Why Active Learning?

Our rapidly changing world has posed the long-standing question to education,

“How can today’s schools be transformed so as to become environments of teaching and learning that makes individuals lifelong learners and prepare them for the 21st Century?"

The answer in part is in creating learning experiences and learning envirnments that foster student-led inquiry guided by the following principles:

1. Authentic context

An authentic context that reflects the way the knowledge will be used in real life. In designing online learning environments with authentic contexts, it is not enough to simply provide suitable examples from real-world situations to illustrate the concept or issue being taught. The context needs to be all-embracing, to provide the purpose and motivation for learning, and to provide a sustained and complex learning environment that can be explored at length (e.g., Brown, Collins, & Duguid, 1989; Honebein, Duffy, & Fishman, 1993; Reeves & Reeves, 1997).

2. Authentic activities

The learning environment needs to provide ill-defined activities which have real-world relevance, and which present a single complex task to be completed over a sustained period of time, rather than a series of shorter disconnected examples (Bransford, Vye, Kinzer, & Risko, 1990; Brown, Collins, & Duguid, 1989; Reeves & Reeves, 1997; Lebow & Wager, 1994).

3. Access to expert performances and the modelling of processes

In order to provide expert performances, the online learning environment needs to provide access to expert thinking and the modelling of processes, access to learners in various levels of expertise, and access to the social periphery or the observation of real-life episodes as they occur (Collins, Brown, & Newman, 1989; Brown, Collins, & Duguid, 1989; Lave & Wenger, 1991). The facility of the World Wide Web to create global communities of learners who can interact readily via email, also enables opportunities for the sharing of narratives and stories.

4. Multiple roles and perspectives

In order for students to be able to investigate the learning environment from more than a single perspective, it is important to enable and encourage students to explore different perspectives on the topics from various points of view, and to ‘criss cross’ the learning environment repeatedly (e.g., Collins, Brown, & Newman, 1989; Honebein, Duffy, & Fishman, 1993; Spiro, Feltovich, Jacobson, & Coulson, 1991).

5. Collaborative construction of knowledge

The opportunity for users to collaborate is an important design element, particularly for students who may be learning at a distance. Consequently, tasks need to be addressed to a group rather than an individual, and appropriate means of communication need to be established. Collaboration can be encouraged through appropriate tasks and communication technology (e.g., discussion boards, chats, email, debates etc.) (e.g., Brown, Collins, & Duguid, 1989; Collins, Brown, & Newman, 1989; Hooper, 1992; Reeves & Reeves, 1997).

6. Reflection

In order to provide opportunities for students to reflect on their learning, the online learning environment needs to provide an authentic context and task, as described earlier, to enable meaningful reflection. It also needs to provide non linear organisation to enable students to readily return to any element of the site if desired, and the opportunity for learners to compare themselves with experts and other learners in varying stages of accomplishment (e.g., Boud, Keogh, & Walker, 1985; Kemmis, 1985; Collins & Brown, 1988).

7. Articulation

In order to produce a learning environment capable of providing opportunities for articulation, the tasks need to incorporate inherent—as opposed to constructed—opportunities to articulate, collaborative groups to enable articulation, and the public presentation of argument to enable defence of the position (e.g., Edelson, Pea, & Gomez, 1996; Collins, Brown, & Newman, 1989; Lave & Wenger, 1991).

8. Coaching and scaffolding

In order to accommodate a coaching and scaffolding role principally by the teacher (but also provided by other students), the online learning environments needs to provide collaborative learning, where more able partners can assist with scaffolding and coaching, as well as the means for the teacher to support learning via appropriate communication technologies (e.g., Collins, Brown, & Newman, 1989; Greenfield, 1984).

9. Authentic assessment

In order to provide integrated and authentic assessment of student learning, the online learning environment needs to provide: the opportunity for students to be effective performers with acquired knowledge, and to craft polished, performances or products in collaboration with others. It also requires the assessment to be seamlessly integrated with the activity, and to provide appropriate criteria for scoring varied products (e.g., Wiggins, 1993; Reeves & Okey, 1996; Linn, Baker, & Dunbar, 1991; Duchastel, 1997; Bain, 2003). This framework of critical elements have been used to design and/or evaluate a number of technology-based learning environments that have been based on a theoretical foundation of situated learning, for example, (e.g.,Pennell, Durham, Ozog, & Spark, 1997; Kennedy, Judd, Keppell, Ginns, Crabb, & Strugnell, 2001; Pountney, Parr, & Whittaker, 2002; Taylor, 2003; Keppell, Wlodek, Ping, Kennedy, Kirk, & Judd, 2003; Lee, Lee, & Kim, 2005; Koppi & Pearson, 2005; Ferry, Kervin, Hedberg, Turbill, Cambourne, & Jonassen, 2005; Gulikers, Bastiaens, & Martens, 2005; Östlund & Svensson, 2005)



Herrington, J. (2006). Authentic e-learning in higher education: Design principles for authentic learning environments and tasks.