Motivating students to participate as active learners

Students may ask: “Why is this active learning approach better than you just telling me what I need to know?”

The need to engage and motivate your students

It is important to positively address the challenge of motivating students to engage in the Active Learning Classroom. Don’t assume your students will understand it, just come to like it, or be convinced that you know what is best! Instead, accept that many of your students will have reservations about how they are engaged at university and know, therefore, that you should spend time with them talking specifically about ways of learning. (By the way, whatever your teaching style, you should always talk with students about the way they will learn with you).

The Active Learning Classroom creates a space for using and evaluating knowledge critically and developing a student’s confidence:

  • At university level, a student needs to know more than just facts or how a process works. A student needs to be able to use and critically evaluate factual and procedural knowledge confidently in different situations.
  • Developing conceptual knowledge and testing their understanding of it will lead to their success at university and beyond.
  • Working with other people will develop a student’s self-esteem and confidence.
  • The Active Learning Classroom allows a student to apply and check their knowledge using a variety of problems.
  • The Active Learning Classroom is designed to develop student’s learning (i.e. self-knowledge of how they learn) and graduate capabilities. The types of problems and situations they will encounter in class are similar to ways of working in life beyond university, and therefore the Active Learning Classroom provides a valuable experience both for learning, future life and work.

Be clear about what, why and how

Motivate your students by briefing them clearly:

  • Establish ground rules – explain what is needed and agree what you expect of each other.
  • KISS – keep session and activity briefings simple, practical and doable. Restate goals as necessary during the session.
  • What’s the point? – continually make active learning meaningful and explain the benefits (see below). Be explicit about how the session’s outcomes and activities relate to learning on their course or module and to the students’ aspirations beyond the course.
  • Establish effective teams/triads – don’t just throw students in the deep end – it is possible the Active Learning Classroom will not be familiar to them. Design a small activity that involves them in agreeing a good team name, and creating a flag or logo for their team (etc.). Let them choose their team roles (Coordinator, Questioner, Scribe work well in SCALE UP and other active learning situations).
  • Design good problems for them to work with – make them real, realisable, open ended, in need of discussion and problem-solving strategies (see section on designing good problems).

Learning benefits of an active Problem-based Learning approach

Activities develop and provide evidence of the students’ capabilities to,

  • Work in teams
  • Work independently
  • Manage projects and hold leadership roles
  • Use oral and written communication
  • Evaluate group processes and develop self-awareness
  • Analyse and think critically
  • Explain and apply conceptual knowledge
  • Self-direct learning
  • Apply course content to real world examples
  • Research and information literacy
  • Problem solve

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