Active learning is a key principle of Block teaching. It involves students moving away from being passive recipients of information, and instead developing the skills to be active participants in their education.

It gives them the opportunity to interact with the learning process, connect new and old information, reconsider existing thoughts or opinions, apply their knowledge to new and complex situations, and reflect on their experiences.

 Paramedicine students practicing skills

What is active learning?

Active learning is about engaging students in doing more than taking notes, listening and following instructions. It centres around writing, debating, problem solving and critiquing, and requires students to:

  • do things and think about why they are doing these activities and the connections to content/skills
  • work in learning groups to collaboratively construct an outcome, or work individually
  • engage in simple activities like journal writing and paired discussions, or more involved activities like case studies, role plays, and structured team-based learning.

Active learning strategies range from simple to complex, as illustrated in the continuum below, and should be adapted to suit varying learning goals and situations.

Simple Intermediate Complex
Individual reflection
Writing activities
Self assessment
Large group discussion
Think-pair-share
Group evaluations
Peer review
Case studies
Brainstorming
Interactive polling
Games or simulations
Role-playing
Jigsaw discussion
Problem solving
Placements and site visits

Active learning in Block Mode

Adopting a purposefully designed series of activities in the Block Mode varies the pace and focus of a three-hour session and is particularly effective in engaging students.

Active learning is effective for both group and individual tasks. Targeted activities have the potential to:

  • develop in-depth understanding through scaffolded higher order thinking activities
  • improve critical thinking through activities requiring justification of position/conclusions
  • consolidate application of new information/skills through contextualisation such as case studies and scenarios
  • provide a safe context for all students to actively participate (students can share ideas in smaller groups before sharing with the whole class)
  • enhance individual insights and motivation through exposure to others' contributions
  • develop interpersonal skills as a consequence of having formed relationships in small group work, thus improving the effectiveness of collaborative work.

Tips for active learning activities

Getting started

Design activities so students achieve the learning outcome.

Highlight to students the purpose and relevance of the activity, and assist them to make connections, foster metacognition and consolidate learning.

Anticipate challenges

If students are resistant to engaging in activities:

  • introduce the concept early in the unit and clearly specify expectations and roles related to each activity
  • explain reasons and connections to assessments and further learning
  • use a variety of active learning strategies regularly in a targeted way (include 3-4 learning activities over a 3-hour session).

If activities take too much time, consider:

  • whether the task can be shared between several peers
  • how pre-class activities can prepare the students for an in-class activity.

If students are resistant to group work, consider:

  • whether the activity is challenging enough to require two or more people to work together
  • if the activity requires differing perspectives and experience
  • making group work a common activity, with expectations of effective participation.