Author: Mari-Liis Järg, adult educator, DevelopDesign®

“It was so good to participate in a course, where the entire content was not simply the teacher’s monologue,“ said a participant at the end of one course. I was surprised. It made me wonder how it can still be possible that in 2021 the only form of teaching and learning is a sit-and-listen or a lecture in its most archaic sense. On the other hand, I then realised that active learning in adult education must be less self-evident than I had thought. I definitely do not wish to throw lectures as such into the bin – this way of teaching/learning also has its place if taking into account the learner and the prerequisites of learning. But why should active learning methods be used at all? And on what basis to choose them?

Captivating All Senses in Action Helps to Learn

Based on research data, one of the main reasons for applying active learning methods is that the human brain creates stronger connections about the content while being in the process of active learning than it would in passive learning. Thus, it must remain the task of  the educator to create such processes within a course where, in addition to passively listening to the theory, the person’s physique (e.g. movement), thought processes (e.g. analysis of previous experience, group discussions, phrasing the most important, writing, etc.) as well as emotional processes (e.g. practical experiences, situations enabling positive emotions, etc.) are involved. 

A Prerequisite for Learning is a Safe, Learning-Friendly Environment Evoking Positive Emotions

A person does not learn when he senses his self-esteem may be undermined. Nor do we learn when we experience excessive emotional tension, anxiety or fear. The choice of methods in an unfamiliar group should allow sufficient acquaintance with the group members, foster an  open and friendly atmosphere, encourage learners towards bold practice. The educator can do a lot in this matter with his attitude and activities. In particular, by creating an appropriate preset, supporting goal-setting and reflection.

Approach One Topic from Different Angles

In order for memorisation to take place, we should use methods that allow the topic to be dealt with from different angles. This is necessary for creating a network of previous knowledge and experience. Thus, discussing things in a group, presenting the ideas to the group accompanied by written self-reflection etc., are not unnecessary parroting but allows one topic to be dealt with through different activities. The more different links the brain creates, the better. 

In addition to being aware of the characteristics of learning, there are other bases for substantive  selection of learning methods. You can read more about them (the full version of the learning material) at our Toolkit.