Active Learning

Definition: Active learning is the process of involving students in their own learning through a variety of techniques used to engage students beyond passive learning methods such as listening and watching.

Why use active learning: Active learning has the ability to engage all types of learning styles while creating excitement and interest in a topic. There are a variety of low-high participation techniques that can be used to engage students in active learning. Below is a chart from New York University on active learning techniques that can be incorporated into wildlife centers lessons and programs.

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To learn more about active learning techniques, please visit:
NYU Teacher Resources

Low participation: Think-pair-share- instead of telling students about a raptor’s adaptations first have try to make inferences on their own and engage in a critical thinking process. Ask them think about what adaptations are and why it would be useful for a raptor to have them (ex. why would an osprey have scaly/ rough talons?) . Have the students think this through then discuss with it someone sitting next to them. Give the students ample time to think and discuss, then share out as a class.

High participation: Debates- Have students engage in a role-playing debate in which students are separated into different stakeholder groups (biologists, environmentalists, ranchers, hunters, etc.) Each group will take on the role of their stakeholder by researching their opinions and interests on wolf reintroduction. Guide the students through a debate and facilitate a discussion about why different stakeholders may have different opinions and values.

Best practices for creating an active learning environment: 
From University of Washington Bothell Active Learning

  • Make learning a shared responsibility; involve all participants and monitor each student’s personal level of participation (do not lead – facilitate)
  • Provide students with detailed formative and summative feedback about their progress so they can gauge their self-assessments and make adjustments in order to reach learning or mastery goals.
  • Active learning spaces are not suited for lectures. If you find yourself talking for a long time, find an activity for the students to do, instead.
  • Allow time for students to reflect (self-reflection, peer/group reflection) on what they have experienced or learned during class. 



  • Fenichel, M., & Schweingruber, H. A. (2010). Surrounded by science: Learning science in informal environments. Washington, DC: National Academies Press.
  • Wurdinger, S. D., & Carlson, J. A. (2010). Teaching for experiential learning. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Education.