Why Active Learning Matters

By Inês Peceguina, Guest Author

One of Clonlara School’s most fundamental beliefs is that children learn best when their interests guide their activities. Thus, for a student to learn a subject at a deeper level, they must be actively engaged in the learning process. However, a recent Harvard University study suggests that many students do not immediately see the value of this approach, so it is important to help them understand.

According to the study authors, students can feel frustrated because “deep learning is hard work,” and “the effort involved in active learning can be misinterpreted as a sign of poor learning,” especially when compared to the more passive act of listening to a traditional lecturer. Yet, while students in the study reported learning more from their lectures, they ultimately performed better on assessments after taking part in active-learning sessions.

Neither this study nor any others we found provide answers to the following questions: What if a child always learns as an active learner? Are “native” active learners more aware of their own learning? Do they know and feel that it takes longer to master a subject? Or is learning in this way just normal for them? Nonetheless, it is important to help young people understand the importance of active learning because is not just a matter of pedagogical style. It is a matter of significant and meaningful learning, which is better achieved when students have the chance to actively engage in their learning and development.

Many Clonlara families will have come to this understanding by observing their own children and the variety of ways that they engage in the learning process. For example, active learning happens when a student gets excited about a topic and goes on conducting research on their own. They do not need a teacher or lecturer to provide them with all of the information. Clonlara’s Full Circle Learning Model provides a framework for managing this process and recognizes the important role of the “mentor”—a parent, teacher, tutor, coach—in guiding and learning alongside the student, rather than teaching or lecturing them directly.

Although lectures can be valuable at times for context or to help answer specific questions, the older students get and the more experience they gain from driving their own learning, the more active learning will become natural to them. Not only will this help students to achieve better outcomes on assessments of their learning, as the Harvard study suggests, it will also give them a solid foundation for lifelong learning, so please join us in spreading the word!

About the Author: Inês Peceguina, Ph.D., holds a doctorate in developmental psychology and is focusing her postdoctoral research on educational quality and relationships. She has presented for Clonlara at the School of Education, Polytechnic Institute of Lisbon.

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