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Active Learning: Engaging Students in Education

Since the Industrial Revolution, the setup of classrooms in many parts of the world is the same: the students sit at fixed desks as a teacher talks from a raised platform at the front of the room.

Today, the traditional classroom setting is no longer applicable to the needs of modern students. Many students are no longer wasting their learning potential by sitting still for an hour or more. Instead, lessons involve more participation, with classroom discussions encouraged, and teachers seeking ways utilise the classroom space more efficiently.

As a result, several schools around the world are committing resources to redesign classrooms to promote active learning.

The characteristics of active learning

Active learning in the classroom has three components. Students are: involved in discussions rather than passively listening to the teacher, encouraged to share their thoughts, and asked to analyse rather than memorise.

Teaching strategies that support active learning include group discussions, peer questioning and problem-based learning. The design of a classroom should support this method, creating a sense of comradery and encouraging students to work to their optimal level.

Student engagement leads to better learning

Several research studies from experts in learning and educational psychology have shown that active learning approaches – compared to its passive, teacher-centric approach – lead to greater student engagement and increased learning.

In a study published in the sixth volume of the 2017 Journal of Learning Spaces, the researchers conducted an experiment in which a classroom was redesigned from a traditional seating configuration to a more flexible layout. They also added portable whiteboards and supplemental computer monitors to accommodate group and individual work. After a few months, students and faculty participants admitted that the new classroom design encouraged active learning, productivity and physical activity.

Classroom space and its effect on learning

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Designing a classroom for active learning doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive. Still, everything in the space must stem from the needs of staff and students, from teaching aids to school furniture.

The following are best practices by schools in different countries, including Australia and the United States, which have implemented active learning in classroom design:

  • Integrated technology

Technology is more than a reliable Internet connection, a projector and a computer. Choose tools and apps that students can use to access lessons from anywhere and across various devices. Create an accessible way for learners to plug in their laptops to a panel display as they prepare for a presentation.

  • Movable furniture

Choose flexible school furniture that supports different teaching strategies. Tables on rollers and rotating chairs allow students to disperse for individual work or group collaboration. Consider circular or triangular tables or individual seats that can slot together.

  • Natural lighting

Several studies have shown that natural lighting in the workplace improves productivity, and this statement applies to students as well. If the classroom is not equipped to bring in natural light, utilise lights that operate on a dimmer.

  • Additional working space

Unlike the traditional classroom setup where students are confined to learning as they sit at their desks, active learning encourages students to work everywhere in the available space. Add display areas on the walls, from bulletin boards to posters, sticky notes and chart paper. This allows students to learn and retain information outside a lesson.

Although memorisation is an integral part of education, engagement is the key to bringing out a child’s potential. A student that actively participates, rather than passively listens, learns more. Aside from teaching strategies, an imaginative classroom design facilitates active learning and improves the quality of education.

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