Oh boy. This is one of those I knew was coming, and I get to spend a moment mildly complaining about another phenomenon in terminology. Like buzzwords, umbrella terms are something which can refer to several specific things sharing a common major trait, which is expressed by said term. Well, active learning is just such a term.
Not As Bad as Buzzwords:
Yeah, an umbrella term isn’t as obnoxious for a couple reasons. One of these reasons is that they actually mean something useful, and the other being that they cannot be helped.
It’s similar to a main genre type in movies, books, music or any other medium, under which several more specific forms of it may exist. Without these sort of terms, communication in anything diverse and complex would be a lot trickier and irritating.
It still makes explaining them, since they’re a general term for so many things, rather a pain, though!
What is Active Learning in a Nutshell:
Well, it’s any basic model of learning where the responsibility lays on the learner, not the teacher. In models like these, teachers are detached guidance roles present to maintain order and help where needed, but not as task masters or drill instructors.
There are a whole bunch of these, and I could spend all day talking about them, but the biggest example of this would probably be the now rather famous flipped classroom model.
That’s a misnomer by the way, as a true flipped classroom would literally switch roles entirely and be pointless. What it really is, is the students working together under their own power and agency, together, to learn, discover and practice the knowledge they obtain.
The teacher(s) stand by, to offer guidance, suggestions, and as I said, to maintain the most base sense of order and priority necessary.
Other similar models include self-directed organizational learning which is basically the same thing only with a little less “free roaming”, and the constant learning directive idea.
Why these are Popular:
Well, training in the classic environment is a horrible and grinding experience. Most people didn’t like school not because learning was a turn off to them, but because it forced them through motions that are just oppressive. It’s a regimented lifestyle that can be more busting than even work life in some cases, where facts are drilled into your head. Learning is not the same thing. Learning is discovery with meaning and accomplishment, not memorization.
On top of that, it lacked agency and a sense of self empowerment, and these newer models like this are actually designed around the idea of remedying that.
Placing the directive, the responsibility and the direction to the students themselves allows for the natural discovery, contemplation and problem solving we are evolved to learn through. This is the formula for natural human learning. Classrooms are decidedly not fit for human habitation!
Is it Practical:
But, is it practical to adopt theories like this? Isn’t there a risk with putting them on their own? Yes, there is, but those who falter will learn from their mistakes and feel motivated to better themselves based on it. This is in contrast to feeling contrite and belittled by the chastising nature of classrooms and letter grades.
So, yes, active learning is practical. A little risk is present but even the risk is constructive.