Active learning: a short reading list

In a previous post, I cited this simple definition for active learning:

Active learning is a process where students engage in classroom activities that promote critical engagement with course materials. Activities may include text analysis, collaborative writing, various forms of discussion or problem solving. Although active learning transfers, in part, the responsibility of learning to the student, the course must also be designed to make student activities meaningful and goal-oriented.

In one definition, when done well, “active learning engages students in two aspects – doing things and thinking about the things they are doing (Bonewell and Eison, 1991).

So, active leaning is about students “doing things and thinking about the things they are doing.”

Like to learn more? The monograph from which that quote is extracted launched the idea of active learning. Charles Bonwell, and colleague, James Eison, were early adopters of current concepts of active learning:


Foundational sources:

Bonwell, Charles C.; Eison, James A., Active Learning: Creating Excitement in the Classroom. 1991 ASHE-ERIC Higher Education Reports. (full text version) —This work is an early definition of what active learning is, and why it might be adopted.

Bonwell, Craig. Active Learning: Creating Excitement in the Classroom, (www.active-learning-ste.com, Green Mountain Falls, CO) —-These are working documents from a workshop on active learning created by one of the two authors of the preceding monograph.

There’s also A Digest of Bonwell and Eison, if you want the gist of this formative work in a few paragraphs.


A select bibliography:

Deslauriersa, L., McCartya, L., Millerc, K. Callaghana, K. & Kestina, B. (2019). Measuring actual learning versus feeling of learning in response to being actively engaged in the classroom, PNAS. www.pnas.org/cgi/doi/10.1073/pnas.1821936116.

Feison, J. (2010). Using active learning instructional strategies to create excitement and enhance learning. Jurnal Pendidikantentang Strategi Pembelajaran Aktif (Active Learning) Books, 2.

Finelli, C.J., Nguyen, K., Demonbrun, M., Borrego, M., Prince, M., Husman, J., Henderson, C., Shekhar, P., & Waters, C. K. (2018). Reducing student resistance to active learning: Strategies for instructors. Journal of College Science Teaching, 47(5), 80-91.

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.

Hake, R. R. (1998). Interactive-engagement versus traditional methods: A six-thousand-student survey of mechanics test data for introductory physics courses. American Journal of Physics, 66(1), 64-74.

Kothiyal, A., Murthy, S., & Iyer, S. (2014). Think-pair-share in a large CS1 class. Proceedings of the 2014 Conference on Innovation & Technology in Computer Science Education – ITiCSE ’14.doi:10.1145/2591708.2591739

McCarthy, J. P., & Anderson, L. (2000). Active learning techniques versus traditional teaching styles: two experiments from history and political science. Innovative Higher Education, 24(4), 279-294.


For a review of the literature see:

Prince, Michael. “Does Active Learning Work? A Review of the Research.” (Journal of Engineering Education, , 92 (3) 223-231, 2004.


For hands-on strategies:

The University of Minnesota has a guide on “How to maximize the benefits of active learning.” This page is useful in pointing out that active learning is NOT doing your traditional lecture while occasionally rearranging the deck chairs–um, I mean “classroom furniture.” has . A class needs to be designed around active learning, with clear goals, and adapted curricular materials. There might be fewer lectures. (You may have expected that.)

Cornell has a more general reference page on “Engaging Students,” which includes many ideas for active learning.

A recent article by James Lang, in the Chronicle for Higher Education suggests some simple exercises you can do in the first five minutes of class to engage students and help them internalize course content.

Berkeley’s Center for Teaching and Learning has a very useful list of active learning strategies.

We (meaning the authors of this blog at Princeton, suggest some strategies for including active learning in any classroom,  You can also use the search form on this page to explore terms like “active” or “large class” to find more suggestions for student engagement.


Date posted: February 16, 2016 | Author: | Comments Off on Active learning: a short reading list