ERIC Identifier: ED253468
Publication Date: 1984-09-00
Author: Hendrikson, Leslie
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse for Social Studies/Social Science Education Boulder CO.

Active Learning. ERIC Digest No. 17

The terms "active learning," "experiential learning," and "hands-on learning" are often used interchangeably. In this Digest, the term "active learning" will be used to encompass these and similar terms, focusing on active and participative learning as opposed to more passive forms of learning.

WHAT ARE SOME POSITIVE RESEARCH FINDINGS THAT RELATE ACTIVE LEARNING TO THE STUDENT ENVIRONMENT?

Learning by "doing" is a theme that many educators have stressed since John Dewey's convincing argument that children must be engaged in an active quest for learning and new ideas. Jean Piaget stressed the need for "concrete operations" in early childhood. While few educators are unaware of Piaget's work, many incorrectly assume that active learning is important only in the education of young children. But Piaget makes it clear that this in not so: "Experience is always necessary for intellectual development...the subject must be active...." (in Labinowicz 1980). Although Piaget's research was focused primarily on young children, a growing body of research indicates the efficacy of active learning for secondary and postsecondary students.

WHAT IS THE STATUS OF ACTIVE LEARNING IN TODAY'S SOCIAL STUDIES CLASSROOM?

While experimental research continues to show the usefulness of active learning, descriptive research indicates little application of active learning methods. Project SPAN (Social Studies Priorities, Practices, and Needs) described the current status of social studies and identified problems for social studies in the 1980s. The report showed that relatively little use is made of such active learning methods as inquiry, discovery, community-based learning, and simulations.

Similarly, in his eight-year study on schooling, Goodlad noted "a preponderance of classroom activity including listening, reading textbooks, completing workbooks and worksheets, and taking quizzes--with a paucity of activities requiring problem solving, the achievement of group goals, student's planning and executing a project, and the like" (1983).

WHAT SPECIFIC AREAS OF THE SOCIAL STUDIES CURRENTLY EMPHASIZE ACTIVE LEARNING PRACTICES?

While Goodlad's description is quite applicable to American schools in general, there are some particular areas where active learning is practiced to a greater degree than in the average school. Law-related education (LRE) is one of these areas. Mock trials engage students in role playing and simulation, in which students assume the roles of characters in a case, set up a mock trial courtroom, and conduct a simplified trial. LRE programs also include case study analyses, opinion polls, surveys, and learning stations (Smith 1983).

Community-based education is also commanding increased attention. The 1984 NCSS Bulletin (72), CITIZENSHIP AND THE CRITICAL ROLE OF THE SOCIAL STUDIES, presents a wide variety of action-oriented community-based approaches to teaching citizenship, including the following (Parker and Jarolimek 1984):

--Social-political action projects, such as becoming involved in political campaigns and working with legislators

--Community projects, such as student work in health clinics and on youth hotlines

--Student volunteer services, such as work in day care centers

--Community study, such as surveys of attitudes on current issues

--Internships in which a few hours per week are spent with community resources such as prosecutors, welfare workers, and artists

WHAT ARE SOME SPECIFIC RECOMMENDATIONS FOR INCORPORATING ACTIVE LEARNING INTO THE SOCIAL STUDIES?

Social studies educators can use the following methods to make the learning experience more active:

--Assess their own teaching methods and plan to incorporate at least one new technique that is more activity oriented than those being used at present

--Provide students with at least one special, long-term learning experience each year that requires initiative and active participation

--Focus on skills involving active acquisition of information, organizing and using information, and increasing interpersonal relationships and social participation

--Take advantage of programs that by their nature invite the use of active learning, such as law-related education and local history projects

--Involve students in recruiting and using community resource people

Teachers introducing active learning methods for the first time will need to provide a lot of support and encouragement, extended periods of time for exploration, tasks of manageable complexity, and time for students to verify that their answers will be accepted.

FOR MORE INFORMATION

THE FUTURE OF SOCIAL STUDIES: A REPORT AND SUMMARY OF PROJECT SPAN. Boulder, CO: Social Science Education Consortium, Inc., 1982. ED 218 200.

Goodlad, John. A PLACE CALLED SCHOOL: PROSPECTS FOR THE FUTURE. Hightstown, NJ: McGraw Hill, 1983.

Labinowicz, Ed. THE PIAGET PRIMER: THINKING, LEARNING, TEACHING. Menlo Park, CA: Addison-Wesley Publishing Co., 1980.

Parker, Walter, and John Jarolimek. CITIZENSHIP AND THE CRITICAL ROLE OF THE SOCIAL STUDIES. NATIONAL COUNCIL FOR THE SOCIAL STUDIES BULLETIN NO. 72. Boulder, CO: ERIC Clearinghouse for Social Studies/Social Science Education and Social Science Education Consortium, Inc. and Washington, DC: National Council for the Social Studies, 1984. ED 244 880.

Poppenhagen, Brent W., and others. ACTIVE LEARNING FOR POSTSECONDARY EDUCATORS: A STUDY OF TWO LEARNING DESIGNS. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, Los Angeles, CA, April 13-17, 1981. ED 201 270.

Smith, Melinda R., Editor. LAW IN U.S. HISTORY: A TEACHER RESOURCE MANUAL. Boulder, CO: Social Science Education Consortium, Inc. and ERIC Clearinghouse for Social Studies/Social Science Education, 1983. ED 227 017.

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