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
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
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
--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
--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.