Active Learning vs Passive Learning: Which is Best?

In the educational sphere, understanding the difference between active learning vs passive learning can help educators and students alike in tailoring teaching methods and learning strategies that are most effective for student engagement, comprehension, and long-term retention of information.

Active learning involves students engaging directly with the material, often through discussion, problem-solving, and hands-on activities. Meanwhile, passive learning typically refers to traditional lecture-based teaching where students receive information passively.

What is Active Learning?

Active learning, characterised by its student-centred approach, fundamentally shifts the focus from traditional teaching methods to more engaging and participatory activities. This method emphasises the active involvement of students in their learning process.

What is Active Learning?

Here are some examples of active learning activities, each demonstrating how this approach can be effectively implemented in various educational settings:

  1. Group Discussions: This method allows students to exchange ideas, challenge each other’s thinking, and collaboratively explore solutions. Research by Smith et al. (2009) in “Pedagogies of Engagement: Classroom-Based Practices” highlights the effectiveness of group discussions in enhancing critical thinking and communication skills.
  2. Problem-Based Learning (PBL): PBL presents real-world problems for students to solve, encouraging them to apply their knowledge practically. A study by Savery (2006) in the “Journal of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning” emphasized PBL’s role in fostering deeper understanding and retention of material.
  3. Case Studies: Analyzing and discussing case studies enable students to contextualize theoretical knowledge in real-world scenarios.
  4. Simulations and Role-Playing: These activities immerse students in a realistic situation or environment, enhancing their learning experience. These methods significantly improve students’ engagement and understanding of complex topics.
  5. Peer Teaching: When students teach their peers, they reinforce their own understanding and develop communication skills. Topping (2005), in “Trends in Peer Learning”, asserts the value of peer teaching in enhancing educational outcomes.
  6. Interactive Workshops: Workshops that require active participation promote hands-on learning. According to Bell and Kozlowski (2008) in “Active Learning: Effects of Core Training Design Elements on Self-Regulatory Processes, Learning, and Adaptability,” such workshops are effective in skill development.
  7. Think-Pair-Share Activities: This strategy encourages individual thinking, followed by discussion with a peer and then sharing with the larger group. Lyman (1981), who coined the term, highlights its effectiveness in promoting critical thinking and discussion.
  8. Project-Based Learning: Engaging in long-term projects allows students to explore a subject in depth. This approach is found beneficial for developing problem-solving skills and subject matter expertise.

What is Passive Learning?

Active and passive learning represent two distinct approaches in education.

Passive learning, a traditional and teacher-centred method, involves students absorbing information mainly through lectures, reading, and observation. In this approach, the teacher is the key source of knowledge, and student interaction is minimal, focusing largely on listening and note-taking.

What is Passive Learning?

This model effectively delivers foundational knowledge but may fall short in promoting critical thinking and problem-solving skills. Conversely, active learning encourages student engagement and interaction, fostering a deeper understanding and development of higher-order thinking skills.

Balancing these approaches can optimize educational outcomes, catering to various learning styles and needs.

Differences Between Active Learning and Passive Learning

Based on a study from GRD Journals (V02I090036), the differences between active and passive learning can be tabulated as follows:

Active LearningPassive Learning
Characteristic (For Student)Encourages critical thinking, problem-solvingFocuses on memorization, listening
Characteristic (For Teacher)Facilitator, guideSource of knowledge, lecturer
Textbook assignmentsApplied, interactive tasksReading, comprehension exercises
Writing in classReflective, analytical writingNote-taking, transcription
TimeMore time-intensive, interactiveLess time-consuming, lecture-focused
CostTends to be more expensive due to additional materials for interactive activities like lab experiments or creative projects.Generally less costly, relying mainly on traditional resources like textbooks and lectures.
Learning ProcessCollaborative, experientialIndividual, observational
Learning MethodHands-On: Direct engagement with materials or tools.

Collaborative: Group work for shared problem-solving and idea exchange.

Problem-Based: Applying theoretical knowledge to real-world scenarios.
Lecture-Based: Information delivered verbally by teachers.

Reading Assignments: Focus on comprehension of text-based material.

Observational: Learning through watching demonstrations or videos.
FeedbackContinuous, interactiveLess frequent, one-way

Apply the Learning Pyramid to Choose the Right Method

The Learning Pyramid is a valuable tool for understanding the differences and effectiveness of active vs passive learning. According to this model, active learning methods, such as practising by doing or teaching others, lead to significantly higher retention rates. In contrast, passive learning techniques like lectures result in lower retention levels.

Here’s a more detailed explanation:

  1. Practising by Doing (Active Learning): This method involves students actively engaging in tasks, where learning occurs through hands-on experience. It’s highly effective because it requires applying knowledge and skills in real or simulated scenarios.
  2. Teaching Others (Active Learning): When students teach concepts to others, they reinforce their own understanding and clarify their knowledge, leading to better retention and comprehension.
  3. Lectures (Passive Learning): Traditional lecture-based teaching, where students passively listen to information presented by an instructor, tends to result in lower retention rates. This is because it often lacks interactive elements that encourage deep processing of the information.

By using the Learning Pyramid, educators can better strategize their teaching methods, emphasizing more active learning approaches to enhance student engagement and retention of material. The pyramid serves as a guide to choosing the right method for various learning objectives, balancing between active and passive learning for optimal educational outcomes.

FAQs about Active Learning and Passive Learning

Let’s address some frequently asked questions to further clarify the distinctions and benefits of active and passive learning methods.

How does active learning contribute to the development of critical thinking skills?

Active learning strengthens students’ critical thinking skills by prompting them to question, analyze, and synthesize information.

For example, in a debate or discussion, students must critically evaluate different perspectives, formulate their arguments, and respond to counterarguments.

How does active learning contribute to students’ adaptability and ability to learn independently?

Active learning places students in varied scenarios, often requiring them to solve problems or conduct research independently.

For instance, in a project-based learning setting, students might investigate a local environmental issue, requiring them to adapt to new information and circumstances. This approach fosters self-directed learning and adaptability, as evidenced by a study by Bell (2010), which highlighted the benefits of active learning in promoting independent learning skills.

How can educators balance active and passive learning in a curriculum?

To achieve a balance, educators can employ a blend of both methods. For instance, a lecture can be used to introduce a new concept, followed by an active group project that allows students to explore the concept in depth. This combination ensures foundational understanding through passive learning, while active learning provides opportunities for application and deeper engagement.

The effectiveness of such a blended approach in active vs passive learning is supported by research from Freeman et al. (2014) in “Active learning increases student performance in science, engineering, and mathematics,” indicating that integrating both methods can enhance overall student learning outcomes.

Learn More at UNIS Hanoi

When considering active learning vs passive learning, it’s clear both have their place in education. Active learning stands out for its engagement and effectiveness in developing critical skills, while passive learning can efficiently cover foundational knowledge.

At UNIS Hanoi, the curriculum is designed to blend these approaches, ensuring a well-rounded and impactful education. Visit our website to learn how our diverse programme can help your child thrive and succeed today!

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UNIS Communication Team
UNIS Communication Team
UNIS Hanoi is ever-evolving, but one thing that remains is our passion to nurture and equip students to be agents of change for a better world.
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