Tag Archives: doing

CollegeQandA asks: Why is active learning the best learning?

Why is active learning the best learning?

Let us take one step back and ask “What is active learning?”.  The basic idea of Active Learning is that the person who takes action during class time is the one who learns the most and should be the student.  Therefore, if classes move from passive lectures to active lectures, where students do things, then the learning for students will be better or more efficient.

So, is active learning better?  Not always.

Playing and singing on harp

Diverse learning is better?

So, what is diverse learning?  I kind of made up the term.  I would call “diverse learning” an environment where a learner has the opportunity to experience and be assessed on doing in a number of ways.

For example, some of the best learning I have done in class was when both the professor and the textbook were not conveying the ideas successfully to me as the learner.  In this case, it appeared I had no resource that could guide me along the learning path to understand the material.  I learned to seek out other resources (textbooks, people, etc.) and to mold those other resources into the course I was being taught.  If the teacher or textbook are always exactly what you need to learn something then you will never learn to seek out and use other resources or learn from them.

Many people will bash on the lecture as a bad format for learning.  Some evidence might suggest that lectures are a poor efficiency use for learning, but equally, information and ideas will be delivered in your lifetime in a format that you simply need to focus on and extract meaning from.  If you can’t do this, then you will not be able to learn from lectures.

Active learning is one of the many modes of teaching and learning that should be part of your diverse learning environment, but you need the variety.

Active learning is good though

In terms of maximizing learning, I feel active learning is on a higher level than many on how to use class time efficiently.  It is, however, tricky to manage, more work for both professor and student, and non-conducive to many classrooms including their size, space, and content requirements.

Credits: photo titled: Active Child Laneway Adelaide12; by: Peter Tea


CollegeQandA asks: Do professors know about Course Hero and similar sites, and what do they think about them?

Do professors know about Course Hero and similar sites?

There are many resources on the internet that will help you in your courses.  Some of these sites do have material that students upload from previous years that you can purchase or upload your work and sell it – such as Course Hero.  Do professors know about these sites?  I would say a good number do, but definitely, not all of them.

Course Hero Screenshot

The existence of test banks (groups keeping records of all the tests and in some cases answers), course notes from previous years, and the accumulation of information as related to a course is not new.  The internet and its all-to-all communication model has just made it a little easier for this information to be archived and searched, and the existence of these types of sites was inevitable.  In the future, there might be some legal battles fought out on who owns what in the case of a course, but until then here are some basic ideas.

What do professors think about these sites?

I can’t speak for all professors, but I’m certain that universities and their faculty have a mixed opinion of this type of information being available, and a bigger concern on how it could be used.  For example, most professors would agree that using this material in the form of copying would be considered a violation of academic integrity.  In other cases, however, this material could be useful for a student to model solutions, answers, or responses that is a goal for a student to achieve.   Using material in this way might be fine.  So there’s a mixed feeling on this information being available.

Note, there are some course syllabi that strictly state that material from the course is not to be shared.  In these instances, uploading that course material is a clear violation that might result in further academic and legal battles that I can’t guess how they might proceed.

The future is active and tailored learning

In my opinion, these types of sites will have less and less impact as we proceed into better higher education.  For those courses that are template based and use traditional information transfer that is assessed through basic tests, then these types of sites are a concern.  For most of my courses, which are active learning with some student proposed work, these sites offer little benefit when a student has to learn to perform.

In the big picture of a degree, information is always available and is ever more accessible.  Information is useless unless it can be used in our ever theme of “doing”.  You won’t get a good job or a great career or achieve anything meaningful unless you learn to do.  Learning to do is hard, and there is no easy path.  Sites like these promise the potential for an easy something, but my guess is they rarely lead to any great achievement – just a way of skipping the work.


CollegeQandA asks: What is the best way to study?

Let’s start with the assumptions and definitions


  • Test – an assessment technique to evaluate student learning and provide feedback on what has been learned – yeah I know, optimistic
  • Test dump – short term studying period, taking the test, and then forgetting everything afterwards
  • Studying – time spent towards learning ideas, concepts, and knowledge
  • Problem – a question, challenge, or need that may or may not have a solution

For the sake of this discussion I will make some assumptions that if you do not hold them, then the advice is unnecessary.


  • The goal of studying is to learn
  • The goal of assessment is to help the student understand what they have and have not learned
  • Problems encountered in undergraduate courses at the first and second year are mostly solvable

How to study

studyAs stated above, studying is a method of spending time to learn about an area.  From what we know about learning, the actor (us) needs to activate pathways within our brain to create and refine the networks associated with that area of knowledge/skill (The Art of Changing the Brain: Enriching the Practice of Teaching by Exploring the Biology of Learning).  Also, it would be great if things learned for one thing are transferable to other areas.

This all implies that you, the actor, need to study by doing, reflecting with feedback, and repeat.  So, depending on the course this can be done in a number of ways.   For example, to write better, you need to write, edit, rewrite, edit, … maybe with a person to help you refine, rewrite …

Problem based courses – Math, Physics, etc.

For problem based courses, which are courses people tend to find most challenging, the doing is repetitive practice of problems spread out throughout the course.   This comes from a meta-study by Dunlosky et. al. (2013) in which they looked at the best ways to learn material in college as a summary of many other studies.  Throw out your highlighters.  Stop rereading passages.  Focus on practicing problems that are assigned and will be similar to those on the assessments.

Just like learning a new sport skill, learning an academic topic means practicing.  For courses where the major assessment is tests and exams, the act of practicing problems (both the mechanics and the understanding of material) is the best doing to study successfully and succeed in these types of courses.  Secondly, make sure you are doing this throughout the semester, and repeating problems that you already think you know how to solve.

Credits:  creative common photo from The Master Shake Signal; titled: Clean Study Bag