Active Lectures

Active learning can be the means to engage students beyond listening, reading, and memorizing by “help[ing] them develop the habits of mind that drive science” (Handelsman, 2004).

Recent research indicates that active learning strategies can lead to greater retention (1, 5, 11), improved grades, increased engagement (3, 4) and lifelong learning (9) among young adults.

Active learning is generally defined as a learning process that requires students to collect and synthesize information, practice critical thinking, and engage in problem-solving activities, which emulates real-life situations that graduates will experience in a non-academic setting and that shares agency between instructor and the students (7). It can be implemented on a continuum of instructional strategies ranging from simple to complex, requiring less or more time to plan and implement depending on the level of learning you intend to take your students to: moving the from remembering and understanding into processes of application and analysis.

The document provided by Yee, K. (2019) Interactive Techniques is a good starting point for ideas that you can easily integrate into your lectures. Among them you will find recommendations for scaffolding of different activities as well as peer collaboration to not only increase active participation, student confidence and subject competence, but also provide both you and your students with concrete measures to (self-) evaluate the learning progress at different points preceding formal assessments (2).

The rest of the references in the list below compile recent research into the effectiveness of active learning and peer instruction.


1 Active Learning Pedagogies. (n.d.). Centre for Teaching Support & Innovation. Retrieved March 2, 2020, from

2 Crouch, C. H., & Mazur, E. (2001). Peer Instruction: Ten years of experience and results. American Journal of Physics, 69(9), 970–977.

3 Deslauriers, L., McCarty, L. S., Miller, K., Callaghan, K., & Kestin, G. (2019). Measuring actual learning versus feeling of learning in response to being actively engaged in the classroom. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 116(39), 19251–19257.

4 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.

5 Handelsman, Jo, Ebert-May, D., Beichner, R., Bruns, P., Chang, A., DeHaan, R., Gentile, J., Lauffer, S., Stewart, J., Tilghman, S. M., & Wood, W. B. (2004). Scientific Teaching. Science, New Series, 304(5670), 521–522.

6 Reuell, P. (2019, September 4). Study shows that students learn more when taking part in classrooms that employ active-learning strategies. Harvard Gazette.

7 Rolheiser, C., Olmstead, K., & Gordon, K. (n.d.). Goodbye Lecture Halls, Hello Active Learning Spaces | Harvard Business Publishing Education. Retrieved March 2, 2020, from

8 Silverthorn, D. U., Thorn, P. M., & Svinicki, M. D. (2006). It’s difficult to change the way we teach: Lessons from the Integrative Themes in Physiology curriculum module project. Advances in Physiology Education, 30(4), 204–214.

9 Smith, A. C., Stewart, R., Shields, P., Hayes-Klosteridis, J., Robinson, P., & Yuan, R. (2005). Introductory Biology Courses: A Framework To Support Active Learning in Large Enrollment Introductory Science Courses. Cell Biology Education, 4(2), 143–156.

10 Udovic, D., Morris, D., Dickman, A., Postlethwait, J., & Wetherwax, P. (2002). Workshop Biology: Demonstrating the Effectiveness of Active Learning in an Introductory Biology Course. BioScience, 52(3), 272–281.[0272:WBDTEO]2.0.CO;2

11 Watkins, J., & Mazur, E. (2013). Retaining Students in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Majors. Journal of College Science Teaching, 42(5), 36–41. JSTOR.

12 Yee, K. (2019). Interactive Techniques. Retrieved from


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