And the Academy Award for Learning goes to? Zombies or Enlightened Ones?

When I am teaching, I do not assume that students are learning for as one student commented: “I was always only doing three activities during class, and that was to take notes, listen and be bored.” On the other hand, when I am facilitating learning and the students are interacting, then perhaps they are actively learning, understanding and connecting learning to life.  Out of 100 students I surveyed in my thinking critically and creatively classes, relative to a chapter we were studying, “Obstacles to Knowledge,” students preferred active learning over passive learning. For many of them passive learning was an obstacle to knowledge.

Some students maintain that they are the captain of their ship, and it is their responsibility to be proactive, positive, and to take the initiative for the quality of their learning regardless of the teacher. Some students are like water, they seek the least level of resistance. Others have been conditioned to be passive learners from K-12, while others experienced active learning in grade school and then it was down hill from there into the throes of passivity when they entered high school and college.


Thus, as students enter our classes, they bring a wide spectrum of active and passive learning experiences.  As the saying goes, shall they learn how I teach or shall I teach how they learn? You might want to find out from your students whether they were active, passive, or a combination of both learners in their previous educational experiences.


The following are random comments from students about active and passive learning


  1. “I believe that most people are passive learners. It is easier to pay attention in class than it is to go out on your own and see what everything is about. Most students including myself will take the easy route. If I really enjoy the class I will go out of the way to learn more of that class. If I don’t enjoy the class I will try to finish without having to put a lot of effort to it.”
  2. “I would agree that mostly everyone is a passive learner including me.  In the classroom, I focus more on what the instructor says and then take notes. When I am asked to read a chapter for my class, I read only what I’m supposed to read instead of trying to find a purpose for the assignment. I would agree that most people only do that minimum of what they were asked to do.”
  3. “I was inclined to memorize for the tests when I was in middle/high school. Classes that I learned more actively in were ones with lots of discussion where I felt engaged.” 
  4. “Active learning allows the learner to understand so much more than passive learning which is why it is so valuable to learn how to be an active learner.”
  5. “As you progress in the nursing program, you’ll find that the theory classes increasingly utilize active learning techniques.  Role-playing and simulations have been a big help in learning material that can be pretty dry at times!  I know many students who rejected this change in teaching/learning styles because the passive learning was easier.  I can’t tell you how many times I heard, ‘Just tell me what you want me to know.’”
  6. “In my K-12 experience, I would say about half of the learning in the classroom was active.  As I look back at my public school teachers and their instruction techniques, I feel like I got lucky to have had so many teachers who were passionate about the topic they taught.  It was actually a shock to me when I got to college the first time.  I found instructors and professors who would blandly lecture about a topic, then routinely test over the material.  I was so used to the active learning of my K-12 years that passive learning in my college courses made me dislike the area of study I had chosen and been so passionate about.  I will give praise to the instructors in the nursing program here, especially in the higher level classes, for utilizing techniques that involve active learning.  It’s nice to be in a program where you can see the passion for the material presented.”
  7. In high school, I found myself, especially in the morning sitting in my desk, and waiting for the bell to ring. I would find myself looking at the clock more than the board. I think that passive learning can be closely associated with boredom and letting information go in one ear and out the other. The only classes that I could really think of myself actively learning were in my shop classes and my welding classes. These were very hands on and you learned as you went. You were taught a new skill by the teacher showing you and you repeating that skill until you got it just right. Overall, active learning is much easier and effective then passive learning in my opinion.”
  8. “While it is our responsibility to get the best out of our education and pay attention, I also think it’s nearly impossible to sit, to listen or to stare at a power point for up to three hours.” 
  9. “Nursing is a perfect fit for me, I want to learn actively and I believe that it makes for a better learning experience. Nursing classes are more than accommodating.”
  10. “This is my second time attending college, and I notice differences between the two. I think this time I had more of a purpose because I have more responsibilities than the first. Also, I feel the first time I went, it felt more like something I had to do because that is what you do after high school.”
  11. “Some of my favorite classes were art and science. These classes usually allowed us to work hands on with what we were learning about. I also feel like there is a lot more active learning at a young age, and as we get older classes change to lectures and presentations that are passive. Often I felt like classes were a waste of time because I daydreamed the whole class and just had to teach myself the material anyway.”
  12. “Some blame the students, some blame the teachers and some blame system as a whole. I believe as we become more and more in tune with the passive learning system, we are not really taking in the information to a max. With active learning there is no chance for the students to get bored, unless they deliberately choose not to, then it is their problem. From football practice, driving lessons, to teaching in the classroom, the student needs to get their hands on to the subject. A good player isn’t taught by sitting in a desk and watching plays on a screen, they need a walk through, and practice week, and then the full contact. When teaching a student how to drive, simulators and images will not do justice to the real world driving. Finally with the issue of passive learning in the classroom, students need to get involved in demonstrations, group work, and getting out of the desk are all more effective ways to teaching a student.”
  13. “I agree that active learning almost always makes what you are learning more tangible and therefore more memorable then just listening to someone tell you it and not show you. I remember at my last job we had a poster in our training office that said ‘Tell me and I will forget, show me and I may remember, involve me and involve me and I will understand’. I always found it funny because it is so obviously true, but it is just way easier for the trainers to do the first two, and then say they did their part and if the new workers failed it was because they were lazy or dumb
  14. “I agree that most classroom learning is passive where the students enter, take a seat, and start daydreaming about something they’d rather be doing instead of actively listening to what is being taught. I think that active learning is better for everyone, and I prefer it because otherwise I get bored and start drawing pictures, or looking at the clock to see when class is done.”
  15. “I agree that in school, there needs to be more participation and hands on learning. No one enjoys sitting and listening to lectures. I think that even if there is a lecture, teachers should stop during the lecture and assign an activity so students have something hands on to stimulate their minds. I think the chances of remembering something by passive learning are much less than by active learning.”

Roger J. Vanden Busch


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