting, allow yourself to dive down that rabbit hole even if it takes you away from the main objective. This is a good idea because it helps you build legitimate passion or interest in the material.
By giving yourself a “hook” into difficult concepts, it’s much easier to build on your knowledge in a manner that’s accessible. And once material becomes accessible, it’s easier to explore the next tip with a renewed intensity.
4. Explore How the Material Connects.
Building connections between what you’re studying and what you already know is the best way of beefing up your knowledge and abilities. The way to do this is similar to how you become a better reader. It’s through making connections to other incidents, situations, feelings, or materials.
In the reading world, this is known as text-to-self, text-to-text, and text-to-world. In other words, how can you relate what you’re learning to yourself or to something you’ve read or to something that’s going on in the world. The more you’re able to build those connections, the easier it is to grasp what’s in front of you.
5. Get Away from Classroom Materials for a While.
Let’s face it. Sometimes the problem has nothing to do with you or the topic you’re studying. It’s the way it’s presented. Textbooks can be incredibly boring by nature, but if you step away from the “official” material and explore other avenues, it can make something complicated immediately accessible.
So, if you’re having problems connecting, explore the topic through documentaries, podcasts, and television shows that deal with the material in a more dynamic and interesting way. Even narrative film can be helpful if the movie is well-made and entertaining. It may take liberties with the truth, sure. But it can trigger something in the material that makes further exploration fun and interesting.
6. Come Back to Academic Resources.
Don’t swear off your textbook or teacher just because they’re boring. At the end of the day, they have a more scientific approach to the material that is necessary even if it may not be fun. The good news is that if you explore other more interesting media, it becomes easier to relate to the more “academic” resources when you go back to them.
7. Connect with Others.
There’s something helpful about learning from your peers. Information sharing is the fastest way to expand your knowledge in a way that holds up to further scrutiny. So, form study groups, hold each other accountable, and make it fun for one another. Sharing your knowledge, struggles, and experiences with one another builds bridges to new and deeper understanding.
8. Keep a Positive Attitude.
Try to fixate on what you’ve learned, not the time you’ve spent studying when you could have been doing something more fun. Focusing on your accomplishments is the best way of staying positive when you’re locked into a study session.
If that doesn’t do it for you, try to think ahead to what you’ll reward yourself with if you’re able to accomplish a certain learning objective. “Tricking” yourself mentally into being interested in the material — more interested than you actually are anyway — will be your golden ticket.
9. Take Care of You.
A huge part of active learning is in what you do when you’re not involved with the material at all. That means eating right. It means scheduling time to exercise each day (or most days). It means having fun, watching movies/TV, reading for pleasure.
Bottom line: take care of you. Doing so enables you to accomplish more when it’s time to get down to the business of studying.
10. Find Ways to Apply What You Have Learned.
Knowledge without application is pretty useless. That’s why you’ve seen our economy morph into one that is more skills-based than knowledge-based. And it’s not likely to go back any time soon.
Google and other search engines enable us to know anything in seconds. But it’s what we do with that knowledge that makes us unique and effective. If you’re always committed to growing your skills through application, you’ll be well ahead of the curve when it comes to overall marketability.
Active Learning Is the Difference Between Success and Failure
Once you master the art of active learning, you’ll never again feel ill-prepared to tackle a tough topic. It also will set you up for success in life. Now it’s your turn, readers. What are some active learning tips and techniques that you’ve used to learn something you never thought you’d be capable of learning? Sound off in the comments section below.
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