Active Learning


Socially based activities that support engaged, impactful learning

Principal Metaphors

  • Knowledge is … scope of possible actions and interpretations
  • Knowing is … coherently interpreting; appropriate acting
  • Learner is … an actor (individual)
  • Learning is … construing, connecting, interpreting, weaving
  • Teaching is … occasioning, prompting, triggering, listening




At its root, Active Learning is a critique of and response to “passive learning” – that is, delivery-based teaching methods that position the learner as a passive recipient of external knowledge. Active Learning thus encompasses a spectrum of learning formats in which students are active, ranging from simply experiencing what is being learned (e.g., riding a bike) to more formally structured approaches such Inquiry-Based Learning. Importantly, Active Learning is not a formal framework, but advice for learner engagement that is rooted in Coherence Discourses, especially Embodiment Discourses and Embeddedness Discourses. (Note: Active Learning should not be confused with Action Learning or Activity Theory.)


Active Learning is better described as a series of considerations than as formal advice. The discourse prompts educators to attend to meaningfulness of tasks, demands for critical reflection, opportunities for authentic participation, requirements for interpersonal activity, and so on – in brief, the range of elements and qualities that engaged agents seek when selecting their own activities. Active Learning has thus been criticized as being little different from Experiential Learning and other commonsensical programs. Indeed, apart from a tendency to pay more attention to social and cultural elements of the learning setting, these clusters of theories appear at first glance to be more alike than different.

Authors and/or Prominent Influences

Jean Piaget John Dewey

Status as a Theory of Learning

Active Learning is not a theory of learning.

Status as a Theory of Teaching

Active Learning is concerned with structuring experiences to influence learning – and, as such, is properly construed as a theory of teaching.

Status as a Scientific Theory

Active Learning is founded on scientific theories of learning, but itself does not meet our requirements of a scientific theory.

Please cite this article as:
Davis, B., & Francis, K. (2020). “Active Learning” in Discourses on Learning in Education.

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