Active Learning

What is Active Learning?

Active learning is a term used to categorize instructional methods that engage students in the learning process through the use of active learning techniques. Students move beyond simply listening, watching, and taking notes to actively engage with course content and one another; activities may include writing, problem-solving, discussion, or presentation (Felder & Brent, 2009).

There are many instructional methods that instructors can draw from to get students actively engaged in the classroom, including:

  • Case-based instruction
  • Collaborative learning
  • Cooperative learning
  • Flipped classroom
  • Problem-based learning
  • Team-based learning

Research on Active Learning

The following selected articles provide a research-based overview of the effectiveness of various active learning techniques specific to pharmacy and health sciences education.

  1. Blasco-Arcas, L. Buil, I., Hernandez-Ortega, B., Sese, F.J. (2013). Using clickers in class: The role of interactivity, active collaborative learning and engagement in learning performance. Computers & Education, 62, 102-110 doi: 10.1016/j.compedu.2012.10.019.
  2. Camiel, L.D., Mistry, A., Schnee, D., Tataronis, G., Taglieri, C.,  Zaiken, K…. Goldman, J. (2016). Students’ attitudes, academic performance and preferences for content delivery in a very large self-care course redesign. American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education, 80(4). doi: 10.5688/ajpe80467.
  3. Freeman, S., Eddy, S.L., McDonough, M., Smith, M.K., Okoroafor, N., Jordt, H., & Wenderoth, M.P., (2014). Active learning increases student performance in science, engineering, and mathematics. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 111(23), 8410-8415.
  4. Lucas, K.H., Testman, J.A., Hoyland, M.N., Kimble, A.M., & Euler, M.L. (2013). Correlation between active-learning coursework and student retention of core content during advanced pharmacy practice experiences. American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education, 77(8). doi: 10.5688/ajpe778171.
  5. McCarty, J.P., & Anderson, L. (2000). Active learning techniques versus traditional teaching: Two experiments from history and political science. Innovative Higher Education, 24(4), 279-294.
  6. Stewart, D.W., Brown, S.D., Cheri W. Clavier, & Wyatt, J. (2011). Active-learning processes used in US pharmacy education. American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education, 75(4). doi: 10.5688/ajpe75468.

Resources on Active Learning

The staff in the Center for Innovative Learning has compiled a brief list of relevant and reliable resources to describe active learning techniques and to assist faculty with incorporating specific techniques into their classes.  

An Active-Learning Strategies Primer for Achieving Ability-Based Educational Outcomes
Gleason, B.L., Peeters, M.J., Resman-Targoff, B.H., Karr, S., McBane, S., Kelley, K…. Denetclaw, T.H., 2011
>> This is a pharmacy-specific resource for implementing active learning that was published in the American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education.

How Can You Incorporate Active Learning Into Your Classroom?
University of Michigan's Center for Research on Learning and Teaching
>> This two-page resource describes 18 different active learning techniques and arranges them by complexity and classroom time commitment.

Making Active Learning Work
University of Minnesota's Center for Educational Innovation
>> This tutorial provides an overview of active learning, suggestions for overcoming student resistance to active learning, tips for managing time and the classroom, examples of best practices, and strategies for implementation. 

Self-Directed Guide for Designing Courses for Significant Learning 
>> Dee Fink and Associates.

7 Things You Should Know About Collaborative Learning Spaces
>> The new classrooms in the Holland Building are collaborative learning spaces enabling the use of pedagogical methods that make it easier and more exciting for students to explore course content and engage with one another. The 7 Things document provides a brief summary of collaborative spaces and how they can benefit the teaching and learning context.

Team-Based Learning Collaborative
>> An organization dedicated to the study and practice of team-based learning. 

Building Innovative Learning Spaces

Traditional teaching methods are not the most effective way to prepare learners for the 21st century; employers demand knowledge workers with critical thinking, problem-solving, and communication skills that can help employees keep pace with changes in technology and information/knowledge. To effectively infuse these skills into the curriculum, ACPHS has created three new classroom spaces that allow students to practice, discover, and collaborate on solving real-world problems while getting continuous feedback to enhance the learning process.

Gina Garrison, Pharm D, Associate Professor in the Department of Pharmacy Practice, and Jennifer McVay-Dyche, PhD, Executive Director in the Center for Innovative Learning, met with Dr. Greg Dewey, President of the College, to discuss the role of these new classroom spaces in meeting the needs of 21st century learners.

Dialogues with Dewey: Innovative Learning and Classrooms Show from ACPHS on Vimeo.

Q: How do I request the classroom?

A: Classroom requests must be sent to your department chair.  The department chair will then gather all course requests and submit them to the registrar for scheduling.

Q: How many whiteboards are available in a room? Do I have to set them up? Are they already set up? Do they move?  

A: There are five whiteboards that are wall-mounted between the seven monitors in each room.  There are also two, double-sided portable whiteboards in each room.

Q: What happens if the person before me moves all of the 70 seats around and I need the class set up in the standard pod configuration?

A: Room set-up will be the responsibility of the instructors. There will be three “preferred” layouts and there will be signage in the room which will diagram those layouts. Students will be expected to assist in the set-up. Faculty members will be encouraged to communicate with their colleagues who are scheduled in the room prior to them and after them. 

Q: How does technology support the active classrooms?

A: The technology design of these spaces is intended to promote the active learning model, emphasizing small group work and ease of movement throughout the space. High quality displays and robust wireless network capabilities are built into each classroom. Given that these rooms do not employ the legacy Tandberg equipment in other spaces, video connections with any other global location will be made using internet-based tools such as Blackboard, Skype, etc.

Q: What technology is available to faculty?

A: Faculty will have the ability to not only display content on large monitors at the front of the room, but to also push that content to monitors available at each team table. Although the lecturer is encouraged to move, a camera will be trained on the podium area for recording and internet broadcast when necessary. Hands-on technology training will be provided to each faculty member assigned to an active classroom.

Q: What technology is available to the student?

A: Student use of the room is intended to be almost completely wireless. Access to the network and the ability to cast content from one’s personal computer to a team table monitor will all be accomplished without the need for cables, adapters, etc.

Q: Can rooms be used for clubs or organizations, meetings, etc.?

A: These rooms can be scheduled similar to other classrooms and lecture halls on campus, through Meeting Room Manager.  First priority will be given to class scheduling by the Registrar’s Office.

Q: How do I schedule an event, activity or meeting in one of the rooms?

A: Faculty and Staff will be able to schedule these rooms for educational and/or co-curricular activities through Meeting Room Manager. When these rooms are not reserved in Meeting Room Manager, they can be used similarly to the Princeton Classrooms by students, faculty and staff.



Training and Support

Pedagogical training and instructional design support are available through the Center for Innovative Learning. To learn more about faculty training or to schedule a design consultation to explore active learning techniques, please contact the Center for Innovative Learning at