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Active Learning: Theoretical Perspectives, Empirical Studies and Design Profiles

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Many scholars have recognized our transition into a “Knowledge Society,” where citizens are increasingly engaged in critical thinking, collaborative problem solving and evidence-based reasoning in a workplace defined by its complexity and rapid evolution, as well as its focus on information and communication ...

Many scholars have recognized our transition into a “Knowledge Society,” where citizens are increasingly engaged in critical thinking, collaborative problem solving and evidence-based reasoning in a workplace defined by its complexity and rapid evolution, as well as its focus on information and communication technologies. In such a world, it is argued that education should focus on helping students develop relevant skills and literacy, in addition to basic skills and factual knowledge. In response, there has been substantial movement of educational research and practitioners to investigate new approaches such as “flipped classrooms” where students engage in the lecture-like activity at home, watching videos and reading texts, and more active forms of problem solving, small group work, tutorial and recitation during class time. Information and Communications Technologies are often at the center of such approaches, with audience response systems (i.e., “clickers”) and various “smart classroom” configurations including interactive whiteboards, technology-orchestrated collaborations, and learning analytic approaches that process student interaction data in order to adapt or tailor the learning experience.

This Research Topic is being launched to engage a broad audience of researchers and practitioners as an online knowledge community whose goal is to understand active learning designs. Why are they effective? What aspects of student and teacher interactions are responsible for their efficacy? What are important principles underlying effective curricular designs? What are the most compelling applications of media and technology? What are the best practices for classroom or online enactment? How does active learning vary across disciplines and student age levels (elementary, secondary and undergraduate education)?

There is a growing body of evidence from the learning sciences demonstrating the efficacy of pedagogical approaches that emphasize student inquiry, problem solving and collaboration. These studies have given empirical support to the active learning movement, but much work remains. In particular, there is a need for three levels of continuing discourse within the scientific community. First, we require coherent theoretical perspectives about the nature of active learning: Why should we design activities and materials in a particular way? What forms of interaction and discourse characterize a successful design? Second, we require empirical studies that evaluate designs and report on their efficacy. Third, we will benefit from richly describe design cases that illustrate promising patterns, reveal potentially important variables, and open opportunities for critical analysis from different theoretical perspectives.

This Research Topic will allow these three forms of work to come together in an ongoing discussion of active learning, with the aim of supporting a growing community of researchers and practitioners, and aggregating compelling illustrations. Contributions will ideally include three important dimensions in their discussion: (1) activity and material design, sometimes referred to as the “script” that describes the pedagogical flow of learning and instruction; (2) technological elements that support the enactment of “orchestration” of the script; and (3) the nature of discourse and student interactions either online or in the classroom, that would characterize a successful enactment.


Keywords: Learning, Flipped classrooms, 21st century Learning, Technology-Enhanced learning


Important Note: All contributions to this Research Topic must be within the scope of the section and journal to which they are submitted, as defined in their mission statements. Frontiers reserves the right to guide an out-of-scope manuscript to a more suitable section or journal at any stage of peer review.

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