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Simple Ways to Bring Active Learning to Lecture

By Janet Corral, PhD

Active learning techniques are known to improve student learning outcomes by one to two standard deviations, as compared to lectures without active learning.1-5

A number of active learning techniques have proven efficacy. Below is a selection of tips that require relatively small modifications to your existing lecture to have positive impacts on learning outcomes.

Pause every 8-15 minutes6 to do one of the following:

  • Allow learners to make notes on what has been covered. This allows learners to consolidate the material in short-term, and possibly long-term, memory.
  • Ask learners to discuss material covered to this point with their peers. This allows learners to check their understanding of the concepts presented, and either get clarification from a peer, or realize they need to ask questions of you.
  • Ask learners to answer a question verbally, with a show of hands, or with an audience response system.2-4 This gives you a ‘snapshot’ of what learners are understanding – and misunderstanding – so you can correct them before moving to the next concept.
  • Work on solving a problem related to the content presented to date5. This allows learners to apply what has been taught, and checks deeper levels of their comprehension of the material presented.
  • Present cases or scenarios and invite students to choose appropriate investigations, vote on differential diagnosis, etc.1 Such activities require application of material presented in the future context of medical practice, which may aid in transferring knowledge to clinical settings.

  1. Van Dijken, P.C., et al., Evaluation of an online, case-based interactive approach to teaching pathophysiology. Med Teach, 2008. 30: p. 131-136.
  2. Johnson, J.P. and A. Mighten, A comparison of teaching strategies: lecture notes combined with structured group discussion versus lecture only. J Nursing Educ, 2005. 44(319-322).
  3. Oswald, A.E., et al., The effects of audience response systems on learning outcomes in health professions education–A Systematic Review: BEME Guide 21. Medical Teacher, 2012. 34(6): p. e386-e405.
  4. Crouch, C.H. and E. Mazur, Peer instruction: Ten years of experience and results. American Journal of Physics, 2001. 69(9): p. 970-977.
  5. Hake, R., Interactive-engagement versus traditional methods: A six-thousand-student survey of mechanics test data for introductory physics courses. American Journal of Physics, 1998. 66: p. 64-74.
  6. Ambrose, S., et al., How Learning Works. 2010, San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.​