The sweeping rise of online education has not only provided us with new learning platforms, it has also led us to question how we learn. A year after endless Zoom-meetings, it is clear that traditional ways of teaching don’t get any better just because they are online. On the contrary, students are finding that listening to a teacher or professor on Zoom can be even more boring. To be sure, there are better ways to learn. Active learning methods, which rely on increased student engagement, produce more favorable results, compared to traditional classroom settings with one person talking and all others listening. Studies show that “active learning leads to increases in examination performance that would raise average grades by a half a letter, and that failure rates under traditional lecturing increase by 55% over the rates observed under active learning” (Source). Better grades are a function of a deeper understanding and a higher retention rate of what was learned.
How does active learning work? Quite obviously, it is the opposite of the passive delivery mode we all know. Students don’t just sit and listen as they do in the vast majority of lectures, they actively participate in understanding the material through discussions, group projects or short case studies. The online environment opens up a whole new world of possibilities for active learning techniques. Self-study content can be made interactive, prompting learners to answer questions and receive instant data-driven feedback. What’s more, content can be broken down in engaging bite-sized portions, short enough to stipulate and actively engage the brain, instead of putting it to sleep. Technology also improves how we collaborate and engage in group projects. Working with your fellow students is now possible regardless of where they live. While one student might be tackling an issue in his bedroom in Berlin, his collaboration partner could be working on the same issue while on lunch break at her job in Bangalore. Group work and interactivity have been made a whole lot easier by the advances in technology.
One form of active learning that has gained attention lately is the challenged-based approach. Students learn by engaging in the process of finding new solutions to pressing real-life problems. This is a far cry from theoretical scenarios taught in most business schools, which might or might not apply in real life or to the student’s particular context, mission or goals. Learning through challenges fosters deep knowledge instead of superficial understanding. It focuses on learning for the real world instead of grades. And it allows for creative and critical thinking, for innovation and sustainable solutions. Attempting to solve a challenge means that students have to focus their attention on every step of the process - from analyzing and investigating the problem correctly to finding the right tools for new solutions - it is a process that teaches by doing, making learning more effective and rewarding. Through that, students develop the knowledge, skills and abilities that they can take on their professional and personal journey.