What is interactive learning?

From kindergarten through college, students benefit from engaged instructors who work every day to help them learn. Teaching techniques vary, of course, depending on everything from the make-up of the class and instructor personalities to central budgets and strategic plans. Regardless of how it’s done, the many hours spent on lessons, teaching and grading go toward one important goal: supporting student success.

Interactive learning is one method that instructors often integrate into their classrooms in order to capture student attention and increase their understanding of the course material. Below is a brief primer on this popular teaching strategy, along with some tips for getting started with it in your classroom.

What is interactive learning?

Interactive learning is a technique that seeks to get students actively engaged in the learning process, often through the use of technology. This is in contrast to more passive techniques like the traditional lecture.

While the technological part of interactive learning can be intimidating to some, it is important to remember that technology exists to support pedagogy, not the other way around. With that in mind, instructors should evaluate educational technology with an eye toward tools that open up exciting possibilities for their lessons and enhance learning for their students. Anything else should be left by the wayside.

Strategies for interactive learning

There are many ways for instructors to incorporate interactive learning strategies into their classrooms. The following methods – including enhanced lecture, flipped classroom, peer instruction and team-based learning – are just a few.

Enhanced lecture

This is a broad category that encompasses a range of interactive learning strategies in the classroom. At its simplest, an enhanced lecture can look very similar to a traditional lecture, only with the support of interactive learning tools that allow instructors to ask students frequent questions throughout.

These tools, including response technology like TurningPoint, allow instructors to poll their classes frequently, receive immediate feedback and even facilitate small group discussions. Instructors can also quickly evaluate comprehension and modify lessons on-the-fly to allow more time for concepts that students are finding more difficult to understand.

Flipped classroom

The flipped classroom model gives students first-exposure learning prior to class. Contrary to what many people think, recording lectures for students to watch at home is not the only way to implement flipped learning. The important part is that there is guided learning outside of class –through a videoed lecture, a reading assignment, or some other method. That guidance can exist as an outline of learning objectives or even interactive homework questions to be completed prior to class. All of this pre-class work allows for students to focus their in-class time on higher-level cognitive activities and hands-on exercises.

Peer instruction

Collaboration among students is a big part of building an interactive learning environment, and peer instruction is a great way to encourage it. This technique involves instructors lecturing for a short amount of time and, as in enhanced lecture, periodically asking their students questions about the subject matter.

While the students initially answer the questions on their own, they then meet in small groups to discuss the question and answer choices. By the end of the process, students have a better grasp on the correct answer and a more in-depth understanding of the subject of the lesson. (Read more in this blog about how Georgia Tech’s Manager of Introductory Laboratories Eric Murray uses TurningPoint to support peer instruction in his classes.)

Team-based learning

Team-based learning is a collaborative strategy designed around modules of instruction taught in a three-step cycle: preparation, in-class readiness assurance testing (taken first individually and then as a team), and an application-focused exercise that the team works to complete during class. TBL is an effective way to build a collaborative learning environment, no matter the class size.

Technology is often used to facilitate the readiness assurance tests so that everyone can see results quickly. Watch this webinar to learn the nuts and bolts of TBL and how TurningPoint response technology is a valuable support tool from Simon Tweddell, who designed an undergraduate pharmacy curriculum with the active learning theory at its center.

Interactive learning benefits

While it may take some careful planning and thoughtful integration into lesson plans, interactive learning brings a wide variety of benefits to the classroom.

Engagement

One big benefit of all types of interactive learning is the positive effect on student engagement. Techniques like the ones outlined above tend to sharpen focus and reduce daydreaming. In fact, one study showed that 87 percent of students found class more engaging with the addition of response technology in a large lecture hall.

Collaboration

In more passive, lecture-focused learning environments, one or two students typically dominate class discussions. Interactive learning techniques instead give students the opportunity to engage with their peers, express their opinions and be exposed to more diverse points of view. Collaboration also builds social and problem-solving skills, two areas that are valued in school and beyond.

Critical thinking

Most importantly, interactive learning pushes students to stretch their abilities and gives them the tools to achieve deeper learning. By engaging students in the classroom, and making them central to the learning experience, they are better able to more deeply analyze and apply the subject matter while strengthening team-building and interpersonal skills at the same time.

TurningPoint: An interactive learning tool

TurningPoint provides an array of features to support an interactive learning classroom.

Live polling

Inserting real-time interactive questions throughout a lesson captures student attention, improves engagement and makes it possible to integrate active learning strategies like those mentioned above. Live polling also gives all students in the classroom a voice, even those who are reluctant to raise their hands. Instructors can ask questions via PowerPoint, over top of videos and other applications with a floating toolbar, or through a web-based platform. Students answer using their own cell phones, tablets or computers, or with a hardware clicker. Question types include multiple choice, numeric response, short answer, hotspot, and more.

Instant assessments

Interactive questions are a great way to reveal students’ true level of understanding throughout a lesson. These instant assessments allow instructors to pivot their lesson plans so that they are uniquely suited to each group of learners. They also let students themselves see what their classmates are thinking, allowing for better and more productive collaborations. In addition, TurningPoint can be used for daily quizzes to make sure everyone is prepared and for summative exams to measure learning.

Interactive homework

With TurningPoint, instructors have the power to schedule interactive questions to be completed outside of class time. Comprehension checks prior to class motivate learners to do the reading, highlight which points are most important and support techniques like peer instruction and flipped classroom. Open-ended discussion questions sent after class likewise help students by allowing them to communicate in a low-stress way about what they found confusing or what they want to learn more about.

Want to give TurningPoint a try?